Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

RIGHTS-MEXICO: State Held Responsible for Three Juarez Killings

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2009 (IPS) - The families of three young women murdered in Ciudad Juárez, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua on the border with the United States, had to wait eight years for justice, which they finally obtained through the inter-American system.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, part of the Organisation of American States (OAS), found the Mexican state guilty of denial of justice to Claudia González, Esmeralda Herrera and Berenice Ramos, whose bodies were found with five others in November 2001, and to their relatives.

“The message of the ruling is clear: the state is declared to be, and to have been, responsible for femicides (gender-based murders of women) in Ciudad Juárez,” David Peña, the lawyer who argued the case with colleagues Karla Salas, of Mexico, and Emilio Ginés, of Spain, told IPS.

Members of the Court deliberated Tuesday and Wednesday on the case, known as the Cotton Field case because of the area where the victims were found. Their decision is final and unappealable, and will be made public as soon as the parties involved have been formally notified.

The plaintiffs asked the Court, based in San José, Costa Rica, to order a new investigation of the case, punishment for irregularities committed by officials, reparations for the injustices suffered, and the adoption of measures to prevent more crimes.

In March 2002, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received three separate individual petitions accusing the Mexican state of violating the human rights of González, Ramos and Herrera.

The Washington-based Commission decided to accept the petitions, and after analysing them, forwarded the case to the Court in November 2007.

The Commission alleged in its brief to the Court that the Mexican state had failed to provide measures to protect the victims and to prevent gender crimes, and had lacked due diligence in the murder investigations, as well as denying justice and adequate compensation to their next of kin.

The trial against Mexico opened Apr. 27 in the Court’s branch in Santiago, Chile. The non-governmental National Association of Democratic Lawyers (ANAD), the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), the Citizen Network for Non-Violence and Human Dignity and the Centre for Women’s Integral Development (CEDIMAC) provided legal support for the victims’ relatives.

Eight bodies were found in a cotton field across from a “maquiladora,” a factory assembling tax-free imported materials for export, on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez. Five of them were still unidentified when the accusation was presented, so the Commission decided to exclude them from the petition.

“We were hoping for a severe sentence, because we have been putting up with pretence for a long time, with the government trying to make us believe that it is doing something to stop the femicides,” Irma Casas, head of the non-governmental Casa Amiga founded by Esther Chávez, an activist who has fought to solve the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez, told IPS.

Known as the “Juárez femicides,” at least 300 women were murdered between 1993 and 2003, and most of the perpetrators have gone unpunished, according to human rights watchdog Amnesty International. The disappearances and killings of women are still continuing.

In 2003, the Mexican National Human Rights Commission published a special report on the cases of 263 murdered women and 4,587 who had disappeared since 1993. It accused state and municipal authorities of serious omissions in the investigations.

“The Mexican state is also responsible for reparations to the victims, and for guaranteeing that this will not happen again,” stressed Peña, who with Salas is a member of ANAD.

But over 15 years after the wave of gender violence had become notorious worldwide, the spate of crimes continues in Ciudad Juárez, which is the scene of deadly conflicts between organised crime gangs fighting over illegal drug routes to the lucrative U.S. market.

So far this year, more than 110 women have been killed in this city, according to the counts kept by human rights organisations.

“It’s a reflection of structural violence. The violence has become more brutal and more widespread, because impunity is the order of the day. We hope that the resolution of the Court will force the state to respond,” Casas said.

In closed-door sessions that began Monday and will continue until Nov. 28, the Court is also analysing resolutions on cases from Venezuela, Guatemala, Brazil and Peru.

The Court’s condemnation coincides with a series of actions in Mexico and abroad related to the femicides in this country.

From this Friday to Sunday, activists, academics and representatives of non-governmental organisations are holding a gathering for women’s rights in Ciudad Juárez, which will include an analysis of femicide and a planned event in the cotton field.

Another event is the Exodus for the Life of Women, a march of around 100 people that left the Mexican capital on Nov. 10 and will arrive in Ciudad Juárez on Nov. 23.

And at the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels, Belgium, the Second Conference on Femicide kicked off on Thursday, under the slogan “No more killings!” and attended by members of the EP Commission on the Rights of Women and delegates from Mexican, Guatemalan, Salvadoran and Honduran organisations.

Then on Nov. 29, the U.S. television broadcaster Discovery Channel is due to première the documentary “Ciudad Juárez: the Silence Continues”, about the history of the killings from 1993 to date.

The Mexican state faces two other lawsuits at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

One concerns community leader Rosendo Radilla, abducted in 1974 by soldiers in the southwestern state of Guerrero and never seen again. The other case involves the rape of two indigenous women by soldiers in the same state in 2002.

“Afterwards, we will have plenty of work to do monitoring the fulfilment of the sentence,” Peña said.

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