Juventina Villa knew her days were numbered. A leader of an environmental organization in the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, she and other activists have been in the crosshairs of organized crime and government forces for years. With the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence come to an end on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, organizations of women throughout the world are calling for more protection for women human rights defenders and justice for those who have been assassinated. In most cases, the crimes against them have not been punished.
The push to rebrand and re-sell the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez is in full swing. With violence way down as 2012 draws to a close, business and political leaders are extolling the return of security, inaugurating public works and opening new restaurants. According to the electronic industry trade journal maquilaportal.com, upwards of 22,000 workers have been hired this year in the assembly-for-export factories called maquiladoras, with especially strong rebounds in the auto and electronics sectors. But how much of the public relations blitz is hype and how much is real? And who benefits from the new Juárez?
Fifteen brave Guatemalan women from the indigenous qeqchí people testified before the High Risk Court in Guatemala City on Sept. 24-28, as part of the first criminal trial for sexual slavery and rape during the armed conflict. This legal action is historically transcendent, not only for being the first time that sexual violence during the armed conflict in Guatemala has come to trial, but also because it is the first trial for sexual slavery that has been brought to a national court. Previous cases have been presented in international courts.
“Hágase justicia aunque el mundo perezca” (“Let justice be served, even as the world perishes”) was the motto written above the entrance to the penitentiary that burnt to the ground in Honduras, trapping and killing hundreds. We have to ask: What kind of justice did they have in mind when they placed that line on the door to the jail?
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. UNIFEM states that by the mid-1990s, 90% of war casualties were civilians– mostly women and children.
500,000 women raped in Rwanda. 64,000 in Sierra Leone. 40,000 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 4,500 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Numbers are numbing,” warns Nobel Laureate Jody Williams. “There are women in here who have experienced sexual violence in conflict.”
Josefina Reyes began her career as a human rights organizer the way thousands of women across the globe do: defending her family and her community. The middle-aged mother staged a hunger strike to demand the safe return of her son after Mexican soldiers abducted him from their home. She lost another son to drug-war violence that has taken over the Valle de Juarez, where her family lives. Josefina spoke out against the violence and against abuses committed by the army and police. On Jan. 5, 2010, Josefina Reyes was shot to death.
When George W. Bush left the White House, the rest of the world breathed a sigh of relief. The National Security Doctrine of unilateral attacks, the invasion of Iraq under the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction, and the abandonment of multilateral forums had opened up a new phase of U.S. aggression. Despite the focus on the Middle East, the increased threat of U.S. military intervention cast a long shadow over many parts of the world.
Two years later, that sense of relief has given way to deep concern. After hopes of a something closer to FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy of (relative) non-intervention, we find ourselves facing a new wave of militarization in Latin America–supported and promoted by the Obama administration.
Marisela Escobedo’s life changed forever in August 2008 when her 16-year-old daughter Rubi failed to come home. What was left of Rubi’s body was found months later in a dump — 39 pieces of charred bone.
Rubi became one more macabre statistic in Ciudad Juarez’s nearly two-decade history of femicide. The murder of young women, often raped and tortured, brought international infamy to the city long before it became the epicenter of the Calderon drug war and took on the added title of murder capital of the world.
It is easy to think of impunity as a sin of omission. The hand not raised in protest appears genteel alongside the hand stained with the blood of the victim. Yet we learned from the testimonies of women on the frontlines of battle for gender justice that impunity not only perpetuates crimes against women, it teaches generation after generation how to continue the practice. Laura Carlsen writes from the International Gender Justice Dialogue in Mexico.