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MEXICO: Supreme Court Legitimises Rape of Spouses, Critics Say
By Eduardo Molina y Vedia

MEXICO CITY, Jun 16 (IPS) - Three Supreme Court judges in Mexico ruled that violently forcing a spouse to engage in sexual relations was not rape but the ''undue exercise of a right.''

Offenders will no longer face eight to 14 years in prison without right to probation - the punishment for those found guilty of rape - but instead will choose between three to 12 months in prison or a 100 to 300 dollar fine.

The decision triggered an outcry among womens and human rights groups. Patricia Otamendi with the Plural Pro-Victims Group told the press that the Supreme Court ruling ''implicitly legitimises the exercise of violence between spouses.''

The verdict was handed down by Supreme Court justices Luis Fernandez Doblado, Clementina Gil and Victoria Adato. Adato was part of the Mexican delegation to the third women's summit held in 1985 in Nairobi.

The ruling was issued to resolve a contradiction that had arisen from two courts in the central Mexican state of Puebla, both of which considered cases of husbands forcing wives to engage in sexual relations. Only one of the courts ruled that rape had been committed.

The Supreme Court decision states that ''if one spouse violently imposes on the other normal copulation when the obligation of cohabitation'' exists, that is not sufficient for the act to be considered rape, in spite of the employment of methods typically used to define that crime.

But ''while spouses have the right to sexual relations, they cannot be permitted to achieve that aim through violence. Hence if such conduct is observed, it will be treated according to the article penalising the undue exercise of a right.

''But the obligation of cohabitation is considered to be waived, even though it has not been judicially decreed, when a spouse attempts to impose copulation while in a state of intoxication, suffering from venereal disease, AIDS, or in the presence of other persons,'' the ruling adds.

''The same applies if the woman is suffering from some kind of ailment, such as paralysis, which makes reproduction impossible, or in case of legal separation of the spouses, with the understanding that the above-mentioned examples do not constitute an exhaustive list.''

Otamendi with the Plural Pro-Victims Group said the Supreme Court verdict ''grants validity to a supposed right, which is nonexistent and denied by numerous documents dealing with the rights and guarantees of individuals.''

Another women's activist, Patricia Duarte, said the concept of ''the undue exercise of a right'' violated the principle of equality between spouses and the constitutional clause that stipulates that no individual can take the law into their own hands, nor use violence to demand a real or supposed right.

Patricia Mercado, a leader of another women's group, said the precedent set by the Supreme Court violated universally accepted norms in civil, criminal, administrative and international law, as well as international treaties to which Mexico is a signatory.

[c] 1997, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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