Friday, February 10, 2012

The Drug War’s Invisible Victims

There are many kinds of war. The classic image of a uniformed soldier kissing mom good-bye to risk his life on the battlefield has changed dramatically. In today’s wars, it’s more likely that mom will be the one killed.



By Laura Carlsen
Americas's Program

The UNDP states that by the mid-1990s, 90% of war casualties were civilians– mostly women and children.

Mexico’s drug war is a good example of the new wars on civilian populations that blur the lines between combatants and place entire societies in the line of fire. Of the more than 50,000 people killed in drug war-related violence, the vast majority are civilians. President Felipe Calderón claims that 90% of the victims were linked to drug cartels. But how does he know? In a country where only 2% of crimes are investigated, tried, and sentenced, the government pulled this figure out of its sleeve.

Not Just Homicide

There are also war tolls beyond the body counts. The homicide number misses the disappeared, the thousands whose bodies–dead or alive–are never found, never counted. And it hides the mutilation of lives caused by “collateral damage”: the loss of loved ones, families forced from their homes, permanent injury, orphans and widows, sexual abuse, lives lived in fear.

These costs fall primarily on the shoulders of women–the mothers, daughters, and sisters who are left with the nearly impossible task of seeking answers and redress in a justice system outpaced by violence and overrun by corruption. They are often re-victimized by government agencies that ignore, reject, or stifle their pleas for justice.

“Families that demand that our children be found face all kinds of threats… the loss of our property, isolation, rejection by our own families,” said Araceli Rodríguez, a mother whose son, a young policeman, was disappeared on the job. His police unit refuses to give information on his disappearance. “I wake up and find that it’s not a nightmare, that his absence is real and the impunity is also real.”

It’s rare to hear the voices of the women who bear the brunt of the drug war. Their pain doesn’t make headlines. Some need anonymity to remain alive. Many have been granted protective measures by the government or international human rights organizations because of the extreme threats they face.

There is no official information on why these thousands were killed. When their bodies are found in unmarked mass graves, no one even knows who they were. With violence the norm, executions can —and do— target grassroots leaders, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, and rebellious youth under the cloak of the drug war.

Telling Stories

Despite all these difficulties, some 70 women told their stories amid tears and despite fear for their lives in Mexico City on January 22. The meeting called by the Nobel Women’s Initiative brought an international delegation led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams together with Mexican women victims of the violence and women human rights defenders.

From the sketchy statistics available, women make up a relatively small proportion of the murdered in Mexico, but they are the majority of citizens who denounce disappearances, murders, and human rights violations in the drug war. They work on the front lines of defending communities and human rights. For their efforts, they become targets themselves. In Mexico, six prominent women human rights defenders have been murdered in the past two years.

The last report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders recognized that threats and especially “explicit death threats against women human rights defenders are one of the main forms of violence in the region, with more than half coming from Latin America, most of those (27) from Mexico.”

Sometimes it’s the drug cartels that seek to silence women activists. But a recent survey of Mexican women human rights defenders revealed that they cite the government (national, state, and local) and its security forces as responsible in 55% of cases of violence and threats of violence to women defenders. Among government officials charged with public safety and justice, they encounter at best indifference and at worst death threats and attacks. A human rights defender from the state of Coahuila explained that searching for a disappeared loved one implies “always having to be in the hell of the institutions, which are often infiltrated by crime.”

Gender-based violence including femicide has skyrocketed in the context of the overall violence. The number of femicides in Chihuahua since sending the army in has risen to 837 for the period of 2008- June 2011 —nearly double the total femicides in 1993-2007. Women rights defenders report that the vast majority of threats and acts of violence against them include gender-based violence.

Silent No More

Olga Esparza, whose daughter Monica disappeared in Ciudad Juarez in 2009, explains through her tears that the government simply doesn’t care. “We’re the ones who have to carry out the investigations, with our own resources.” She adds that government officials often add insult to injury, “They say she’s probably just gone off with her boyfriend or she’s a prostitute or drug addict.” In her case, as with so many others, there’s no investigation, no results, no justice.

Another woman described how her work with indigenous communities led to her rape and torture by police agents. She continues to live in terror due to threats against her life and her family.

Alma Gomez of the Center for the Human Rights of Women in Chihuahua summed up what she sees in the center, “Women are the invisible victims, we are always at risk in this military and police occupation. We know of gang rapes by security forces that the women don’t even report; arbitrary arrests; women who make the rounds between army barracks and city morgues searching for their sons, fathers, or husbands. We are the spoils of war in a war we didn’t ask for and we don’t want.”

“Victim” is really the wrong word for these women. The mother whose son disappeared more than two years ago said, “In the struggle to find my son, I joined the peace movement. I learned that I can transform my pain into a collective force and together we can help more people to have a voice and to now be empowered to defend their rights.”

Valentina Rosendo, a Me’phaa indigenous woman from the State of Guerrero, was raped by soldiers and took her case all the way up to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights. She sums up the reason for participating in the Nobel Women’s forum, “It’s really hard to speak out, but it’s more painful to keep quiet.”

9 comments:

  1. That's a hard core look at the human suffering, but then it shows the true resolve of the strong heart this woman have, I hope they can find some answers in helping them heal.

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  2. STOP THE KILLING

    END PROHIBITION

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  3. Knowing the voracity in which women were being murdered and disappeared in Juarez from 1993 through 2007, this article was an eye opener as to how evil this military forces are to it's own people. In only 3 years after 10,000 troops arrived in Juarez, just as many women were killed as the previous 14 years. What a horror and international crime. what Calderon has unleashed on these poor innocent women. They said when the military left Juarez, they were going through all the houses taking whatever they wanted. Calderon and the PAN will be remembered forever for this. Even if he sells his old partner Chapo down the river, he and PAN will never be forgotten and for sure never forgiven.

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  4. Maybe it is the women of Mexico who can stop the drug war. Organize, and pull a "Lysistrata"!

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  5. The men of Mexico,are you proud of yourselves?

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  6. AN ABSOLUTE DISGRACE TO THE MEN OF MEXICO,FOR FAILING TO PROTECT THE WIVES,MOTHERS, DAUGHTERS,CHILDREN,AUNTS,IN SHORT YOUR WOMEN,WHO MEN BY NATURE SHOULD LOOK OUT FOR.
    DISGRACE TO ALL WHO LOOKED THE OTHER WAY,DISGRACE TO ALL THE MEN OF MEXICO,THESE CRIMES ARE DONE,IN THE PAST,AND NO ONE WILL BE PUNISHED.ARE WE LED TO BELIEVE THAT NO ONE KNOWS WHO DID THIS?
    BULLSHIT,BULLSHIT,BULLSHIT.YOU KNOW.

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  7. What kind of men are being bred in Mexico?
    Mexican women,you would be better off trying to look for a so called gringo,i guarantee you,you would get more respect and more independence.Let us face the fact,it could not possibly be worse.
    How can a man stand by and watch a woman being violated by many,and we are talking about many in the armed forces.Mexican women deserve better,than the scum men they have to live amongst.

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  8. @ anon February 15, 2012 3:55 PM,you shouldnt throw rocks if you live in a glass house!The U.S. protects its rapists & child molesters...they have "Special Prisons" for that type of "Men",how can YOU stand by & allow that shit to happen?Oh & the vast majority of these "Men" (rapists & child molesters)are gringos!Thats the type of "Men" being bred in the U.S.!

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  9. History teaches us that (alcohol Prohibition) no government can defy the will of the people without paying a high price. If you want to end cartel violence, legalize marijuana, and allow marijuana consumers to grow their own weed. The price of marijuana would drop precipitously, and this would eliminate the incentive to grow and sell it for a profit. But, the U.S. federal government seldom admits it has erred, so I doubt this will happen, and this psychological war will go on ad infinitum and the economy will continue to suffer and people will continue to die.

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