Human rights

Horrifying police sex abuse case threatens to embroil Mexican president

Members of Amnesty International take part in a protest in Mexico City October 5, 2006 in support of women abused by police in San Salvador Atenco. (REUTERS/Tomas Bravo)

An investigation into brutal sexual assaults, brought to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by 11 women, threatens to embroil the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who was governor in charge at the time of the attacks.

In 2006, Peña Nieto ordered a crackdown on San Salvador Atenco in Mexico State, where demonstrators had taken control of the central square. More than 40 women were violently detained by and sent to jail several hours away, where — the commission found — the 11 women were tortured sexually by police; raped, beaten, penetrated with metal objects, robbed and humiliated. One was forced to perform oral sex on multiple officers.

Although the commission did not accuse Peña Nieto of wrongdoing, or explicitly name him as a subject of investigation into the assaults, they found Mexico’s efforts to investigate the abuse insufficient. Moreover, they suggested the state under Peña Nieto accused the women of lying to discredit the government, and chose to prosecute them rather than the police. Five of the women were imprisoned for a year or more for arbitrary reasons, such a blocking traffic. Recently, five doctors charged with ignoring evidence of sexual abuse had their cases dismissed.

In spite of these apparent repressions — and because the women refused to settle quietly, seeking instead a public reckoning — the case has risen all the way to an international level, drawing attention to the broken rule of law in Mexico.

“I have not overcome it, not even a little,” one of the women, Maria Patricia Romero Hernández, told The New York Times, in tears. “It is something that haunts me and you don’t survive. It stays with you.

“I could never tell my son and my father of the fact I was raped by not one but several policemen, because they would have gone mad.”

“Well, I guessed I just survived,” said Claudia Hernández Martínez, 33, assessing the 10 years since the assaults. “And I think it’s understandable. It was understandable that I cried, that I thought about killing myself, that I cried so much, and that I am now here.”

If the Inter-American Court, an independent judiciary with legal authority over Mexico, agrees with the commission’s findings, it can order the nation to broaden its current inquiry into the case, which could in turn force the state to investigate Peña Nieto.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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