Standing up to the torturers, together

by Salil Shetty, Secretary General, Amnesty International  

I am here to ask for your help,” said Claudia Medina when I met her in Mexico earlier this year. “I’m going to report a crime of torture.”

Her words touched me, because I knew what Claudia had been through. At 3am on 7 August 2012, marines broke into the home she shared with her husband and three children. They tied her hands and blindfolded her, put her in a pick-up truck and took her to a naval base in Veracruz City. They accused her of being a member of a powerful and violent criminal gang, which she flatly denied.

Claudia later told us how the torturers gave her electric shocks and wrapped her in plastic to stop her bruising when they beat and kicked her. They sexually assaulted her. Then they tied her to a chair and left her outside in the scorching afternoon sun.

The next day, Claudia was pressured into signing a testimony she had not even read. She was paraded before the media as a dangerous criminal. But later that month, all but one of the charges against her were dropped, and she was released on bail.

For some Mexican police and military officers, torture is the method of choice for investigating crime. They torture people into signing false statements, and use them as evidence to prosecute. These statements can then be used to suggest that Mexico is fighting crime successfully.

Claudia was able to tell a judge that she had been tortured, and he ordered an investigation. But those responsible – the Federal Attorney General’s Office – still haven’t followed up. Crucially, they are also preventing Claudia from undergoing a UN-backed medical examination. If this had been carried out immediately after her torture allegations were made, Claudia would have had stronger evidence of the treatment she suffered.

Almost two years later, Claudia is tired of waiting. “I used to be afraid and thought about not speaking out,” she told me. “But I’m not willing to accept this.” She knows that thousands of people have suffered the same treatment. And she wants to stop it happening to others.

That’s why Claudia has decided to go public with her story as part of Amnesty’s new, global Stop Torture campaign.

I know what she is up against, trying to challenge the power of the Mexican armed forces and police. But I also know that she is not alone: We stand with her.

So I replied that yes, Amnesty, with our more than 3 million supporters, can and will help her and other torture survivors . That’s why we exist. Together, we will pressure governments to give them justice, and stop it happening again.

Meeting Claudia was a huge source of inspiration and hope for me. It makes me feel strong that a woman who has been tortured still has so much spirit, so much courage and so much conviction.

And it makes me feel safe in the knowledge that if Claudia can do this, so can we.

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Visit Amnesty’s Stop Torture campaign page to stand behind torture survivors and help create a world free from torture.