Claudia Medina v. Secretaría de Marina and Fiscalia General de la República
Tackling Mexico’s systematic pattern of torture and sexual violence
In 2006, in the context of the so-called “war on drugs” against organized crime, the Mexican Government granted the armed forces powers to carry out law enforcement operations. Since then, Mexico has become rife with allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by members of the Mexican armed forces against innocent civilians. The all-powerful Mexican Navy (SEMAR) is particularly notorious for what the National Human Rights Commission has referred to as a “recurrent practice” of torturing detainees when in custody. The SEMAR is also infamous for the rampant impunity it enjoys. Reportedly, women were raped in 80% of the detentions carried out by the navy. Far from discharging its constitutional obligation to protect human rights, the prosecutor’s office (Fiscalía General de la República), has compounded the serious human rights crisis that plagues the country, and rubber-stamped the SEMAR’s grave human rights violations.
In 2012, the SEMAR unlawfully arrested, tortured, and raped Claudia Medina, seeking a confession for a crime that she did not commit. The prosecutor’s office effectively rubber-stamped the Mexican Navy’s human rights violations and subsequently launched a series of spurious criminal investigations against Medina based in evidence fabricated against her. She spent 23 days in prison and was forced to flee in fear for her life. Her innocence prevailed; yet, despite medical reports showing torture and rape, and evidence of the navy’s systematic use of torture to secure confessions, the prosecution service dismissed Medina’s claims and failed to conduct a prompt and effective investigation. After four years awaiting redress without response, Centro Prodh, the Mexican NGO that defended Medina in the criminal proceedings, and Open Society Justice Initiative, filed administrative claims seeking reparations against both the navy and the prosecutor’s office.
Medina's case illustrates the systematic pattern of torture and sexual violence against women committed by the armed forces with the prosecutor's office approval. This is the first time the state financial liability remedy is used in Mexico to obtain reparations for torture, and is aimed at providing victims with some sense of justice while ensuring the adoption of guarantees of non-repetition aimed at structural changes in order to ensure that fundamental legal safeguards are guaranteed in practice to all persons held in custody. At the same time, resorting to this legal avenue to seek reparations against Mexican institutions and state agencies responsible for serious human rights violations alert the state of failures in the system, publicizes irregularities and the financial burden deter the state from committing further violations. Its outcome may pave the way for future claims.
On 7 August 2012, balaclava-wearing Mexican Navy personnel dragged Medina and her husband from their house in Veracruz, Mexico, in the middle of the night, without any legitimate reason. Over the course of 36 hours, navy personnel covertly held Medina incommunicado in a navy base and repeatedly attempted to coerce a confession from her by way of intimidation, torture, and sexual violence. The navy personnel electrocuted Medina multiple times, and strangled, asphyxiated, violently battered, raped, and threatened her with further mistreatment. She accepted to “confess” after they threatened her children and signed a testimony she never read. The navy neither informed her of the reasons for her arrest, nor registered her detention.
Nearly two days after the beginning of her ordeal, and after threatening Medina to remain silent about the treatment she had suffered, the navy took Medina to the prosecutor’s office, where they paraded her before the media alongside other individuals as a member of the drug cartel “Jalisco Nueva Generación”.
Sleep deprived, battered, and without medical and legal assistance, the prosecutor’s office forced Medina to stand up for several hours before taking her testimony. The prosecutor insulted her, denied her right to make a call and to adequate and effective legal assistance and prevented Medina from reading her statement before signing it. The prosecutor allowed a marine to be present throughout the entire statement and did nothing to stop the marine’s continuous threats against her.
Immediately after her release, and without any evidence, the prosecutor subjected Medina to successive spurious criminal investigations and several arrest warrants, which forced her to leave her home state, Veracruz. It was not until 2015 that a tribunal ruled that all charges against Medina were unfounded, and that she had been unlawfully detained, tortured and raped by the Mexican Navy. To this day, the prosecutor has not charged anyone, and Medina remains forcibly displaced.
In 2016, Centro Prodh and Open Society Justice Initiative filed two separate administrative claims for reparations against the prosecutor’s office and the Mexican Navy on Medina’s behalf under the State Financial Liability Federal Act, which entitles those who unlawfully sustain harm or infringement of their rights due to the State’s irregular administrative activities to redress.
Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement
The Open Society Justice Initiative is acting as co-counsel, together with Centro Prodh, in the judicial proceedings against the prosecutor’s office and the Mexican Navy.
The treatment Medina was subjected to violated a series of human rights protected under, amongst others, the Mexican Constitution, the American Convention of Human Rights, the UN Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
This national and international legislation defines the content and scope of “irregular administrative activities”, set by the State Federal Liability Act as the range of activities against which compensation and other reparations can be claimed.
The Mexican Navy unlawfully and arbitrarily arrested Medina. She was also kept incommunicado in a secret, unmonitored place of detention, without being offered prompt and confidential access to a legal representative.
The Mexican Navy tortured Medina. The violent treatment inflicted on Medina by the Mexican Navy during detention was compounded by the failure of the Mexican Navy to provide medical treatment in the immediate aftermath of the unlawful acts.
The prosecutor’s office violated Medina’s due process and fair trial rights. The prosecutor’s office portrayed Medina as a guilty individual to the media, violating her right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Similarly, the prosecutor’s office denied her right to adequate medical and legal assistance, to make a call, and enabled the intimidation of Medina by allowing a Mexican Navy member to threaten her while she was providing testimony.
The prosecutor’s office failed to guarantee Medina’s right to an effective recourse and access to justice. Despite medical reports submitted by Medina to the relevant authorities attesting to the torture she was subjected to, the prosecutor’s office failed to launch an effective and prompt investigation into the events, therefore rubber-stamping and legitimizing the earlier violations perpetrated by the Mexican Navy.
Proceedings against the Mexican Navy: The navy responded to the claim for reparations denying all responsibility.
Proceedings against the prosecutor's office: The prosecutor’s office filed a brief denying all responsibility.
Proceedings against the Mexican Navy: After several appeals and requests for the protection of constitutional rights (amparo), the Federal Tribunal of Administrative Justice formally admitted the negativa ficta, and referred the case to the superior chamber on the grounds of importance and transcendence.
Proceedings against the prosecutor's office: Application against the dismissal filed with the Federal Tribunal of Administrative Justice.
Proceedings against the prosecutor's office: The prosecutor’s office dismissed the claim and denied reparations.
Proceedings against the prosecutor's office: The prosecutor’s office communicated it resumed proceedings.
Proceedings against the prosecutor's office: After several appeals, the Tribunal Colegiado de Circuito granted the amparo and instructed the prosecutor’s office to continue the administrative proceedings.
Proceedings against the Mexican Navy: Application against the navy’s failure to respond to the reparations claim (negative ficta) filed with the Federal Tribunal of Administrative Justice.
Proceedings against the prosecutor's office: Application for the protection of constitutional rights (amparo) against the suspension of proceedings filed with the Federal Justice system.
Proceedings against prosecutor's office: The prosecutor’s office suspended the administrative proceedings based on the existence of an ongoing criminal investigation against the navy’s personnel.
The National Human Rights Commission issues a recommendation outlining the extent of the human rights violations suffered by Medina at the hands of the Mexican Navy.
Proceedings against the Mexican Navy: Claim for compensation and other reparations filed with the Mexican Navy.
Proceedings against the prosecutor's office: Claim for compensation and other reparations filed with the prosecutor’s office.
An appeal tribunal finds that the Mexican Navy unlawfully detained, tortured, and raped Medina. The ruling conclusively establishes that there is no evidence of the crimes that Medina was accused of, and that the report authored by the navy in this regard is untruthful.
A district court overturns the only subsisting arrest warrant against Medina, declaring it unconstitutional.
The prosecutor’s office issued several warrants against Medina in relation to multiple charges.
The prosecutor’s office charged Medina with several offenses, including organized crime.
Thirty-six hours after her abduction, the navy took Medina to the prosecutor’s office, where they paraded her in front of the media as a member of the cartel, “Jalisco Nueva Generación”. She provided testimony before the prosecutor under duress in the presence of navy personnel.
The Mexican Navy unlawfully arrested Medina and took her from her home to a naval air base where navy personnel kept her incommunicado and tortured and sexually abused her to secure a confession for a crime she did not commit.
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