Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tlachinollan Human Rights Center — Twenty Years of Working for Justice

This week the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of La Montaña celebrates its 20th anniversary. A special celebration is scheduled for Friday and Saturday; the theme is “The Mountain of Guerrero: Glimmers of Justice and Hope.”
Abel Barrera, founding director of  the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center
Mission Mexico supports Tlachinollan with an “Emergency Fund” for victims of human rights violations. This fund is used to provide health care, travel costs, food, or lodging for impoverished people who need to go to Tlapa to seek justice. Tlachinollan has received several international awards for its work for justice for the indigenous peoples of La Montaña.
Roberto in his home in Cochoapa el Grande
I will mention here two recent cases (with changed names, for the women’s protection) where the funds from Mission Mexico were able to help Tlachinollan respond to very needy people. Thank you, Mission Mexico supporters, for helping these two women—and many more people.


Rosa Sanchez Flores, a na savi woman, speaks only her native language (no Spanish). She is from the indigenous village of Loma Linda, Guerrero.
Making their own huipiles (blouses) is still part of the life among the na savi people
Rosa, like many women in La Montaña, has been living alone the past four years because her husband immigrated to the United States to look for work. During this time Rosa has being doing the best she can to look after their six small children. They all live in the house of her in-laws, sharing time and space with the husband’s family.

In 2013 Rosa was the victim of a sexual attack by her brother-in-law, Francisco. She told her father- and mother-in-law about this attack, and they asked her to say nothing so that their son Francisco wouldn’t have problems, especially with his own brother. With no support from anyone and filled with fear, Rosa did not denounce the attack. When it became evident that she was pregnant, Francisco, the attacker, fled to the United States, where he apparently still is.
Walking in the mountain can be almost as bad as driving in the mountain
On April 25, 2014, Rosa realized that it was almost time to give birth, so she started walking toward the nearest hospital—about a four-hour walk away. On the way, she fainted and passed out. When she awoke, she found herself in her in-laws’ house; she couldn’t remember how she got there. The family told her that she had been found with her newly born child dead beside her.

Later, Rosa was arrested by the municipal police for killing her child. Rosa was first placed in the village jail, and then transferred to the local prison in Tlapa; the charge was premeditated murder.
Many women in the mountain have never left their village
The local newspapers published a totally incorrect version of the facts, basically calling Rosa a murderer and suggesting that she had gone walking into the mountains to find a place to give birth and to kill and bury the child, so that her husband would never know about the pregnancy.

The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center heard about the case and went to the prison to interview Rosa (Tlachinollan has lawyers who speak the four native languages of the region). After hearing Rosa’s version, Tlachinollan requested an interview with the judge of the case, who had access to very incorrect information when he had sentenced Rosa to wait in prison for her murder trial.

The judge, after hearing this alternative version of what had happened and after ordering a pre-trial investigation and getting the results (including the fact that Rosa had gone to the hospital twice during her pregnancy, so it wasn’t something she was hiding), reduced the criminal charge to the “misdemeanor” of inadequate care of her child. This latter charge meant that Rosa could be free if she were to pay the five-thousand-peso (about $420 Canadian) fine.
Sunrise on another day in the mountain
Tlachinollan does not usually pay fines, but since Rosa had no access to this amount of money, Tlachinollan paid the fine, and on May 13, 2014, Rosa was released from prison. She still lives with her in-laws, which is not an ideal situation, but at least she is able to be with her six children.


Luisa Morena Aguilar is a twelve-year-old girl from the village of La Joya, Guerrero. Luisa speaks me’phaa, the native language of her region. 
These girls will soon be twelve years old. Let's hope that they don't share Luisa's experience.
In that region, girls tend to “marry” at a young age. There is no dating or courtship process, but the “boy” encourages the “girl” to come to his house some evening, and a few days later the boy’s family goes to the girl’s family to request permission that the boy and girl be allowed to live together from now on.

On May 5, 2014, Luisa was walking to a local store on an errand when an older man (Thomas) grabbed her and carried her through the mountains for three hours to his isolated house. Over the next number of days and weeks Thomas raped her on many occasions. Whenever Luisa tried to run away, she was caught and beaten.
This is América, not Luisa—but she lives in the same kind of "running away" culture

Luisa’s father looked in vain for his daughter for several days. Then, after hearing a rumor that she was in Thomas’ house, he went there. He demanded his daughter’s return. Thomas replied that Luisa had run off with him because she wanted to live with him. At the same time, however, Luisa shouted to her father from inside the house that she wanted to go home.

Luisa’s father spoke with the village authorities, but they said that this “running off” with another was part of the tradition of the village, so the father should just leave well enough alone and let Luisa and Thomas continue their “married life”—even though Luisa was only twelve years old.
The culture is very different in the isolated mountain villages
Not knowing what to do, Luisa’s father went to the parish priest, who suggested that the father speak with the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center. A lawyer from Tlachinollan went to the village and helped the local authorities realize that there is a difference between “running off” and “being kidnapped,” and that beatings and rape should never be a part of the village’s customs and traditions.

The authorities came to agree with the Tlachinollan lawyer, and they told Thomas that Luisa should be allowed to go home. On June 14, 2014, Luisa returned home.
Some children cooling off in the local river  outside Tlapa
Tlachinollan helped Luisa to receive medical care and psychological attention (in her language) in Tlapa. The father knows that Tlachinollan will support him if he chooses to bring legal charges against the aggressor, Thomas. At the moment no one is sure if that will happen.

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