Mexico: Ten Years of Murder and Abduction of Women in Ciudad Juarez 'Must End Now'
Posted: 11 August 2003
Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary General, launches the report in a press conference on 11 August at 10.30 am (local time) in Casa Refugio Citlalteptl, Citlalteptl 25 (between Campeche and Ãmsterdam), Col. Hipódromo Condesa, Mexico City. She will be accompanied by Norma Ledesma, mother of Paloma Escobar Ledesma who disappeared and was later found dead in Ciudad Juárez in March 2002, and Silvia Aguilera, Director of the Comisión Mexicana pobbr la Promoción y la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos/Comité Promotor de la Campaña "Alto a la Impunidad".
In Ciudad Juárez, the report will be presented by Yanette Bautista, Amnesty International researcher and Susan Lee, Americas Program Director, together with representatives of local human rights organisations and relatives of some of the victims of violence against women in Ciudad Juárez. The press conference will take place at 10.30 am (local time) 11 August at the Hotel Fiesta Inn, Paseo Triunfo de la Reforma 4351, Ciudad Juárez.
Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan said:
"The pervasive failure of the authorities to address these cases is tantamount to tolerance of them.
"It is shameful that in the first few years after the abductions and murders began, the authorities displayed open discrimination towards the women and their families in their public statements. On more than one occasion the women themselves were blamed for their own abduction or murder because of the way they dressed or because they worked in bars at night."
According to official figures 70 women remain missing in Ciudad Juárez, and more recently in the city of Chihuahua. Information from other sources puts this figure at 400 women missing since 1993. A significant number of the young women reported missing are found dead days, or even years, later. 75 bodies have still not been identified.
At least 137 of the murdered women were sexually assaulted prior to their death. Many of the women were abducted, held captive for several days and subjected to humiliation, torture and the most horrific sexual violence before dying, most as a result of asphyxiation caused by strangulation or from being beaten. Their bodies have been found days or even years later, hidden among rubble or abandoned in desert areas near the city.
Amnesty International's report states: "The failure of the competent authorities to take action to investigate these crimes, whether through indifference, lack of will, negligence or inability, has been blatant over the last ten years." The organisation has documented unjustifiable delays in the initial investigations, the period when there is a greater chance of finding the woman alive and identifying those responsible, and a failure to follow up evidence and witness statements that could be crucial. In other cases, the forensic examinations carried out have been inadequate, with contradictory and incorrect information being given to families about the identity of bodies.
Many of the missing or murdered are young women from poor backgrounds and with no power in society, some with children to support, whose deaths have no political cost for the local authorities. Several of the missing or murdered women were employed in maquiladoras, assembly plants for multinational companies, or as waitresses, students or women working in the informal economy.
Irene Khan said: "For many migrant women, the pervasive pattern of violence in Ciudad Juárez, has turned the dream of finding new opportunities into a nightmare.
"The suffering of the families of these women is being intensified again and again. Not only have the authorities failed to inform them of developments in the cases, but their demands that a formal criminal investigation be opened from the first day on which a woman is reported missing have been ignored. Families have been left without the right to justice and dependent on the good will of the authorities dealing with the case."
Referring to the threats and intimidation that lawyers, relatives and members of NGOs have been subjected to, Irene Khan added:
"The real protagonists of this tragedy are the families of these women who have single-handedly fought for justice in the face of hostility."
The state authorities claim that most of the murders have been "solved". According to the authorities' figures, 79 people have been convicted, yet in the vast majority of cases justice has not been done. There have been allegations of suspects being tortured and evidence planted, casting doubt on the quality and integrity of criminal proceedings. Meanwhile, year after year the crimes continue.
There is an urgent need for a profound structural reform of the Mexican justice system so that its investigative procedures and capabilities will provide full access to justice for the victims and a fair trial for the accused. Amnesty International called for these underlying structural problems to be addressed in the context of the UN-sponsored Technical Agreement Programme, the process of which is drawing on the insights of national NGOs and based on the recommendations made by international bodies.
Irene Khan said: "The ability to address cases such as the killings in Juarez will be a benchmark of the effectiveness of this process of reform."
Amnesty International welcomed promising developments such as the recent creation of inter-institutional sub-commission, under the auspices of the SecretarÃa de Gobernacion (Ministry of the Interior) to look specifically into the Juarez cases.
However, Irene Khan cautioned:
"These positive steps have to be seen in the light of ten years of empty promises. Ten years of intolerable crimes must end now.
"President Fox and his government have committed themselves to promoting the protection of human rights at all levels, inside and outside the country. The cases of these murdered and missing women in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua contain many of the elements that undermine the credibility of these commitments.
"The full implementation of the measures recommended by Amnesty International and other organisations will be the clearest sign that these killings and abductions are not tolerated by the authorities."
The first cases of abduction and killing of women and girls exhibiting a similar pattern were reported in Ciudad Juárez ten years ago. Located in the desert on the border with the United States, it is now the most heavily-populated city in Chihuahua state. Its geographical position has turned it into fertile territory for drug trafficking and this has led to high crime levels and feelings of insecurity among the population. However, throughout the past few decades, the establishment of so-called maquilas, assembly plants for export products set up by multinational companies, has also meant that it has been privileged in terms of economic development. The profitability of the maquiladora industry is largely derived from the hiring of very cheap local labour. Despite the low pay, the need for a wage or the desire to get across the border to the neighbouring country to the north in search of a better future has turned Ciudad Juárez into an "attractive" city for a large number of people from different parts of Mexico.