Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

Supreme Court Landmark Decision Could Transform Investigations of Violence against Women

Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

Supreme Court Landmark Decision Could Transform Investigations of Violence against Women

Article excerpt

Mexico's high court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion, SCJN) handed down a decision in March that could transform the way Mexico's legal system prosecutes violence against women. The branch of the court that handles appeals (Primera Sala) unanimously ruled in favor of Irinea Buendia, who was pushing law-enforcement authorities to reopen the investigation of the 2010 death of her daughter Mariana Lima Buendia and consider the case a femicide instead of the original verdict of a suicide. Irinea Buendia said her daughter was murdered by her husband and did not take her own life, a conclusion that authorities in Mexico state reached based on testimony from Lima Buendia's husband Julio Cesar Hernandez Ballinas, a judicial police officer.

The case, which the SCJN agreed to consider in September 2013, carries broader implications than just a resolution in the death of Lima Buendia. The SCJN's ruling not only requires Mexico state authorities to reopen the case but also to conduct the investigation "from the perspective" of femicide, or the murder of a woman by a man for reasons related to her gender.

On the day of her death, Lima Buendia told her parents that she was leaving her husband and went home to retrieve her belongings. She did not return. The following morning, Irinea Buendia received a phone call from Hernandez Ballinas. "Ma'am, Mariana hanged herself," were the first words he told her. State police investigators went to the home and uncovered evidence that suggested that a suicide by hanging was physically impossible under the circumstances. Nevertheless, investigators believed Hernandez Ballinas.

After examining the case, some SCJN ministers acknowledged the need to change law-enforcement practices in Mexico. Justice Olga Sanchez Cordero described the ruling as having "great significance" because of its intended goal to penalize the culture of violence against women. The measure, she said, emphasizes the urgency to modify the practices that violate the human rights of women in Mexico.

Sanchez Cordero explained that law-enforcement authorities and prosecutors contribute to the violation of human rights of women by not conducting the proper investigations. Therefore, she said, the need was urgent to specify that these types of violations should be considered from a gender-related perspective.

Other justices agreed that the decision was necessary to clarify the need for authorities to respect the rights of victims and their families, which are guaranteed by Mexico's legal code. "Our system of justice is designed to support [the claims] of Irinea Buendia Cortez," said Justice Alfredo Gutierrez Ortiz Mena.

"This is the best present that my daughter could have received on her birthday," said Buendia Cortez, pointing out that the decision came on what would have been Lima Buendia's 34th birthday.

Buendia Cortez agreed that the SCJN decision is significant because it sets a precedent for authorities around the country to view similar crimes against women through the lens of femicide. "With this we are saying 'enough' to what the misogynists have done to our women," Buendia said in an interview with the online news site Sinembargo. "Any Mexican woman could face the same situation that my daughter faced."

"This decision is not only going to help resolve my daughter's case, but all the similar crimes that occurred in our country," added Buendia Cortez.

Victims' rights groups applaud ruling

The SCJN decision earned the support of the victims' rights organization Comision Ejecutiva de Atencion a Vfctimas (CEAV). "This ruling establishes that the violent deaths of girls and young and adult women should be investigated from a gender perspective, with the purpose of determining the truth behind the situation," said CEAV.

Women's rights advocates pointed out that other efforts have occurred in Mexico to prosecute crimes against women in recent years, but the result was generally cosmetic and involved creating weak agencies that had little or no powers of investigation and indictment (SourceMex, March 1, 2006). …

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