Refusing To Be Silenced: A Story of Courage

Margarita Martinez

On November 8, 2009, at 3:30 in the morning, some fifty armed men raided Margarita’s home in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas. Identifying themselves as police, they held her, her husband, and her children at gunpoint, presenting no official identification or search warrant. Margarita and her husband, who both work as health and rights promoters in indigenous communities, filed a complaint against the police for torture and abuse of authority. After that, they began to receive anonymous threats.

On February 25, 2010, the threats became reality. “I was illegally held, tortured, raped, attacked physically and psychologically, and threatened with death if we continued to press the case,” Margarita told the JASS-Nobel Women’s Initiative delegation on January 22, 2012. With the help of JASS, Margarita risked her life to present her case to the CEDAW Committee in New York City and presented a report on attacks on women human rights defenders in Mexico. Committee members questioned the Mexican government pointedly about her case and about the impunity granted to police and other security forces when they violate women.

“During the moments of the attack, I was a victim. But by taking on my case and that of my family, I’m a human rights defender. A lot of people don’t like that – they wanted to make me a victim. But when the last thing you have is your dignity, and you defend it, you’re transformed into a defender."

The Committee ended up citing non-compliance with the convention on the part of the Mexican government and recommending increased efforts to defend women human rights defenders. Margarita’s case is far from resolved. She lives in danger, despite having been granted precautionary protection measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The government is trying to close the case, saying she failed to identify her attackers (she had a plastic bag over her head at the time). To date, no one has been arrested for any of the crimes committed against Margarita and her family.

Margarita describes how her experience with JASS was a turning point. “When I met JASS I was ready to throw in the towel. It seemed like an absurd struggle and I’d lost so much — my home, my job, even my relationship with my kids,” says Margarita. “A hug, a kiss, an encouraging glance that says you’re not alone — that’s what’s kept me going – that and finding other women who have the same goal of defending our own rights and the rights of others.” Despite everything she’s been through, she dreams of returning to work full time with indigenous women.

Margarita Martinez shared her story in an interview with Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program and member of JASS Mesoamerica.

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