Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú.Photo credit: Revista DefensorThis article can also be read in Spanish here.

Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú, two Me’phaa indigenous women from the state of Guerrero, were tortured and raped by Mexican soldiers in 2002. After the women’s nearly twelve years of tireless struggle—as well as the work of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, which provides legal defense for Ms. Rosendo and Ms. Fernández, and national and international human rights organizations, including WOLA —these women are finally close to obtaining justice. In the past two months, the Mexican government issued indictments and arrested four people as the presumed perpetrators of the crimes against these women; all four were active members of the Mexican army when the incidents occurred.

“The arrest of these suspects is a major victory for these women, who have fought against all odds for justice and who have faced threats, delays, and setbacks in their efforts, including being discredited by Mexican authorities,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA’s Senior Associate for Mexico.

The four people arrested are being charged with torture, rape, and abuse of authority, among other crimes. The indictments were issued by the Special Prosecutor for Violence against Women and Human Trafficking (Fiscalía Especializada en Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas, FEVIMTRA) within the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR). This progress is also the result of the commitment to the cases by the Deputy Prosecutor’s Office for Human Rights of the PGR and its Deputy Prosecutor, Ricardo García Cervantes.

“We recognize the Mexican government’s efforts to make progress in fulfilling the terms of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ sentences in favor of these brave women, and we hope that the Mexican government will show the same level of commitment in resolving other pending cases,” says Meyer.

WOLA has accompanied Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo and their representatives for several years, and has called on the Mexican government to comply with the rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In 2010 the Court ruled that the Mexican government was responsible for committing human rights violations against the women and ordered it to carry out a series of actions, including arresting and prosecuting the perpetrators within a reasonable time frame; transferring the cases from military courts to civilian courts; providing for reparations to the victims, especially through compensation for damages; and reforming the Military Code of Justice to ensure that violations of human rights committed by military personnel are investigated and punished in civilian courts rather than military courts.

“This for almost 12 years, or have sought a ruling by a regional court, in order to see this day.”case, like other emblematic cases, has underlined the Mexican government’s unfulfilled human rights obligations and the impunity that has existed for victims of human rights violations, particularly when the crimes are perpetrated by members of the military,” says Meyer. “Access to justice for Inés and Valentina is an essential step forward, but they should not have had to wait.”

While the Mexican government has sought to highlight its human rights achievements and has adopted important human rights reforms through legislation as well as legal rulings, the lack of progress in investigating and sanctioning those responsible in emblematic cases raises questions about the sincerity of the Mexican government’s commitment.

In another emblematic case, environmentalists Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera were arbitrarily detained and tortured by members of the Mexican army in 1999. Although the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled in 2010 that the Mexican government had violated their human rights, fourteen years after the events, Mr. Montiel and Cabrera are still waiting for the Mexican government to fulfill the terms of the Court’s sentence, including the investigation and punishment of the perpetrators of the crimes against them. It is also important to note that although there have been debates in the Mexican Senate about the Military Code of Justice, the reform has still not passed and it is not clear whether it will be possible to pass a comprehensive reform to this code.

With the recent actions in cases of Inés and Valentina, the Mexican government has complied with important components of the rulings of the Court. However, the legal proceedings against those arrested need to be transparent and follow national and international laws, without interference from politicians or the Mexican military. Also, it is imperative that the government of Mexico, during and after the trial, ensure the safety of Ms. Rosendo, Ms. Fernández, their families, and their representatives.

“The struggle of Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo has been crucial for the consolidation of human rights in Mexico. Resolution of this case would set the precedent that no one is above the law, and that torture and sexual violence will not be tolerated. These women have done much for Mexico; they deserve justice and recognition,” said Kristel Mucino, WOLA’s communications director.

WOLA reiterates its commitment to Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo. We will be closely following the development of trial and hope that the women finally see justice done in their cases.

To see a video of Valentina Rosendo talking about her case, please click here.