PBI accompanies Sandra Alarcon, the Human Rights Centre of Montaña de Tlachinolan
On this International Women’s Day, Peace Brigades International highlights one of the women human rights defenders we accompany.
Sandra Alarcon is a 25-year-old human rights lawyer working for the Human Rights Centre of Montaña de Tlachinolan in Mexico.
PBI-Mexico has noted, “Tlachinollan works to defend and protect the collective rights of indigenous peoples; economic, social and cultural rights; civil and political rights; women’s rights; and especially the cases for which it provides legal representation. As a result, the center faces high levels of risk, as is demonstrated by the many threats and acts of harassment and aggression which Tlachinollan staff have faced over the years.”
PBI has accompanied Tlachinollan since late 2003.
“I studied law. I have always been interested in working for change and that’s why I focused on human rights. I realised a long time ago that there are groups that are particularly vulnerable, who have nobody to defend them: women, indigenous people, migrants. If they don’t have a lawyer, they don’t have any rights. So that’s what brought me to be a human rights defender.
The case of Valentina Rosendo Cantú is an example of gender violence. Valentina is a Mepá indigenous woman. In 2002 she was sexually tortured by soldiers of the Mexican army. She was 17. She went to wash clothes in the river and soldiers approached and questioned her about guerrilla activity in the area. Then she was raped by at least eight soldiers. She tried to get medical attention and report the crime but when she accused the army, nobody would listen to her or help her. We can see the military impunity is so strong that she could not even get medical attention. Eventually she was seen at a private hospital.
We could not get justice for her at local nor at national level. So, we went to the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights and then the Interamerican court. In 2010 a verdict was issued against the Mexican state declaring that the armed forces sexually tortured Valentina Ruciendo. Mexico was declared responsible in an international arena. 16 years after the attack, in June 2018, we succeeded in getting a sentence for two of the aggressors. This was a historic moment because it is the first case that having gone to the Interamerican system, achieved a sentence at national level.
Valentina today is a human rights defender. She became one through circumstances, in her search for justice. She has worked for change not just in her own case but in solidarity with other movements and indigenous communities. She has been involved in various social struggles, mainly in raising awareness about cases of sexual torture, so that no one would suffer what she suffered. She has confronted all her adversity with dignity and courage and has been a model for other women.
What keeps me here in Guerrero is the possibility of making a difference, however small and that’s why I continue as a human rights worker. We work as a team. The people we work for, like Valentina, are my hope, my motive. The work of a human rights defender is hard and without their example, I wouldn’t continue. Their example and the possibility of supporting them is what makes me continue here.”
Interview by PBI-United Kingdom.
Photo by Manu Valcarce.