Amnesty: Women routinely tortured to secure false confessions in Mexico

Protest against Mexico's drug war, started by then-President Felipe Calderón, in 2006. (Credit: Eneas de Troya/Flickr)

Women are routinely subjected to sexual abuse and torture in order to obtain confessions during arrest and first interrogation, according to an Amnesty International report released Tuesday, adding to a dark decade of human rights abuses throughout Mexico’s drug war.

Out of the 100 incarcerated women interviewed in Amnesty International’s report, 72 had been sexually abused and 33 were raped while they were detained. Sixty-six of the women said they had reported the abuse to the authorities, but only 22 investigations were opened, and Amnesty said no charges had been filed.

“These women’s stories paint an utterly shocking snapshot of the level of torture against women in Mexico, even by local standards. Sexual violence used as a form of torture seems to have become a routine part of interrogations,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, in a statement.

“Women from marginalized backgrounds are the most vulnerable in Mexico’s so-called war on drugs,” Guevara-Rosas added. “They are usually seen as easy targets by authorities who are often more eager to show they are putting people behind bars than to ensure they are finding the real criminals.”

Moreover, due to their vulnerable situations and inability to afford proper legal defense, these women are unlikely to report assault, making them convenient to use as proof that the government is gaining ground against cartels.

One woman interviewed in the report, Mónica, was gang-raped by six police officers, received electroshocks to her genitals, and subjected to other forms of torture – including watching the torture of her husband, who died in the process – before being forced to sign a “confession” saying she was part of a drug cartel.

The abuses against Mónica were confirmed in a report by the Mexican National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), which issued a recommendation that a criminal investigation be opened into the case, but so far, none of Mónica’s perpetrators has been charged. She remains one of many of Mexico’s incarcerated women tortured into admitting to crimes they didn’t commit.

The findings reinforce numerous other reports that torture is a common practice by Mexican police and other authorities.The signs point to Mexico’s notorious decade-old war on drugs, started under then-President Felipe Calderón in 2006. Initially, the measures were considered temporary as a means to dismantle powerful drug cartels and strengthen police corps, but the line between the public sector and organized crime has since been blurred, and the asymmetric war continues today with no end in sight.

Human rights advocates hope that continued evidence of the decade of drug war-related abuses will translate to direct action from the current President Enrique Peña Nieto and his administration.

So far, there have been some signs that Mexico could begin to take responsibility for abuses. In April, leaked video footage police and military officers suffocating a female suspect with a plastic bag prompted an apology from senior government officials. Earlier this month, a report by the Open Society Justice Initiative accused Mexico of committing crimes against humanity in its war on drugs.

But until there is systemic change, torture and abuse will continue in the name of the war on drugs.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com