Human Rights and Civil Society

Inter-American Court hears indigenous woman’s rape case

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (an autonomous entity of the Organization of American States) is set to hear the case of an indigenous woman who claims she was raped by soldiers in 2002. On February 22 of that year, a  dozen soldiers came to the house of Inés Fernández Ortega, who was 25 years old at the time and does not speak Spanish. Nine stood guard outside, while three entered her home, one of who proceeded to rape her violently. Though she filed a complaint with the local public prosecutor and later with the local military courts of justice, she did not get far in pressing her claim. As such, on June 14 of 2004, she filed a claim with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which evaluates and submits cases to the Inter-American Court, where Inés’s case now finds itself.

Before her ordeal, Inés was known as a community leader who advocated for local infrastructure projects, greater access to medical services, and participated in the Indigenous Organization of the Mixtec and Tlapeneco People (Organización Indígena del Pueblo Mixteco y Tlapaneco). She says that when the organization was founded, the soldiers (who she calls the “guachos”) began to enter the communities more often. “I was the one who organized the women, that’s why I think they went after me, they wanted to silence me. But I won’t stay quiet.”

After filing her complaint, Inés, her family, and civic organizations supporting her began to be harassed and receive death threats. In February 2008, one of these was carried out. Lorenzo Fernández, one of Inés’s brothers, was killed. The death threats led the Inter-American Court to order the Mexican government in spring of 2009 to take measures to guarantee her protection, as well as that of over one hundred other people involved in the case or related to her.

The trial will occur on April 15 and is the first time this court will hear a case against the Mexican government for using sexual assault to torture an indigenous woman. Mario Patrón Sánchez, legal counsel to Inés, says that her story is sadly not unique. Besides Inés, Amnesty International has information on five other indigenous women who were raped by soldiers in Guerrero. The Court is set to hear similar case in which another indigenous woman, Valentina Rosendo Cantú, also claims she was raped by soldiers in February of 2002. Her day in court is set for May 27 and 28.


Gómez Durán, Thelma. “CIDH juzga a México por abuso a indígena.” El Universal. Abril 15, 2010.

Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. Informe No. 94/06, Petición 540-04. Inés Fernández Ortego y Otros vs. México. Octubre 21, 2006.

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