Human rights activists have demanded an investigation into the vicious sexual assault of 11 women during a 2006 crackdown on demonstrators in a town on the outskirts of Mexico that was ordered by now President Enrique Peña Nieto when he was governor of the state of Mexico.
The case, part of a multi-year examination by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) into abuses that occurred during the crackdown in the town of San Salvador Atenco, found that at least 11 women who were detained by police during the protest were raped, beaten, penetrated with metal objects, robbed and humiliated while in custody at a holding facility hours away.
One of the women was forced to perform oral sex on numerous police officers, and all were denied medical examinations for numerous days.
“I have not overcome it, not even a little,” one of the women, María Patricia Romero Hernández, told the New York Times. “It's something that haunts me, and you don’t survive. It stays with you.”
The call for an investigation by the IACHR comes as another blow to the presidency of Peña Nieto, whose time in office has been plagued by accusations of corruption and high levels of violence connected to the country’s drug war, which have caused his approval rating to plummet.
Peña Nieto’s office brushed off the IACHR findings, saying that the Mexican president was not specifically named in the report nor was he accused on any wrongdoing.
“There is no one who can point to an order permitting the abuse of force,” said Roberto Campa, the undersecretary for human rights in the Interior Ministry.
The commission has deemed Mexico’s own investigation into the crackdown to be inadequate and has called for a more thorough inquiry that would likely include looking into Peña Nieto’s roll, given that he ordered the action.
The crackdown occurred after hundreds of protestors took over San Salvador Atenco's central plaza and main highway after police prevented a group of 60 flower vendors from selling their wares at the nearby Texcoco market.
Two protestors were killed in the ensuing violence, prompting Mexico’s autonomous National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) to call the crackdown a “tragedy.”
Along with the deaths and rapes, the CNDH found that 207 people (including ten minors) were victims of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, 145 were arbitrarily arrested, at least 26 women suffered sexual assault and five foreigners were illegally expelled from the country.
The investigation by the by the IACHR suggests that the state government under Peña Nieto sought to minimize and even cover up the events.
Instead of prosecuting the police officers believed to have committed the sexual torture, the state initially prosecuted the women instead – imprisoning five of them for a year or more on charges like blocking traffic.
The investigation, which was presented last week to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is affiliated with the Organization of American States, has also dredged up calls that Peña Nieto’s government actively undermined the investigation into the disappearance of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teacher Training College in Ayotzinapa from a protest in nearby Iguala in the fall of 2014.
The mothers and fathers of the students, whose case gained global attention, are still pressing for more details about what happened to their children. Earlier this week, Jan Jarab, the representative in Mexico of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed solidarity with the parents and said he supported their efforts to seek the truth and ensure such crimes are not repeated.
"We need to overcome this climate of impunity," Jarab said in reference to the more than 27,000 people who have gone missing in Mexico over the past decade, many of whom, according to international rights groups, were victims of enforced disappearances – crimes in which state officials or people acting with state consent abducted people off the street or out of their homes, and then refused to say where they were.