Mexico: Authorities used illegal force and sexual violence to silence women protesting against gender-based violence

Mexican authorities repressed women who were peacefully protesting against gender-based violence in 2020, violating their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly by using unnecessary and excessive force, arbitrary detentions and even sexual violence, Amnesty International said in a new report published today.

The (r)age of women: Stigma and violence against women protesters analyzes five protests that women and feminist groups carried out against gender-based violence last year in the states of Guanajuato, Sinaloa, Quintana Roo, the State of Mexico and Mexico City.

“The violent response of the various authorities to the women’s protests violated their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. During the arrests and transfers, police officers spoke to the women using violent and sexualized language, threatened them with sexual violence and subjected them to physical and sexual violence. Many women did not know where they were, who was arresting them or where they were taking them, meaning they were at risk of enforced disappearance,” said Tania Reneaum Panszi, executive director at Amnesty International Mexico.

“The authorities at various levels of government have stigmatized women’s protests, characterizing them as ‘violent’ with the aim of discrediting their activism and questioning their motives. But make no mistake, these protests are a call for women’s right to live a life free from violence. They are a call to combat the impunity that prevails in thousands of cases of femicide and sexual violence that have caused unimaginable pain for so many families in Mexico.”

The report concludes that police officers arrested more than a dozen women without duly identifying themselves, held them incommunicado for long periods of time, transferred them using unusual routes without telling them where they were taking them, and in some cases without bringing them before the relevant authorities, causing them intense fear of becoming victims of enforced disappearance. Deliberately causing suffering and uncertainty among the protesters about the possibility of being subjected to enforced disappearance is a violation of their right to personal safety and infringes upon the absolute prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

During the arrests and transfers, police officers spoke to the women using violent and sexualized language, threatened them with sexual violence and subjected them to physical and sexual violence

Tania Reneaum Panszi, executive director at Amnesty International Mexico

In addition, on many occasions police officers resorted to the use of sexual violence as a tactic to teach them a lesson about daring to go out to protest in public and for behaving contrary to gender stereotypes, according to which women should stay at home and “not go out looking for trouble”. Amnesty International emphasizes that all sexual abuse committed by a state authority must be considered a form of torture, in accordance with international human rights law, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) judgements relating to Mexico.

Various authorities and some media outlets have stigmatized protests by women and feminist groups as “violent”. In Mexico City, the head of government, Claudia Sheinbaum, labelled the protests “provocations” seeking a more violent response from the state so as to generate more attention and public condemnation. In León, Guanajuato, the Secretary for Public Security said that the city could not be turned into a “violent protest-drome” as a justification for restricting and dispersing protesters. This stigmatization has created a hostile environment for women’s right to peaceful assembly that discredits their activism and encourages both authorities and civilians to carry out violence against them.

In accordance with international human rights law, authorities must not use the acts of violence of a few people during a protest as an excuse to restrict or obstruct the majority from exercising their rights and must ensure that those protesting peacefully may continue to do so. Amnesty International found that the authorities unduly restricted the rights of the protesters by classifying the protests as violent due to actions that are protected by the right to freedom of expression, such as painting slogans on public walls or modifying monuments. Although authorities may justifiably impose certain restrictions in order to prevent damage to public or private property, they must not take measures that unduly restrict human rights and obstruct those peacefully protesting. 

The report also shows the stigmatization and criminalization of women who participated in protests with their faces covered – including those using masks as a health measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – or those dressed in black. Amnesty International notes that covering one’s face or dressing in a particular way cannot be equated with committing a crime or used to justify an arrest or the presumption of the use of violence during protests.

Amnesty International calls on the authorities to acknowledge, continuously and comprehensively, the legitimacy of the protests of women and feminist groups and refrain from making stigmatizing statements against the protesters. 

The authorities at various levels of government have stigmatized women's protests, characterizing them as ‘violent’ with the aim of discrediting their activism and questioning their motives.

Tania Reneaum Panszi, executive director at Amnesty International Mexico

In relation to the reports of sexual violence filed by women protesters, the authorities must carry out prompt, exhaustive, independent and impartial investigations with a gender perspective in order to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice in fair trials and guarantee comprehensive reparation for the damages to the victims. They must also investigate the unnecessary and excessive use of force during the protests and establish the responsibility of individual police officers as well as the chain of command.

Finally, the organization calls on the authorities to adopt effect measures to prevent, protect and guarantee women’s right to live a life free from violence, particularly femicide and the various forms of sexual violence, and guarantee adequate access to justice and reparation for those who have suffered from gender-based violence.

The full version of this report is only available in Spanish. Click here to read it.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Alejandro Juárez Gamero (Amnesty International Mexico): [email protected]ía.org.mx

Duncan Tucker (Amnesty International Americas): [email protected]