Solidarity and Justice in the Struggle to Stop Torture in Mexico
by Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
-Mexico City, 15 September 2014.
We could not have had a more powerful affirmation of how important solidarity is in our human rights work.
We passed over to Claudia Medina Tamariz a collection of messages from Amnesty supporters across Canada; greeting cards, letters, handwritten notes, and drawings. We showed her some of the colourful messages that will be among the large number of petitions and letters turned over to Mexican officials later this month. And we unfolded a vibrant yellow banner full of handprints and a message of solidarity, from an event held in Toronto in June.
Her smile became brighter and brighter as she took it all in. And after she’d seen the banner she told us it was so meaningful to her that she intended to hang it in her bedroom, as a reminder of the tremendous support she has in Canada. Her words of thanks and appreciation could not have been more effusive or heartfelt. It was clear that solidarity from Canada, and across the global Amnesty movement, fuels her determination.
|Amnesty Mission to Mexico|
|"We passed over to Claudia Medina Tamariz a collection of messages from Amnesty supporters across Canada; greeting cards, letters, handwritten notes, and drawings... Her smile became brighter and brighter as she took it all in."|
In turn, her gratitude and strength will now certainly inspire more activism across Canada. It was an encounter that none of us will forget.
In the midst of an energetic weekend-long meeting with activists from across Mexico, we had received word that Claudia Medina had been able to travel in to Mexico City and would be able to meet with our team of five Amnesty International Canada activists and staff for an afternoon.
Claudia is a survivor of torture and a courageous campaigner for justice for the terrible human rights violations she endured when she was arrested by Mexican Marines in August 2012.
Her demand that there be investigations and accountability for the torture she experienced has become central to our current campaign to Stop Torture, with its focus on Mexico. What she has been through is emblematic of the crisis of torture here; where incidents of torture have increased 600% over the past decade.
Claudia’s determination to speak out is admirable to say the least. Torture has been so rampant in Mexico for so many years for very many reasons. But one is clearly to terrorize and spread fear; to keep people quiet. She has broken through that silence, sharing widely the brutal treatment she experienced and speaking passionately about the need for justice. Her struggle for justice is what we have in turn taken up in petitions and letter writing.
We met in the offices of the fabulous Mexican human rights organization, Centro Prodh. They have provided her with legal support and have promoted her campaign for justice nationally and internationally.
We then continued on for a wonderful lunch at a nearby restaurant, along with two of Claudia’s teenage sons and several other relatives. Our conversation over lunch roamed across many topics. I particularly loved hearing about her love for cooking; including the steps involved in making corn tortillas from scratch and what goes into a truly great Mexican mole sauce.
And we of course came back to her case several times. She highlighted how important it is to her that she has been able to join up with a group of other Mexican women who have been subject to torture, including rape and sexual violence. They are campaigning together for justice and for the reforms that are needed to stop torture in Mexico, with a particular focus on the sexual violence that far too many women have experienced at the hands of Mexican police and soldiers.
She told me it was so important for her to join her voice with the other women who have had similar experiences because “it is not just about me; and it is not just about our group. It is about all women in this country and it is about all Mexicans.”
The importance of solidarity came through so powerfully through every encounter I’ve had over this past week in Mexico.
The afternoon spent with Claudia was all about solidarity. The importance of solidarity came through so powerfully through every encounter I’ve had over this past week in Mexico. We campaign for concrete changes and reforms to end human rights violations, such as to prevent and stop torture in Mexico. But we campaign also so that individuals and family members who have been through human rights violations, and are still vulnerable to ongoing threats and violence, know that they are not alone.
Meeting with prisoner of conscience and torture survivor Angel Colón in a prison outside Tepic. Meeting with Adrian Vazquez, who nearly died from the torture he experienced, and is still held in a prison near Tecate. Meeting in Tijuana with former prisoners and family members of current prisoners, all of whom have been tortured. Meeting in Mexico City with the family of Héctor Rangel Ortiz, who have courageously campaigned for answers about the fate of their son and brother, who was disappeared five years ago. Hearing at the activism meeting from Paraguayan Indigenous leader Leonardo González about the role Amnesty International played in supporting his people in their struggle to regain their land.
And meeting with Claudia Medina.
It all comes down to the same thing. To stand together, to join our voices to those who clamour for justice, and to send a strong message to authorities that they do not stand alone. That is at the heart of Amnesty International, and is at the heart of our campaign to Stop Torture.
As we shared warm hugs all around with Claudia and her family as we parted after lunch that is exactly what we were all saying to each other, in words and without words. We stand with you; and we will stand with you for as long as it takes.