Back to top

A Girl like a Phoenix

A teenager is bullied by her classmates. They hood her head and beat her body. Then they post a picture of their attack on Facebook. Why? Because she is an Indigenous girl, brave enough and curious enough to seek an education at her neighborhood school.

How many civic ordinances, national laws, international edicts, basic human rights, and moral principles are violated when her teachers and local authorities ignore these cruel crimes, the pleas of her parents and aunt, and the injustice before them?

So MADRE brought this girl to the thirteenth annual United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) to tell her story.On Thursday, May 15, which on the Mayan calendar is a day devoted to justice, we sat in solidarity with 17-year-old Angelina (not her real name), a Mixteca girl from Mexico, as she chronicled her two years of violations at the hands of her peers and public authorities. Together, we heard her rights and all relevant laws explained at a symbolic tribunal we helped organize, the “Tribunal de Conciencia de Mujeres Indigenas” (The Indigenous Women’s Tribunal of Conscience), which was a side event of the Forum.

Norma Sactic and Claudia Vargas at the “Tribunal de Conciencia de Mujeres Indigenas”
[L to R] Norma Sactic, member of the Alianza de Mujeres Indigenas de Centroamerica y Mexico and Claudia Vargas, Indigenous lawyer, commence the tribunal with a candle lighting ceremony.

Symbolic tribunals articulate and advance justice for people who have experienced crimes that go unpunished. The first was staged after World War II. It was organized by Asian women outraged that the international trials of war criminals in Europe and Japan failed to address sexual slavery as a crime against humanity. Since then, national and regional symbolic tribunals have been organized around the world by women and Indigenous peoples. They are “a mechanism for civil society groups to unshroud invisibility,” said Guadalupe Martinez, subcoordinator of the Alianza de Mujeres Indignas de Centroamerica y Mexico said at our tribunal, where we heard several stories like Angelina’s and shared strategies for holding these healing programs.

Mexican attorney Nuria Gonzalez Lopez acted the part of judge on behalf of the Mexican NGO Consejo para Prevenir Eliminar la Disrcimiacion de la Cuidada de Mexico (COPRED, Council for the Prevention and Elimination of Discriminiation of the City of Mexico), an organization that is advocating for justice for Angelina. Ms. Lopez detailed the rights that were violated when Angelina was tormented by her peers, ignored by the teachers charged with the safety of their students, turned away by local government officials, and disregarded by other authorities.

“The state’s obligation to protect its citizens was not met,” Ms. Lopez said. At least ten sets of legal documents exist in Mexico to protect the rights of children, she said, yet none was invoked. Nor was Angelina informed of them. Mexico has laws against discrimination, but the children were not chastised. They were not told they were breaking the law. Local, national, and international laws protecting children, women, and Indigenous people. Laws promising education and equal opportunity. All were violated, none were mobilized. The events violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Nuria Gonzalez Lopez, Angelina, and an activist from Mexico
[L to R] Attorney Nuria Gonzalez Lopez, Angelina, and an activist from Mexico.

Any child who is bullied thinks, “It’s not fair.” Any child denied justice by the adults responsible for protecting her feels that unfairness. The rights enumerated by Ms. Lopez articulated the justice due Angelina. She smiled, ever so slightly, as she listened. Just hearing her rights was a vindication.
Angelina assumed a false name to speak the truth. She traveled to New York City without her father’s consent. “Today, I give my personal testimony. I sadly say to Mexico, enough is enough.” In full freedom, no bullies in sight, Angelina held steady on her international platform, declaring: “When children suffer, society suffers.”

“Angelina is like a phoenix,” Angélica García, subdirector at COPRED, said afterwards.

“We must be moved by love,” said Ms. Martinez of Alianza de Mujeres Indignas de Centroamerica y Mexico. “We want laws not to be dead letters. We must get justice for little girls.”

The tribunal was organized by MADRE, the Alianza de Mujeres Indigenas de Centroamerica y Mexico, and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI); supported by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, New York City Office; and facilitated by United Methodist Women.