Mexico City – Mexico issued a public apology to an indigenous woman who was raped by army soldiers in the southern state of Guerrero nearly a decade ago.
The apology to Valentina Rosendo Cantu, a Me'phaa Indian, was offered in compliance with an October 2010 ruling by the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which ordered the Mexican government to publicly acknowledge its responsibility for the attack.
On Feb. 16, 2002, a group of Mexican soldiers from the army's 41st Infantry Battalion arrived in the highland indigenous community where Rosendo and Ines Fernandez Ortega lived and beat, tortured and raped them.
Rosendo, then 17, was accused of lying about her accusations and had difficulty receiving medical care and filing a complaint; after finally doing so, she was harassed by soldiers and forced to abandon the home she shared with her daughter and husband, who later left her.
Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire apologized to Rosendo in a ceremony Thursday at Mexico City's Museum of Memory and Tolerance attended by Attorney General Marisela Morales and the Defense Secretariat's human rights director, Rafael Cazares Ayala.
Speaking to Rosendo; her mother, Maria Cantu Garcia; and her daughter, Yenis, who was just three months old when the sexual assault occurred, Poire expressed the Mexican government's "sincerest apologies" for the attack.
He said the government has the obligation to investigate and punish rights violations by security forces and make full amends to the victims.
"It's clear that these isolated cases do not represent in any way the policy of the Mexican government," which is focused "at all times on promoting, respecting, protecting and guaranteeing human rights," Poire said.
The Cabinet member described Rosendo as an "exemplary" woman and said the Mexican government will spare no effort to comply fully with the Inter-American Court's sentence so these types of crimes do not reoccur.
The victim recalled Thursday that the government treated her poorly during her long struggle for justice and did not provide her with an interpreter when she reported the attack.
Even so, she said that when she took the case to the regional court she did so with "the firm hope that the soldiers (who raped her) would be prosecuted."
Rosendo said she hopes her "nine years of resistance" will help many other women who suffered similar abuse and did not report the crime "out of fear, shame or because, as Indian women, they do not speak Spanish."
In August of this year, London-based Amnesty International hailed a decision to have the investigation into the rape cases transferred to the civilian justice system.
It noted that that move followed a recent ruling by Mexico's Supreme Court, which "determined that human rights violations by Mexico's armed forces against civilians should not be tried in military courts."
Despite Poire's claim that the attack was an isolated event, international rights groups say abuses by security forces - particularly in the context of President Felipe Calderon's five-year-long war on drug cartels - are "widespread."
"Instead of reducing violence, Mexico's 'war on drugs' has resulted in a dramatic increase in killings, torture, and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country," New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a recent report.
Authorities will issue a separate public apology for the violence perpetrated against Fernandez on a date yet to be determined.
Anthropologist Abel Barrera, director of the "Tlachinollan" Human Rights Center that has supported Rosendo's fight for justice, congratulated her on her long struggle.
"Raising your voice against military abuse wasn't easy. It has never been easy," the activist said, adding that Rosendo is a brave woman who was called a "liar" when she came forward to demand justice despite a lack of command of Spanish.
He said his non-governmental organization will continue struggling to ensure punishment for the soldiers who raped Rosendo and guarantees for her safety and that of her family.
More than 200 people were on hand for the ceremony, including numerous representatives of human rights groups who gave Rosendo several rounds of applause for her courage and determination in publicly denouncing the crimes and seeking justice.