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Native Sun News: Indian women targeted in Mexico's drug war

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Maria del Rocio Garcia Gaytan

Indigenous women targets in Mexican drug war
Thousands are victims of violent crimes every year By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

UNITED NATIONS –– Men in Mexican military camps are forcing indigenous women into prostitution, according to a report emanating from the most recent session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was held July 9-27 at the U.N.’s New York headquarters.

“The military strategy seeks to demoralize and debilitate indigenous peoples, as a means of terror and destruction of their ethnic territorial composition, and sexual violation should be recognized as a weapon of war,” said a report submitted to the U.N. committee and announced July 17.

The report cites cases dating from the present back to 2006, including 13 women raped by 20 soldiers in an incident during election campaigns in the U.S. border state of Coahuila.

Entitled “Indigenous Women in Mexico: For a Change of Paradigm,” the report was presented by the Central American and Mexican Indigenous Women’s Alliance. It is one of 18 independent reports submitted on the occasion of the Mexican government’s periodic performance review by CEDAW.

Indigenous representatives from the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guerrero asserted in a written statement that the “goal of the military occupations in their states and against indigenous women is to neutralize indigenous opposition to confiscation of land and territory.”

Mexico was one of eight countries reviewed during the 52nd session of the committee that has been in existence for 30 years. Also up for review at this session were Guyana, Indonesia, Bulgaria, Jamaica, Samoa, Bahamas and New Zealand.

CEDAW is a committee of 23 independent experts on women’s rights from around the world that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The U.N. adopted the convention in 1979. Countries that have become party to the treaty submit regular reports on their implementation. During its sessions, the committee considers each state party report and makes recommendations.

In accordance with an Optional Protocol to the convention, the committee also is mandated to receive communications from individuals or groups of individuals submitting claims of violations of rights protected under the convention and to initiate inquiries into situations of grave or systematic violations. These procedures are only available where the government concerned has accepted them.

In its case, Mexico accepted the non-governmental group’s input. “We appreciate the effort of civil society organizations in emitting their opinion and criticism for the Mexican government to live up to the convention,” said Mexican delegation chief Maria del Rocio Garcia Gaytan, president of the National Women’s Institute. “We value it, and the results that come out of it will be considered under our purview,” she said.

In addition, Gaytan noted, “We reaffirm our commitment as a state party to carry out the CEDAW recommendations to make life without violence and discrimination a reality for all the women who live in the country.”

“We recognize that impunity and backlogs exist in procuring and imparting justice for women, especially indigenous women,” she said in addressing the CEDAW.

The National Information Data Bank of Information about Cases of Violence Against Women, made up of statistics from all 32 Mexican states, registers 39,000 girls, adolescents and women who are victims of physical, psychological, economic, patrimonial and sexual violations, including feminicide, which has been typified as a distinct kind of homicide in Mexico, Gaytan noted.

Fifteen states recognize feminicide as a specific crime, and it would become officially recognized at the federal level if all of them do.

The data bank contains the descriptions of 54,000 aggressors, which are being used to emit protection orders.

“We are aware that as a state party we have made important progress. We also acknowledge the great challenges we still face,” said Gaytan.

The federal government has achieved a 138-percent increase since 2008 to its current $4.3 million budget level for eradication of discrimination and violence against women, she said. Modifications of the Budget and Treasury Responsibility Act contain stipulations for women and indigenous people, according to her testimony.

However, she added, “We are clear that neither legislation nor budget alone automatically change social practices. That’s why there has been determined work with the citizenry to promote cultural change directed at combating discrimination and the patriarchal, sexist, chauvinistic and misogynist culture that is the main enemy to overcome.”

Among the “great challenges” for the Mexican government, her statement to the committee said, is that of “developing a model of attention to violence against women adolescents and children with a human rights and intercultural perspective specifically oriented toward the indigenous population.”

CEDAW requested additional information from Mexico, to which the National Women’s Institute responded with documentation showing that the Mexican Regional Indigenous Funds Program has steadily been serving fewer and fewer beneficiaries, down to less than 15,000 in 2011, from nearly 25,000 in 2006. About half of recipients are women.

However, a Productive Organization Program for Indigenous Women, which supported about 1,800 income-generating projects in 2006, helped more than 14,000 in 2011. The total number of indigenous women served increased from 22,000 to 163,000.

“Please provide detailed information on measures in place to protect indigenous women from violence and displacement in the context of the military operations against drug trafficking,” CEDAW appealed. Mexico receives $15 billion a year ($500 per second) in military assistance from the United States for fighting drug trafficking under the Merida Initiative.

Mexico responded: “In 2006 the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples implemented the project for care of displaced indigenous persons (PAID) with a view to combining the efforts of federal, state and municipal bodies to assist the relocation or return home of indigenous persons displaced by acts of violence, armed conflicts, human rights violations or religious, political, cultural or ethnic intolerance, with full respect for their cultural diversity.

The program provides support for the acquisition of farmland and urban building lots, including the costs of ownership registration as well as materials for housing construction and inputs for productive activities. In 2011, a total of 1,048 heads of family received support, 26.11 percent of them women.

The government has translated the principal messages of the federal campaign against human trafficking into 21 indigenous languages. The translations were transmitted from May to December 2011 via the indigenous cultural broadcasting system.

In December, the U.N.’s Education Secretariat published a book entitled "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW): Our Rights in Indigenous Languages," Mexico said in its response.

The Central American and Mexican Indigenous Women’s Alliance said Mexico’s responses were too vague. The group requested the U.N. committee conduct an inquiry into military violence against indigenous women and called for adoption of specific protection measures.

In addition, group members demanded that the government stop calling them vulnerable and marginalized. Instead, they said, they want to be reincorporated into the national economy through natural-resource protection and management as well as through agricultural production for food security.

While welcoming the establishment of Mexico’s National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, the committee said it “is concerned about the higher levels of poverty and illiteracy and multiple forms of discrimination experienced by indigenous and rural women. The committee is concerned about the large disparities between them and women in urban areas and from non-indigenous groups in access to basic social services,” it added.

The committee also questioned Mexico about the lack of gender-specific policies to counteract violence against not only indigenous women, but also against human rights defenders and journalists.

CEDAW recognized the murders of 11 female human rights activists during the past 12 years and 13 female journalists since 2005. It also logged 100 other cases of violence against female journalists on the job.

“The committee remains concerned about the pervasiveness of patriarchal attitudes, which impede the enjoyment by women of their human rights and constitute a root cause of violence against women,” it said. It expressed “concern about the general environment of discrimination and insecurity that prevails in communities; workplaces, including (foreign-owned) factories; and territories with a military presence, such as the northern and southern border areas, which might put women at constant risk of becoming victims of violence, abuse and sexual harassment.”

In the past, the committee has urged Mexico “to ensure that all poverty eradication policies and programs explicitly address the structural nature and various dimensions of poverty and discrimination that indigenous and rural women face.”

It has recommended that Mexico use temporary special measures to address the disparities that indigenous and rural women face with regard to access to basic social services, including education and health, and participation in decision-making processes.

The U.N.’s international framework for the promotion and protection of human rights as set up shortly after World War II was intended to cover both men and women. Yet – it was successfully argued – the system only addressed degrading events commonly identified with the lives of men and not women, until CEDAW’s creation.

“Don’t you think it fair to make violence against women a priority cause?” French committee member Nicole Ameline responded to the presentation of Mexico’s representative, Dilcya Garcia.

“You have recognized the state of violence and impunity in which women live is at an unsustainable level. Are you taking into account this emergency? Is it a priority to accelerate the processes of coordination?” Ameline asked.

Garcia, head of the National Commission to Prevent and Erradicate Violence against Women, answered, “There is absolute total frontal condemnation on the part of the Mexican government of violence against any defender and any journalist.”

“We recognize a problem related with the phenomenon and impunity,” she said, and read the law protecting human rights workers and journalists to the committee.

Statistics from the justice department show around 14,000 preliminary inquiries every year concerning the crime of rape in Mexico. For the crime of rape of a minor, authorities receive some 2,500 preliminary inquiries each year. For other sexual crimes, around 16,000 preliminary inquiries are opened each year. Statistics show about 4,500 individuals standing trial in each year for the crime of rape, and slightly over 3,500 receiving convictions for that crime each year.

Committee expert Soledad Murillo expressed impatience with the data. “You can’t have 16,000 violations and 3 percent conviction,” she said. “The data doesn’t make sense to us.”

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