Josefina Reyes began her career as a human rights organizer the way thousands of women across the globe do: defending her family and her community.
The middle-aged mother staged a hunger strike to demand the safe return of her son after Mexican soldiers abducted him from their home. She lost another son to the violence that has characterized the Valle de Juarez, where the Reyes family lives, since the drug war started. Josefina became a strong voice against the violence and in particular against abuses committed by the army and police.
In August of 2009 she participated in the first regional Forum against Militarization and Repression. On Jan. 5, 2010, Josefina Reyes was shot to death.
The Valle de Juarez has been occupied by Mexican Army troops since 2008 when the federal government launched the country’s most intensive military operation there in the country to counter organized crime. To date, Josefina’s son, two brothers, a sister and a sister-in-law have been assassinated. None of the crimes have been solved.
Josefina’s case is one of many, and human rights organizations fear that if something isn’t done soon it will be one of many more. This year has seen a marked rise in violence against women and harassment of women human rights defenders. In Latin America, death threats and assassinations by unknown assailants tend to be the modus operandi, with undercover state actors, paramilitaries and members of organized crime widely believed to be the main culprits.
But since most of the crimes are never fully investigated or prosecuted, this form of politically motivated violence remains unnamed and unpunished. The widespread impunity creates a breeding ground for more violence.
Special Risks to Women Human Rights Defenders
Throughout the year, reports from women’s non-governmental organizations, grassroots movements and the press warned that women who dared to speak out against violence were falling prey to it at an alarming rate. Recent reports from the United Nations and national human rights organizations confirm the impression.
They point out that both men and women who defend human rights are often targetted. However, the situation for women human rights defenders must be analyzed separately for several reasons.
Women often lead community organizations and movements that are on the frontline of battles against human rights violations and militarism. These brave women, usually compelled to act by personal experience, take on the most powerful forces in society with little support or
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