Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sexual harassment in the Spanish Army: the "Zaida Cantera case"

Capt. Zaida Cantera
Most citizens in Spain hardly ever reflect on military justice. It is a topic foreign to most of them and outside of their daily lives. But on a Sunday night in March 2015, many Spanish citizens went to bed reflecting on the perils of having a military justice system as it is today.

In a widely watched documentary, Spanish reporter Jordi Évole presented the case of Zaida Cantera. She was a captain in the Army and was in Lebanon when Lieutenant Colonel Lezcano-Mújica was sent to her unit.  Shortly after, he started sexually harassing her and continually undermining her work and persona. However, she was afraid of reporting the incidents because “in the army, if you sue someone, the one with more credibility is the one that has a higher rank”. Even after going to court, Col. Lezcano-Mújica, known for his questionable treatment of women, was promoted to Colonel.

Finally, a military court condemned Col. Lezcano-Mújica to two years and ten months in prison for abuse of authority and degrading treatment. The Supreme Court affirmed. After the decision, members of the Army who were close to the Colonel started a campaign against Captain Cantera and allegedly even falsified evidence to accuse her of disloyalty. In the end, she decided to quit the Armed Forces.

Captain Cantera explains in the documentary how the chain of command knew, consented to, and collaborated in the sexual harassment she suffered. Moreover, the institution did not react against the officers who turned a blind eye to the situation Captain Caldera was experiencing.

Cases like this raise many questions about military justice in Spain and other countries with similar systems. The case of Captain Cantera unfortunately is not unique. Women still face degrading treatment in the armed forces and there is a system is in place that grants peer protection to those who commit sexual abuse and other types of harassment. Pundits have raised concerns on the independence and impartiality of military judges when ruling on cases involving high ranking officers and have called for civilian oversight or even the demise of military justice as autonomous from ordinary jurisdiction.

The documentary can be watched here. More on the case can be found here, here, and here.

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