Mexico Ignores Inter-American Court Rulings on “Femicides“

Mexico City – Six months after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights handed down two sentences against the Mexican state, one of them linked to the wave of murders of women in Ciudad Juárez, little has been done to comply with the rulings.

The Court found the Mexican state guilty in November 2009 of denial of justice to Claudia González, 20, Esmeralda Herrera, 15, and Berenice Ramos, 17, whose bodies were found with the corpses of five other women in November 2001 on a piece of waste ground known as Campo Algodonero on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez, a sprawling industrial city on the U.S. border.

The Mexican state was held responsible for “the lack of measures for the protection of the victims…the lack of prevention of these crimes, in spite of full awareness of the existence of a pattern of gender-related violence that had resulted in hundreds of women and girls murdered, the lack of response of the authorities to the disappearance (of the women), the lack of due diligence in the investigation of the homicides…, as well as the denial of justice and the lack of an adequate reparation” to their families.

The sentence was considered a landmark ruling because it was the first time a state was found responsible in cases of gender-based murders, known as “femicides”.

No one knows exactly how many young women have been killed in Ciudad Juárez over the last two decades. According to an Amnesty International report, more than 370 women and girls had been killed between 1993 and 2004. But local residents and rights groups put the number much higher. Nearly all of the cases remain unsolved.

The other Inter-American Court ruling, which was made public in December 2009, found the Mexican state guilty in the forced disappearance of community leader Rosendo Radilla, abducted in 1974 by soldiers in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero.

The Court held the state responsible for violations of Radilla’s right to life, personal liberty and humane treatment, and of the right to judicial protection and humane treatment of the victim’s kin.

“We are concerned that adequate mechanisms have not been created to comply with the sentence and to hold the state accountable,” Andrea Medina, a lawyer with the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), told IPS.

This regional network, along with Mexico’s National Association of Democratic Lawyers (ANAD), the Citizen Network for Non-Violence and Human Dignity and the Centre for Women’s Integral Development (CEDIMAC) represented the families of the three Campo Algodonero (Cotton Field) victims before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) and the Inter-American Court.

Of the 16 specific orders issued by the Court in that case, the only one the government has carried out so far was the publication of the ruling in the official government record and in one other newspaper of national circulation.

The Court, whose rulings cannot be appealed, also ordered the government to pay 134,000 dollars to González’s family, 145,500 to the Herrera’s and 140,500 to the Ramos’s, for reparations and legal costs.

In addition, it instructed the authorities to conduct a serious investigation into the murders, hold a public ceremony to apologise for the killings, build a monument to the three young women in Ciudad Juárez, and expand gender sensitivity and human rights training for police.

Furthermore, the authorities must create a web site on the women and girls killed since 1993 in the border city, step up and coordinate efforts to find women who have gone missing, and investigate death threats and harassment against members of victims’ families.

“Many things have yet to be done, especially the investigation, the most urgent and important matter,” Juan Gutiérrez, head of the non-governmental Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH), commented to IPS. “The problem is that the state has no formal mechanism to live up to these international legal rulings.”

The CMDPDH and the Mexican Association of Relatives of the Detained, Disappeared and Victims of Human Rights Violations (AFADEM) brought Radilla’s case before the IACHR in 2001.

The IACHR and the Inter-American Court are the two Organisation of American States (OAS) bodies for the promotion and protection of human rights.

In its ruling on the Radilla case, the Court demanded that the Mexican state carry out a thorough investigation and continue the search for the victim’s remains, publicly acknowledge its responsibility in the case, produce a biography of his life, and provide psychological assistance and 238,300 dollars in financial reparations to Radilla’s family.

The federal government must also hold a public ceremony acknowledging its guilt in Radilla’s disappearance, erect a plaque in his memory, reform the military code of justice dating to 1933, which shields soldiers from prosecution for crimes, and update the country’s laws on forced disappearance.

But as in the Campo Algodonero case, the only step fulfilled so far is the publication of the sentence.

The human rights groups also complain about the lack of contact with the authorities involved in implementing the rulings. For example, the CMDPDH and AFADEM have not yet received the files on the Radilla case from the attorney general’s office.

“The rulings serve no purpose if they are merely formal and fail to generate changes at an internal level; the question is how to bring about reparations with a gender perspective,” Liliana Valiña, a representative in Mexico of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told IPS.

In both cases, the Inter-American Court will assess compliance with the sentences in December. In the Campo Algodonero ruling, the Mexican state was given one year to live up to the instructions.

Laura Carrera, the head of the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women, a government agency, said efforts are being made to find the funds to build the monument to the victims, and a protocol is being drawn up for procedures to be followed in the case of women who have gone missing.

She also announced the creation of Casas de Justicia, which will include shelters for victims of gender violence. The first such shelters will be built in Ciudad Juárez.

“Right now, they should be investigating the murders and providing medical and psychological attention to the victims’ families, and that isn’t happening,” said Medina, the author of a study on the Campo Algodonero sentence.

When its rulings are not enforced, the Inter-American Court can turn to the OAS general assembly. If that happens in the case of Mexico, it could be declared in breach of international human rights sentences.

The Mexican government has announced that it will send Congress a bill to reform the military justice code. “What worries us is whether the reform will be discussed with us. It is essential that we be allowed to see the draft law,” Gutiérrez said.

Visit IPS news for fresh perspectives on development and globalization.