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Human Rights Watch Honors Mexican Activist

Honoree Secures Access to Legal Abortion for Rape Victims

(New York, October 31, 2006) – Human Rights Watch will give its highest award to Verónica Cruz, a leading Mexican women’s rights advocate, on November 2. Cruz is the founder and head of Las Libres (The Free Women), the only organization in the conservative state of Guanajuato to help rape victims access safe abortion. In Mexico, where abortion generally is illegal, rape victims have the legal right to an abortion under all state criminal codes. However, women and girls who seek to exercise this right face multiple hindrances.

" Verónica is an inspiration for human rights activists everywhere – she channels her outrage over injustices into effective action. She is a true inspiration to the people who really matter – the women and girls in Guanajuato who desperately need her support. "
Marianne Mollmann, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch's Women’s Rights Division

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In Guanajuato, abortion has been legal in cases of rape for more than 30 years. Yet, in 2000, the state legislature attempted to amend the state penal code to strip rape victims of this right. In response, Cruz organized masses of women publicly to protest the new law. As a result of this pressure, then-governor of Guanajuato Ramón Martín Huerta vetoed the law.  
“Verónica is an inspiration for human rights activists everywhere – she channels her outrage over injustices into effective action,” said Marianne Mollmann, advocacy director with Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division. “She is a true inspiration to the people who really matter – the women and girls in Guanajuato who desperately need her support.”  
In a report released in March this year, entitled “The Second Assault,” Human Rights Watch documented the myriad obstacles rape victims in Guanajuato and elsewhere in Mexico face when they seek to terminate a pregnancy. A number of entities in various Mexican states – particularly the state attorney-general’s office, public hospitals, and family services offices – employ aggressive tactics to discourage and delay rape victims’ access to legal abortion.  
As a result of these barriers, many rape victims seek to terminate their pregnancy by resorting to back-alley abortions, endangering their lives and health. Cruz leads the fight against this injustice by connecting rape victims with medical and legal services, training youth to hold health workshops for peers, and challenging policy makers to ensure meaningful/true access to abortion as allowed under the law.  
“Verónica champions individuals,” said Mollmann. “She uses every opportunity to empower women and girls directly to challenge the discrimination they face daily. I have seen her turn despair into hope in a matter of minutes.”  
Mexico’s legal framework does not adequately protect women and girls against sexual violence. A number of states still do not criminalize domestic violence specifically, or only do so in cases of repeated violence. Girls are even less protected than adult women under the law. Most state penal codes in Mexico define incest as consensual sex between parents and children or between siblings, and they penalize the underage victim at the same level as the adult perpetrator.  
Therefore, abortion is illegal in cases of pregnancy through incest, as defined by Mexican law, since the law defines incest as consensual sex, not rape. In most of Mexico, the age of consent for sexual activity is 12. This means that the crime of statutory rape in much of Mexico only applies to girls who in many cases may be too young to become pregnant.  
When abortion is criminalized, as it generally is in Mexico, a number of human rights are threatened, including the rights to equality, nondiscrimination, life, health and physical integrity. Since 1994, UN human rights bodies have expressed particular concern with countries where access to abortion is restricted to pregnant victims of rape or incest. Human Rights Watch upholds the right of all women to decide independently about matters related to abortion without interference from the state or others.  
“Verónica fights for one of the most basic human rights: the right for women to control their own bodies,” said Mollmann. “She demands and receives action from the government on an issue that in Mexico generally is shrouded in impunity: rape victims’ right to legal, safe, and free abortion. With this much-deserved award, Human Rights Watch joins women and girls from all over Mexico in recognizing the importance of Verónica’s work.”  
For more information, please contact:  
In New York, Marianne Mollmann (English, Danish, Spanish): +1-212-216-1285; or +1-347-244-0090 (mobile)  


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