WASHINGTON, DC — On Tuesday, October 14, JASS (Just Associates) accepted the distinguished Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award, from the Institute for Policy Studies, on behalf of the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative, a collaborative effort with Consorcio Oaxaca, AWID, UDEFEGUA, La Colectiva Feminista, and Central American Women’s Fund (FCAM), and women activists who put their lives on the line to protect and strengthen human rights in Mexico and Central America.
“JASS supports women activists around the world risking their lives to defend their rights—often faced with horrific violence in retaliation and questioned by their own communities for speaking out,” said JASS Mesoamerica Regional Director, Marusia Lopez. “Corrupt governments seek to silence these women and conceal the abuses perpetrated against them, but JASS and our allies in the Initiative stand beside women human rights defenders and makes sure their stories are heard.”
For example, after Mexican health and human rights promoter Angela’s family was held at gunpoint during a home invasion by 50 armed men who claimed to be police—but presented no official identification or warrant—Angela* filed a complaint against the police for torture and abuse of authority. Angela was then retaliated against: “I was illegally held, tortured, raped, attacked physically and psychologically, and threatened with death” if the case was not dropped.
With the support from the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative—which was co-created by JASS—Angela took her story to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. She provided detailed accounts of abuses by the government and police, which resulted in UN action against the Mexican government.
Women activists are more likely than men to be subjected to a range of retaliation and attacks from corrupt governments and others. From 2010-2012, JASS and its partners documented 414 attacks on Mexican and Central American women activists in which 38 women were killed. JASS Guatemalan activist Maria, who was ambushed on a bus by men with machetes after she made an allegation of abuse of power against the mayor of Santa Cruz, says that women who speak out are “jailed, murdered, threatened.”
One JASS activist from Guatemala noted, “They’ve tried to kill me and have threatened me…’We’re going to kill you but before we kill you, we’re going to rape you, and this is the way that we’re going to do it, and not only you, but your daughter too…’ These kinds of threats stay deep inside us and fill us with terror, with extreme fear when we think about what is coming.”
It is precisely because of this that JASS and its partners came together to create the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative in 2010. The women leading and building this Initiative have helped more than 350 women restructure whole communities in an effort to care for themselves differently—developing strategies for safety that address how sexism and violence against women in their homes makes them even more vulnerable. In addition to responding to violence, the Initiative is strengthening broad-based citizen networks that are demanding accountability and justice from their governments.
“This award recognizes the often invisible contributions and leadership of women in the advancement of human rights. Many in the JASS community have historical connections to the Chilean human rights struggle, making this moment a special marker of decades-long efforts for justice,” stated JASS Executive Director, Lisa VeneKlasen.
*pseudonym for security reasons