RFK Center - Defending Human Rights In This World
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'Get Your Boot off My Neck'

 

(2012-04-10) The following op-ed by Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, appeared today on Inter Press Service as well as on Huffington Post. Ms. Kennedy wrote the piece while traveling as part of an RFK Center human rights delegation to Mexico, hosted by 2010 RFK Human Rights Award Laureate Abel Barrera. During the trip, the delegation was illegally detained by the Mexican army. Ms. Kennedy's daughter Michaela accompanied her on the trip. Read the op-ed below:

en Español

Last weekend, my 14-year-old daughter, Michaela, and I were en route to Easter Sunday mass in Acapulco. We were stopped, harassed, threatened, and detained by eight soldiers in battle fatigues brandishing automatic weapons.

At first, I was merely concerned; after all, we were travelling with RFK Human Rights Award Laureate Abel Barrera and his legal team, among the brightest lawyers in Mexico. Our attorneys immediately cited four articles of the Mexican constitution that the infantry lieutenant violated. 

After establishing that we were an international human rights organisation, the lieutenant responsible for the checkpoint maliciously demanded to inspect our belongings for narcotics. He raged menacingly, "I am the authority, I have the power." At that moment, my heart stopped. 

The day before I had sat in awe at the courage of José Rubio as he told us about his brother, Bonfilio, who was murdered by the Mexican military at another illegal roadblock, not unlike this one. Like tens of thousands of men and women from La Montaña, the poorest region in the poorest state of Mexico, Bonfilio had left his indigenous community intent on landing a job in the United States during the growing season. 

Forty minutes after he boarded the bus on Jun. 20, 2009, infantry soldiers stopped the vehicle to search for drugs but found none; when the bus driver confronted them for the stop, they became enraged. 

As the bus pulled away, the soldiers opened fire, killing Bonfilio, who had fallen asleep in the last seat. When the driver pulled to a stop, the army, seeing the corpse, decided to conduct a second search. This time, they claimed they "discovered" five bales of marijuana beneath passenger seats. They give no explanation as to how they missed the five shoebox-sized bales on the first inspection. 

Over the past three years, José has been harassed and visited at home in the middle of the night by soldiers dressed in civilian clothes. He has been offered bribes, threatened with death, and pressured by family and friends who were threatened and bribed themselves, all in a campaign to get José to drop charges against the military for his brother's wrongful death. 

This is the pattern that those who seek to enforce basic human rights protections can expect in La Montaña. But, because of his extraordinary courage, José Rubio has achieved something extraordinary for his brother and his countrymen: the Rubio case is the first in which a federal court has ruled that a human rights violation committed by the military must be tried by civilian, rather than military, court. 

Unfortunately, instead of accepting civilian jurisdiction, the military has appealed. 

Today, Mexico faces a turning point. Will the long history of military impunity prevail? Or will the executive, judicial, and legislative branches finally live up to the promises they have made to the international community and their own citizens, and ensure that cases of military abuse of civilians are tried fairly in civilian courts? 

In 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in the cases of indigenous human rights defenders Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo, who were raped and tortured by soldiers in retaliation for their community's activism; the court stated that Mexico must try such cases in civilian court. In response, the Supreme Court of Mexico confirmed the Inter-American Court decision. 

On December 9, 2011, President Calderon, along with the Attorney General, publicly stated their support of the measures. 

The Rubio case is the first time that the Supreme Court and the President have had their resolve tested, and the military appears determined to maintain the status quo and act above the law. 

President Calderon should make a strong and unequivocal public statement clarifying his support for civilian jurisdiction in cases of military abuse of civilians. Furthermore, he should immediately instruct the military prosecutor to stop appealing cases on jurisdictional grounds. 

Mexico's Congress should pass pending legislation that would require all cases of military abuse against civilians to be tried under civilian jurisdiction. And the President should state that he will immediately sign the legislation into law. 

The Supreme Court should deny the appeal of the military and establish binding jurisprudence that all cases of military abuse against civilian will be tried in civilian courts. 

Through the Mérida Initiative, the United States has supported the Mexican military's narco-trafficking reform efforts to the tune of $1.6 billion since 2008. We should make clear that we believe that illegal road blocks, harassment, unlawful detention, and other abuses of civilian rights undermine faith in the institution of the military and are unacceptable. 

On Sunday, I experienced what few leaders in Mexico's elite know: the fear of a military that turns its power on the very people it has vowed to protect, the rage engendered when that power is challenged, and the arbitrary nature of its wrath. 

The next day, Michaela and I were able to continue with our plans to visit the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Our ordeal lasted about 30 minutes, but for many Mexican human rights defenders, confronting the military does not end so well. It is time to rehabilitate the reputation of the Mexican military. Ending impunity will be the first step.

 


¡Quita tu bota de mi cuello!

Kerry Kennedy, Presidenta del Centro para la Justicia y Derechos Humanos Robert F. Kennedy (Centro RFK)

El pasado domingo 8 de abril, mientras transitábamos por carretera de Ayutla hacia Acapulco, mi hija Michaela de 14 años y yo fuimos hostigadas y amenazadas por ocho soldados en un retén militar. Conmigo fueron detenidas arbitrariamente ocho personas más provenientes de Estados Unidos, que visitaban Guerrero para conocer la situación de las comunidades indígenas y el trabajo de la organización civil Tlachinollan.

Al principio no me preocupé; después de todo, nos encontrábamos viajando con Abel Barrera, laureado con el Premio de Derechos Humanos del Centro Robert F. Kennedy y con su equipo de abogados, quienes inmediatamente citaron los artículos de la Constitución que el Teniente de Infantería a cargo del retén estaba violando. Pero el Teniente maliciosamente exigió inspeccionar nuestras pertenencias para asegurarse que no cargábamos narcóticos y de manera amenazante expresó: “Yo soy la autoridad. Yo tengo el poder”. En ese momento mi corazón se detuvo.

No era para menos: el día anterior, en Tlapa, había escuchado a José Rubio, quien me contó la historia de su hermano Bonfilio, indígena naua asesinado por militares mexicanos en un retén no muy distinto al que nos tenía detenidas a mí y a mi hija. Durante los últimos tres años, José y su valiente esposa Verónica han sido hostigados para que desistan de su denuncia como ocurre frecuentemente a quienes demandan los más elementales derechos en la Montaña; sin embargo, debido a su determinación, José ha logrado algo extraordinario: el caso Bonfilio Rubio Villegas fue el primero en el que un Juez Federal ordenó que una violación de derechos humanos cometida por militares sea juzgada en la jurisdicción civil federal, y no bajo el fuero militar. Desafortunadamente, el Ejército apeló y desafió la histórica decisión judicial.

Hoy México enfrenta un momento decisivo. ¿Prevalecerá la histórica impunidad militar o los poderes Ejecutivo, Judicial y Legislativo cumplirán sus deberes para que el Estado mexicano establezca de una vez por todas que los abusos militares en contra de civiles serán juzgados con imparcialidad en la jurisdicción ordinaria?

En 2010, la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos emitió sus fallos en los casos de Inés Fernández y Valentina Rosendo, mujeres del Pueblo Mephaa violadas y torturadas por soldados cuyo valiente testimonio también he escuchado, ordenando investigar y juzgar dichos casos en el ámbito civil. Por su parte, la Suprema Corte de México confirmó la obligatoriedad de los fallos del Tribunal Interamericano al analizar el Caso Radilla. Adicionalmente, el 9 de diciembre del 2011, el Presidente Calderón junto a la Procuradora General de la República públicamente anunció su compromiso de acatar dichas decisiones.

Pero el caso Rubio pone a prueba tanto a la Suprema Corte como al Presidente, al evidenciar que el Ejército parece empeñado en mantener el status quo y actuar por encima de la ley.

La responsabilidad es de Estado. El Presidente Calderón, máximo mando de las Fuerzas Armadas, debe emitir una directriz sobre la obligación de someter en la jurisdicción civil los casos de abusos de militares en contra de civiles. Por su parte, el Congreso Mexicano debe aprobar de inmediato la reforma al Código de Justicia Militar. Finalmente, la Suprema Corte debe denegar la apelación del Ejército en el caso Rubio y construir con ello jurisprudencia obligatoria sobre el tema.

Estos días, mi hija y yo experimentamos lo que pocos líderes en la élite política de México conocen: el miedo ante un militar que vuelve su poder en contra de las mismas personas a las que ha jurado proteger, la furia engendrada cuándo ese poder es cuestionado y la naturaleza de su absurda ira.

Para muchos y muchas defensoras de derechos humanos en México, confrontar a militares no termina bien. Es tiempo de que el Ejército mexicano rinda cuentas para restablecer su reputación; terminar con la impunidad debe ser el primer paso.

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“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Robert F. Kennedy
Capetown, June 6th 1966