25, January, 2013

Victims’ Rights in Multicultural Contexts: The Case of Inés Fernández at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Through this ground-breaking case, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights set an important precedent: creating reparations for the entire indigenous community in the case of human rights violations against one member of that community.

What advances can we identify in international human rights regimes that incorporate alternative cultural understandings of reparations in their verdicts? This Brief responds to this question through a detailed study of the case of Inés Fernández, an indigenous Me´phaa woman from the state of Guerrero, Mexico, a victim of torture and rape by members of the Mexican military in 2002. In 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights sentenced the Mexican State and established a series of obligatory measures of reparations and reforms designed to establish new conditions for the non-repetition of such acts. Most importantly, for the first time ever, the court granted collective reparations to a community in response to acts of sexual violence committed against an indigenous woman of that community. International standards tend to view reparations in cases of rape as directed at the individual who suffered these acts. However, respecting indigenous viewpoints requires amplifying the understanding of reparations to incorporate what justice and reparations signify in particular cultural contexts. The ruling therefore sets an important precedent for implementing the right to reparations for indigenous peoples, not only in Latin America, but in other regions as well.

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Key Lessons:

  • In non-Western contexts, acts of violence perpetrated against an individual cannot necessarily be addressed through individual reparation to the victim, but must respond to the community or to the collective that is similarly harmed by such human rights violations.
  • To enact structural changes that prevent the repetition of violence, particularly sexual violence against ethnic and racial minorities, victims’ rights to reparations must take into account particular understandings of justice in specific cultural contexts.

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