Law & politics

Murder and disappearances in Mexico

Dr Elvira Dominguez-RedondoAssociate Professor of International Law Dr Elvira Dominguez-Redondo outlines findings from a major new report on the situation of human rights defenders in Mexico, which was the result of a Civil Observation Mission to the country in 2014.

The report In Defense of Life: Civil Observation Mission (MOC) Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Mexico 2015 (available in English and Spanish here) contains findings and recommendations of the MOC. It confirms the situation of great vulnerability and risk faced by human rights defenders in Mexico and recommends measures to the Mexican state to better prevent, investigate, prosecute and adequately remedy them.

The report is the outcome of a Civil Observation Mission (shortened to MOC in Spanish) undertaken in November 2014 by five independent experts in human rights from the Americas and Europe, who visited the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Baja California and Mexico City. The Mission was carried out under the European Union Project ‘The protection of human rights defenders through its training and visibility‘ and implemented by the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPHD) with the support of CONEXX-Europe.

Unsolved crimes

The Mission examined the live situation faced by human rights defenders operating in a country tarnished by a worsening of human rights, despite successive legislative reforms. The vulnerability of Mexican human rights defenders is exacerbated by their criminalisation, which impacts upon their capacity to act without fear due to the prospect of murder, enforced disappearance, surveillance and slander perpetrated against them. This vulnerability is enhanced by rampant impunity in a country where estimates indicate 98 per cent of crimes remain unsolved, following inadequate investigations.

Photo by Montecruz Foto (Creative Commons 2.0)
Photo by Montecruz Foto (Creative Commons 2.0)

The situation of human rights in Mexico has been steadily worsening over the last three decades. At times, it has attracted international attention due to specific violations, as with the case concerning female homicides in Ciudad Juarez which intensified from 1993 onwards, leading to a 2005 investigation by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. More recently, the enforced disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Iguala, Guerrero, in September 2014 became a crucial point in terms of international awareness. As stated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein “the Iguala case is a microcosm of the chronic problems underlying the relentless wave of human right violations taking place across Mexico”. Clearly, the forced disappearances of the Ayotzinapa’s students, which sparked national and international outcry, reflects a widespread and alarming situation of serious human rights violations of great complexity with multiple stakeholders involved, accompanied by the absence of public trust in state authorities to effectively protect its population, in a safe environment.

Trade relations

In the context of the Dual Year Mexico-UK, a special push for growing trade relations with Mexico has come into focus. While the growth of a similar relationship with China has merited significant attention, the case of human rights in Mexico has merited relatively little in the context of the UK’s attempt to frame a meaningful bilateral relationship with Mexico.

The findings and recommendations enshrined in the report will be examined in the UK in the context of two specific events, one held on 26 October 2015 at Middlesex University and another on 27 October 2015 with Members of Parliament.

The MOC first presented its findings on 29 September 2014 at a side event at the United Nations Human Rights Council. I then presented the report at an event hosted by the European Parliament. Other speakers included Silvana Mandolessi, President of Connex-Europe; Juan Carlos Trujillo, Founder of Families in Search María Herrera y Enlaces Nacionales; Ms Ana Almeida Campos, Mexico Desk Officer EEAS; Ms Francisca Méndez Head of Chancery, Mexican Embassy in Belgium before the EU; Martha Méndez, Programme Manager, DG DEVCO, Governance, Democracy, Gender and Human Rights, Mr Axel Garcia, Programme Coordinator, CMDPDH.

Other organisations convening, accompanying and participating in the MOC included: Peace Brigades International – Mexico Project (PBI México); Amnesty International Mexico; Just Associates (JASS); the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR); Front Line Defenders; Protection International (PI); the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center); the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT/ FIDH); and the German Coordinating Committee for Human Rights in Mexico.