The brutal event radically changed Valentina’s life. When she reported the crime her case was transferred to the military courts. She was too terrified to speak with the army. The case was eventually shelved. In order to stop Valentina from seeking justice, the army attacked her community. Valentina was forced to flee her home and seek a safer haven for herself and her three-month-old daughter.

Refusing to be a silent victim, Valentina began a long struggle to have her case heard in a civilian court. She received death threats. Her young daughter was attacked and threats to her lawyers forced them to close their local offices. Valentina and her daughter were forced to change homes several times just to stay safe.

Despite the danger, with the support of her lawyers and PBI’s protection on the ground, Valentina carried on her fight against impunity. She took her case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights not only to regain her own dignity, but also to fight for the dignity of other indigenous women similarly impacted by gender brutality.

In Valentina’s own words, “I don’t want the same thing to happen to my daughter, or to other women. That’s why I seek justice.”

Valentina’s perseverance, courage and deep desire for justice led her to win her case in June 2018 and to see one of the most significant judgments being passed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

In a groundbreaking verdict, the Court acknowledged that sexual violence had been used by the Mexican Army as a form of torture and a weapon of war against women. The court also found Valentina’s rights had been violated and ordered Mexico to end the use of military justice in cases where soldiers commit crimes against civilians. Subsequently Mexico modified its Military Justice Code, which now requires civilian courts to investigate human rights violations committed by military members against civilians.

As a result of the judgment, 16 years after the event, a civilian court in Guerrero convicted the soldiers who raped and tortured Valentina and sentenced them to 19 years in prison.

This verdict was only possible thanks to the determination and strength of Valentina in her struggle and defence of women´s rights. Her story highlights the instrumental role that women human rights defenders play in upholding the rule of law and building sustainable peace in communities and wider societies. Supporting and enabling environmental and human rights defenders, with a particular focus on women, is at the heart of the work of Peace Brigades International (PBI). PBI use their international presence and global networks to protect, support and enable the work of women defenders for peaceful social change.