Feminist activists occupy government building, demand justice for victims of gender-based violence

The movement began when an activist tied herself to a chair on September 3

Feminist activists occupy government building, demand justice for victims of gender-based violence
The women said they do not want to negotiate with authorities and will remain at the facilities - Photo: Berenice Fregoso/EL UNIVERSAL
English 10/09/2020 14:34 Newsroom Mexico City Alexis Ortiz, Alberto Morales, Susana Zavala, Perla Miranda, Pedro Villa y Caña, Teresa Moreno, Juan Arvizu Actualizada 14:34

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The mother of a little girl who was sexually abused in San Luis Potosí in 2017, and Silvia Castillo, the mother of a homicide victim, occupied the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) offices for over 12 hours on September 3. 

Marcela Alemán warned authorities she would not leave the government building until it addressed her daughter’s case. The activist tied herself to a chair after meeting with Rosario Piedra, the head of the human rights watchdog

Videos shared on social media showed more feminist activists joining the protest and occupying the CNDH building. 

Recommended: What is femicide?

Why are they occupying the CNDH building?

 Amid the protest, the National Human Rights Commission said the Executive Commission for Victim Assistance (CEAV) should handle Marcela’s demands. 
 
As the days went by, more victims’ families joined the protest in Mexico City. They demand justice for a little girl who was sexually abused at school, and for a teenager who was murdered in San Luis Potosí in 2019. 

Silvia said she decided to “occupy the facilities because I owe my child justice, I’m not going to rest until he has access to justice. If I’m already here, I’m going to die here, I don’t want any more paperwork, I don’t want any more discussions, I want those who killed my child to be bound over for trial.”

Silvia told EL UNIVERSAL her son, Alan Castillo, went to a party on Match 23, 2019. He went missing that day. According to an investigation launched by Silvia herself, Alan was beaten to death and his body incinerated. 
 
“What we have obtained so far is to be revictimized and told to return to San Luis Potosí,” Silvia said. 
 
In a bid to convince the women to evict the government building, Human Rights Minister Alejandro Encinas met with them but he could not reach an agreement. 
 
Marcela Alemán said she wants authorities to enforce the law and that she wants justice, not money. Marcela explained his daughter, who was 4 years old at the time, was sexually abused at school in 2017. She added that the “San Luis government was negligent, it violated my daughter’s rights.”

On Saturday, the protesters set some of the furniture on fire. They confirmed they would not leave the government building until further notice. 

The human rights watchdog confirmed the two groups behind the occupation are "Frente Nacional Ni Una Menos" and "Aequus, Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos."

After the activists set a few objects on fire, they exposed the pricey food found at the CNDH offices, including expensive meat cuts.

The protesters criticized the fact that the human rights watchdog spends its budget on luxury items when millions of Mexicans have nothing to eat; therefore, they decided to donate the food to victims. 

Days later, the CNDH confirmed the human rights commission did purchase the expensive meat cuts and argued the meat is served to all employees. 

Recommended: Femicide in Mexico is on the rise despite the COVID-19 pandemic

As of September 8, the activists and protesters asked Rosario Piedra to resign as the head of the National Human Rights Commission. 

They said Rosario Piedra did not fulfill their demands and announced they will continue occupying the government building. They will host families who will travel to Mexico City to demand justice for their loved ones. 

The activists said they will call on people to occupy CNDH offices throughout the country if the human rights watchdog does not comply with their demands. 

Women are requesting donations such as food, diapers, milk, clothes, bottled water, medicines, and school supplies. 

The rights commission voiced concern about the safety of case files kept in the building. The names and locations of victims of rights abuses are contained in many files, and there are worries that revealing them could put those people in danger. However, the protesters placed the files on the street yesterday, after CNDH officials failed to pick them up by 5 pm.

On September 9, victims announced they would meet with Interior Minister Olga Sánchez Cordero; however, Yesenia Zamudio said this doesn't mean they will evict the government building. Instead, the victims and their families will negotiate more support so that other victims arrive at the CNDH building. 

Activists establish several conditions to evict the building

The feminist groups occupying the building said they would leave; however, authorities had to agree to certain demands: 

1. Health services and access to medicines
2. Food
3. Employment programs
4. Resources to implement a Gender Violence Alert in seven states
5. Canceling the “count to ten” campaign against domestic violence 
6. Stop disqualifying the feminist movement

The CNDH later released a statement to call for a meeting with feminist groups and the families of victims occupying the building. 

The human rights commission provided legal assistance to Marcela Alemán and Silvia Castillo, and will also help them move to other states. However, protesters will remain at the building. Marcela and Silvia urged the CNDH to listen to the victims and help them solve their cases.

Moreover, Marcela and Silvia said the decision to occupy the CNDH offices was sparked by the mistreatment they received from a CNDH official on September 3. 

On the other hand, Silvia explained she will no longer occupy the building as she disagrees with some of the other activists. 

The CNDH announced it will not force the activists to evict the building. 

Cultural event at the CNDH

The protesters and activists announced they would launch a cultural event, where they would exchange and sell different products. They also provided legal assistance and psychological attention to victims. 
 
They also organized dance and rap shows. The woman later announced they would auction a painting of Francisco I. Madero. The activists painted the Mexican President’s hair purple, his lips red, and the painting now features symbols that support the fight against gender violence. The asking price is unknown.

Renaming the building

Days after feminist groups and victims’ families occupied the CNDH offices in Mexico City, they announced they would rename the building and turn it into a shelter for women. It was named "Casa de Refugio Ni Una Menos México".

Currently, around 15 families are occupying the offices after facing crimes such as femicide, enforced disappearance, kidnappings, and sexual abuse, among other crimes. 
 
The protesters said they no longer want to meet with authorities and that they will use to offices to organize activities and help vulnerable women.
 
Yesenia Zamudio told EL UNIVERSAL the feminist activists are more fit to occupy the CNDH offices than government officials. She added that they will use the facilities as a shelter for families who have suffered from crimes such as femicide, kidnappings, enforced disappearance, and sexual abuse. 

 Zamudio said the activists will also accompany victims and their families during legal processes. 

After the women announced they would provide legal assistance, many victims arrived at the facilities hoping to find justice.

President López Obrador reacts

On September 7, the Mexican President condemned the activists and protesters after they altered a portrait of Francisco I. Madero

During his daily news conference, López Obrador said he understands the pain victims and their families feel but said he disagrees with violence and vandalism. He said damaging a painting was not the best way to protest. 

The President also reminded the activists that Rosario Piedra, the head of the CNDH, became a human rights activist after her brother went missing.

After the President said he did not approve of the activists' actions, the mother of a little girl who was sexually abused said it was hard to believe López Obrador was more upset about a painting than about violence against women or the attack against her 7-year-old daughter. 

CNDH officials urged the activists to vacate the facilities and collaborate with authorities. 

During his news conference on September 8, the Mexican President said the occupation of the CNDH building has become a political issue with the support of conservatives. 

He also accused the Mexican media of magnifying the case to damage his government. 

Painter José Manuel Nuñez A. condemns the activists

The painter behind the Francisco I. Madero portrait that was altered by activists condemned the incident. The painter took to social media to condemn the women, and said those actions won't solve their problems and that it was a "step back for our values."

He also said the women's actions were outrageous and that they have lost all respect for historical figures.

After receiving major backlash, the painter said he understands the protesters and that he condemns femicide. 

Victims’ families meet with Olga Sánchez Cordero

Victims’ families met with Interior Minister Olga Sánchez Cordero on Wednesday, something they described as a “triumph.” 

After the two-hour meeting, activist Erika Martínez said the meeting was “a triumph for us because the feminist movement has years and no one had given us a voice, [there was no one] who sat with us and was interested in listening to us.”

After the meeting with the Interior Ministry, Erika Martínez said more victims and their families would arrive in Mexico City to present their cases. 

Erika and other activists said they did not discuss the occupation of the CNDH building in Mexico City. The discussion centered around a series of demands made by victims’ families

1. Olga Sánchez Cordero must publicly recognize that Mexican women suffer from gender-based violence 
2. No Mexican institution can dismiss the issue 
3. The creation of gender-based violence investigation units at prosecutors’ offices, search commissions, and human rights institutions
4. Grant amnesty to women who were criminalized for demanding the rights 
 
Activist Yesenia Zamudio, whose daughter was a femicide victim, said she felt Sánchez Cordero listened to me, they also “discussed everyone’s cases and we didn’t discuss the occupation of the building, we’re not asking to keep it as an impulse, we need solutions, and now this is going to be a shelter.”

María Fabiola Alanís Sámano, the head of the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women (Conavim), said the Interior Ministry would look into their cases and will also listen to other victims.
 
Minister Olga Sánchez Cordero agreed to go over each case and said she would keep working with victims and their families. 
 
During a press conference, Sánchez Cordero said that now that authorities are listening to victims’ families and feminist groups occupying the CNDH building, there is no reason to stay at the government building.

Cordero said she will meet with the activists on September 17, and then every two weeks. 

Rosario Piedra, the CNDH director, will meet with senators today. Opposition senators are expected to question Piedra regarding the situation at the CNDH after victims’ families and feminist groups occupied the building. 
 
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