February 20, 2018
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PBI Mexico: Attacks on human rights defenders in Chihuahua unrelieved

Mexico City.- The assassinations of women due to their gender in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua is a paradigmatic case which has garnered attention internationally. In Mexico, this is a persistent phenomenon despite the work of local human rights organizations. Women active in criminal proceedings for violations of the rights of other women are also susceptible to attacks, according to the second report published by the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the situation of HRDs in the Americas. The document indicates that Chihuahua is among the three states with the highest number of attacks to both male and female defenders1. This past May, Peace Brigades International (PBI) visited the cities of Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez to learn more about the work of local HRDs and the risks they face.

The largest state in the Republic, Chihuahua is situated north of Mexico, on the border with the United States. Its geographic features facilitate the trafficking of arms2, drugs and humans, practices that have fostered a climate of violence, especially in the case of Ciudad Juarez, the most populous city. Mexican human rights organizations have described human rights violations in the state as "systematic"3.

The latest published data on attacks on human rights defenders in Chihuahua are daunting . Women like Luz Estela Castro, Alma Gomez, Maria Luisa Garcia, Norma Andrade, Marisela Ortiz, Cipriana Jurado, Sara Salazar and Emilia Gonzalez have denounced threats received in connection with their work as advocates. Josefina Reyes, Marisela Escobedo, Maria Magdalena Reyes, Susana Chavez and Luisa Ornelas were killed between 2010 and 2011, almost half of all cases of the assassinations of WHRDs nationwide4.

Social and human rights organizations5 and civil and military authorities6 shared with PBI their analysis of the current situation and presented some of the civil society and governmental initiatives created to address the violations of fundamental rights. These problems range from enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, extrajudicial execution and torture, to labor rights and gender violence.

Forced defenders

Norma Ledezma, director of Justice for Our Daughters (Justicia para Nuestras Hijas), probably would have preferred to continue her work in the maquila if the disappearance and murder of her daughter Paloma had not moved her to dedicate herself entirely to the pursuit of justice. The Mexican government publicly acknowledged its responsibility in the case last February, in response to the request made by the IACHR following a friendly settlement between the state and federal governments and the petitioners. If recommendations are not met, the case could be referred to the Inter-american Court of Human Rights.

Esther Norma Andrade, co-founder of Our Daughters Return Home (Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa), became a human rights defender due to a similar experience. In February 2011, her daughter Lilia Alejandra Garcia Andrade was kidnapped and found murdered a month later. As a consequence of her struggle for justice Norma Andrade suffered two serious attacks in December 2011 and February 2012, and was forced to leave Chihuahua to protect her security.

These advocates have not been the only ones forced to educated themselves in the justice system in order to force public institutions to advance their cases. Ricardo Alanis from the Committee of Families of the Disappeared (Comité de Familiares de Desaparecidos), an organization of about 42 families who have lost their daughters, told PBI how they have learned to mobilize and generate actions to pressure the authorities in order for their cases to be investigated and so that information that they collect will be taken into account. They are mostly humble parents: blue-collar workers and maquileros, without resources to hire legal assistance. They have to learn quickly to carry out each new complaint, adding to the 796 investigations accumulated by the State Attorney's office from 2009 to 20117. Some of them still lie in the Forensic Medical Service, without an open investigation and without the bodies returned to their families.

Lucha Castro and the team that keeps the Center for Women's Human Rights (Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres, CEDEHM) running began in 1994 with the organization El Barzón working on property rights issues. Complaints of the disappearance of women became increasingly frequent and many people came to them for help in the legal process. Later, they began to receive more cases involving gender violence and domestic violence. To meet these demands, CEDEHM emerged.

Women for Mexico (Mujeres por México) works along the same lines. There, Hector is the only man of those providing solidarity accompaniment. He had to learn because women came to his business looking for his wife to ask for help and advice on aggressions they suffered. As she was not always in the business, Hector felt a moral duty to become a human rights defender and now he accompanies assaulted women in the process of denouncing aggressions and reclaiming justice.

Civil society organizations in Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez have achieved the implementation of public policies and thus are closing the gap caused by gender violence. Some of them are a result of the Inter-american Court sentence known as Campo Algodonero, issued on November 16, 2009. The judgment of the Court included several recommendations requiring the State to implement reforms and policies. The Special Prosecutor for Attention to Women Victims of Gender Crime was created as part of these reforms and Protocol Alba, a searching operation for missing girls and women was implemented.

In a context of structural violence and strong presence of organized crime such as exists in Chihuahua, the attention given to human rights violations based on gender is diluted in comparison to other problems. However, the Network of Women (Red Mesa de Mujeres), made up of 10 organizations, has created a social fabric to speak out and to make their claims known. Their work has led them to gain visibility and recognition nationally and internationally. One of the difficulties lies in making the daily reality in Ciudad Juarez every day visible outside of the country.

Harassment and attacks in Chihuahua

In August 2010, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders requested the urgent intervention of the Mexican authorities in light of the harassment suffered by Emilia Gonzalez, one of the members of the Solidarity and Human Rights Defense Commission (Comisión de Solidaridad y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, COSYDDHAC). The organization works, among other issues, for the land rights of the indigenous people of the Sierra Tarahumara and has denounced the participation of public security elements in the Creel massacre, in which 12 young people and a baby were killed in a town located in the west of Chihuahua.

Since January 2010, Ms. Emilia González, who has been the victim of harassment along with other members of the CEDEHM and Human Rights Centre Paso del Norte, has been working as a legal representatives in cases of enforced disappearance. Because of the risk related to her work, the Inter-american Court granted precautionary measures on March 4 of that year. Paso del Norte is also a well known organization with years of experience in the state. Because of their accompaniment in cases of torture, forced disappearance, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killing its members face substantial risk. In June 2011, they denounced a raid on its headquarters by the Federal Police, an institution that has received recommendations from the National Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) this year8.

The militarization of the state of Chihuahua in order to combat drug trafficking has led to an increase in reports of torture by elements of the security forces, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances in cities like Juarez. While official statistics show a decrease in high-impact crimes, civilians and civil society organizations complaints have increased. It is the responsability of the State to provide the necessary support to these organizations so that investigations are undertaken and the facts are clarified before the justice system.

We would like to thank the human rights defenders for their time and shared experiences. PBI strongly emphasizes the importance of the support, protection and recognition for the work of those who defend and promote human rights in Chihuahua. Likewise, we thank the Chihuahua authorities for presenting advances in human rights and the problems still faced by the state.


1Data compiled by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico (OHCHR) in its 2010 updated report on the situation of human rights defenders in Mexico.

2"In the document published in the Parliamentary Gazette, PGR (Attorney General Office) detailing that ten state offices reported finding data related to the crime of smuggling of weapons from 1 December 2006 to 31 December 2011", Bulletin N.5194, May 25, 2012.

3Human rights organizations reported systematic violations of human rights in Chihuahua, Red de Derechos Humanos Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos, March 16, 2012.

4Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders, "shadow report" to the CEDAW Committee on the situation of violence against women human rights defenders, 52nd Session, New York, July 17, 2012

5Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres (CEDEHM), El Barzón, Justicia para Nuestras Hijas, Pastoral Obrera, Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte, Comité de Madres y Familiares de Desaparecidos, Red Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juárez, Mujeres por México in Chihuahua and Comisión de Solidaridad y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (COSYDDHAC).

6State Coordinator of Federal Police, Public Security Secretary Ciudad Juarez, State Interior Minister, President and Third Visitor of the State Human Rights Commission.

7Attorney General of the state of Chihuahua, Intentional homicide with female victim Analysis. Period from 2009 to 2011. Report submitted to the Special Committee to Examine and timely and thorough monitoring actions undertaken by the competent authorities relating to the Registered Femicides in Mexico of the Chamber of Deputies.

8National Human Rights Commission, Recommendation No. 9/2012, 29 March 2012.

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