Nº 4/02





Ms. Marta Altolaguirre, Special Rapporteur on Women's Rights at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), today concluded a two-day visit to Ciudad Juárez and to Mexico City conducted at the invitation of the government of President Vicente Fox and in light of concerns previously expressed by various civil society representatives.  The purpose of the visit was to evaluate the situation of women's rights in Ciudad Juárez.  During this visit the Special Rapporteur received assistance from Dr. Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, Principal Specialist at the IACHR.


Ms. Altolaguirre, a member of the Commission, was named Special Rapporteur in 2000 and currently serves as Vice President of the Commission. Under the Rapporteur's mandate, her tasks are to protect, and promote greater respect for, the rights of women in the Hemisphere. Her analysis focuses in particular on the degree to which the laws and practices of OAS member states are consistent with the obligations of equality before the law and nondiscrimination under the applicable instruments. Those instruments include, in particular, the American Convention on Human Rights (“American Convention”), to which Mexico has been a party since 1981, and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, or "Convention of Belém do Pará," which Mexico ratified in 1998


The IACHR is a principal organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), composed of seven members elected in their personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly. The Commission's mandate is to promote the observance of human rights in the Hemisphere according to parameters established in the American Convention on Human Rights. Among the commitments undertaken by OAS member states and states parties to the Convention is that of extending to the Commission all the necessary facilities to enable it to carry out its observation missions with full autonomy in the pursuit of its mandate. The Special Rapporteur's visit will be conducted under the authority established in the American Convention and the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR.


In the course of these two days, the Special Rapporteur kept a busy schedule that included meetings with federal officials, such as Senator Susana Stephenson Pérez, Chair of the Committee on Equity and Gender at the Senate; Federal Deputy Concepción González Molina, Chair of the Committee on Equity and Gender at the Chamber of Deputies; Deputies Silvia López Escoffié and Olga Haydee Juárez, and Senators Leticia Burgos and María del Carmen Ramírez García, members of the aforesaid committees; the Chair of the Committee on Human Rights at the Senate; Mr. David Rodríguez Torres, Federal Deputy and member of the Special Commission to Solve the Women's Murders in Ciudad Juárez; Ms. Mariclaire Acosta Urquidi, Under-secretary for Human Rights and Democracy and Ms. Patricia Olamendi, Under-secretary for Global Issues, both from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ms. Patricia Espinosa Torres, President of the National Women’s Institute (Inmujeres) and Martha Laura Carranza, Technical Secretary of Inmujeres; and the following officials from the Office of Attorney General of the Republc: Mr. Carlos Vega Memije, Assistant State's Attorney for Criminal Procedures “B”, Dr. María de la Luz Lima Malvido, Assistant State's Attorney for General Coordination and Development, Mr. Eduardo Ibarrola Nicolin, Assistant State's Attorney for Legal Matters and International Affairs, Dr. Miguel Oscar Aguilar Ruiz, Director General of Expert Witness Services, and Dr. Mario I. Alvarez Ledesma, Director General for Protection of Human Rights. 


The Special Rapporteur also held interviews with officials of the State of Chihuahua and of the Municipality of Ciudad Juárez, inter alia, Mr. Jesús José Solís Silva, the State Attorney-General; Mr. Lorenzo Aquino Miranda, Representative in Chihuahua of the Office of the Attorney General; Mr. Suly Ponce, Regional Coordinator of the North Zone from the State Attorney-General's Office; Mr. Zulema Bolivar, Special Prosecutor for the Investigation of the Women's Murders; Mr. Sergio A. Martínez Garza, Secretary General of the Office of the Governor of the State of Chihuahua; Mr. Oscar Francisco Yáñez Franco, Chair of the State Committee on Human Rights (CEDH); Mr. José Luis Armendáriz, Technical Secretary of the CEDH; Mr. Jaime Flores Castañeda, Principal Inspector of Ciudad Juárez (CEDH); Mr. José Reyes Ferriz, Mayor of Ciudad Juárez; and several officials from the Directorate of Municipal Public Security. 


In addition she received information and testimonies from victims’ relatives, and met with representatives of nongovernmental human rights organizations and other civil society representatives at the local and national level, including, inter alia, Casa Amiga Centro de Crisis, A.C., Red de No Violencia y Dignidad Humana, Campaña “Alto a la Impunidad: Ni Una Muerte Más”, Grupo Feminista Ocho de Marzo de Chihuahua, FEMAP, CIESAS, Círculo de Estudios de Género, Asociación de Amigos y Personas Desaparecidos A.C., MILETNIA, Pastoral Obrera, Pastoral Juvenil Obrera, CETLAC, Commission for Solidarity and Defense of Human Rights (COSYDDHAC), Despacho Obrero, Centro Mujeres, Centro de Investigación y Solidaridad Obrera, Asociación de Trabajadores Sociales, A.C., Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad, Centro Norte Americano para la Solidaridad Sindical Internacional AFL-CIO, Milenio Feminista Convergencia Socialista, ELIGE Red de Jóvenes para los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos, A.C., Mujeres Trabajadores Unidas, A.C., Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos A.C., Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, and the Committee on Equity and Gender of Confederation of Telephone Workers of the Mexican Republic.


The Special Rapporteur thanks the Governor of Chihuahua and the Mayor of Ciudad Juárez and his staff for their hospitality during the visit.  She also thanks the government of President Fox for permitting her to conduct her work, as well as its willingness to cooperate in seeking solutions to the problems posed. She is particularly grateful to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Under-secretary Patricia Olamendi for accompanying her at the interviews.  In concrete terms, that willingness has been reflected in the closer relations between President Vicente Fox and the competent authorities, in order to implement the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission.  In that connection is the recent release of General Gallardo in response to a recommendation made by the Inter-American Commission.  The Special Rapporteur also wishes to extend her thanks to civil society representatives, especially those directly affected by this situation, for their cooperation and the important information with which they supplied her on this visit. 


The Special Rapporteur will present a report on her visit to the plenary of the IACHR at its next session due to begin at the end of the month in progress.  The Office of the Rapporteur will examine in detail all the information received on this visit, in order to prepare a report containing its conclusions on the situation of violence against women in Ciudad Juárez for consideration and approval by the plenary of the IACHR.  That report will be conveyed to the Mexican State for consideration and made public in the near future. It will contain a series of recommendations designed to help the State to better comply with its international obligations in this area.  The Inter-American Commission will conduct follow-up to evaluate the measures adopted to comply with these recommendations.


The foregoing notwithstanding, in the framework of the climate of cooperation that exists with the Government and in order to contribute to the quest for greater protection of women's rights in Ciudad Juárez, the Special Rapporteur wishes to make some initial observations, in particular regarding the worrying situation of violence against women there.  Since November 2001 the Office of the Rapporteur has received a series of communications signed by over 300 organizations, saying that from 1993 to the present more than two hundred women have been brutally murdered in that border city, complaining of the inefficiency of law enforcement, and requesting the Office of the Rapporteur to make a visit to Mexico, in order to acquaint itself with the situation of violence that women in that city endure.  In reply to the concern expressed by the Special Rapporteur at this information, the Government of Mexico extended the invitation to conduct the on-site visit that concludes today.


During the visit, the Office of the Attorney-General for the State of Chihuahua (PGJE in its Spanish initials) presented information on the murders of 268 women in Ciudad Juárez from January 1993 to January 2002.  In many cases the victims were young women who worked at in-bond assembly plants (maquiladoras) or students, some of them minors, who were raped, strangled or stabbed, and whose bodies were found dumped on the outskirts of the city.  The PGJE reported that the vast majority of these cases, which it classifies as multiple homicides, remain open and unsolved.  It also informed that the vast majority of cases of missing persons reported over the same period had been solved, and the person in question found, while at least 257 remain pending.  Although other sources question those figures and the criteria that the PGJE applies to classify the crimes, what is absolutely clear is the gravity of the situation and the high degree of impunity. 


As a letter presented to the Special Rapporteur on the visit explains, “Since 1993 women living in Ciudad Juárez have been afraid; afraid to go out into the street and walk the distance between their home and their job.  Afraid at 10, 13, 15, 20 years old; it makes no difference of she is a girl or a woman...”.  This situation in Ciudad Juárez has impacted on the minds of the population; in fact, the letter in question was presented with 5,000 signatures.  The Executive Secretariat also took receipt, through Dr. Abi-Mershed, of two petitions regarding specific victims, and other organizations said that they are going to lodge petitions with the IACHR in the near future.


The impact is also reflected in several initiatives implemented by the state designed to solve the women’s murders in Ciudad Juárez.  The Special Rapporteur was pleased at the information she received on the activities of the Congressional Committees on Equity and Gender, and at the Special Commission of the Chamber of Deputies created in November 2001 to solve the women's murders in Ciudad Juárez.  That Special Commission has held meetings with relatives of victims, nongovernmental organizations that work in this area, state officials, and representatives of in-bond assembly plants, in order to follow-up on investigations, encourage real collaboration between government at all three levels and civil society, and offer concrete recommendations on ways to prevent these crimes.  It also received information of the impulse given by the National Women’s Institute to the creation of an Inter-institutional Panel for Dialogue (Mesa Interinstitucional de Diálogo) composed of representatives of different agencies of the State of Chihuahua and civil society representatives.  The purpose of that Panel will be to analyze and pursue the murder cases, including the review of case files, in order to issue observations and recommendations to improve the progress of the investigations.  The Special Rapporteur values initiatives intended to stop these crimes, unite efforts, and solve the cases of past victims. 


While the above-described initiatives are reason for hope, it appears that other initiatives implemented to resolve the problem have not received the necessary follow-up.  In particular, according to the information available, the important effort made by the National Human Rights Commission in 1998 to assess the investigations into the women’s murders and issue recommendation 44/98 has produced no tangible results.  Although the creation of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for the Investigation of Women's Murders in Ciudad Juárez has contributed important new evidence for the investigation, it too has failed to have the results for which the stricken community hoped.


The Convention of Belém do Pará provides that “Every woman has the right to be free from violence in both the public and private spheres” (Article 3). It also states that violence against women shall be understood to include physical, sexual and psychological violence that occurs in the home, in the community, and that is perpetrated or condoned by the State (Article 2).  This Convention also recognizes for women the right to exercise and protection of their fundamental rights; it also gives rise to various obligations for the State, principally that it apply due diligence to prevent, investigate and impose penalties for violence against women (Article 7).


In spite of the gravity of the situation and the steps that are being taken, the state response to these crimes continues to be woefully inadequate.  As several public officials said, the measures adopted are not commensurate with the magnitude of the problem.  Moreover, both the competent authorities and civil society representatives said time and again that law enforcement in the State has been ineffective in solving these crimes, which has led to impunity and insecurity as a result.  The impunity that has existed since 1993 of the serious violations of women’s human rights in Ciudad Juárez, helps considerably to perpetuate violence against women.


The Special Rapporteur has observed an appreciable, widespread lack of respect for law enforcement in the State of Chihuahua.  On one hand, the relatives and their representatives consistently said that they do not receive basic information and the assistance they need in their search for justice.  It is clear that this lack of information is a very major cause of the lack of confidence in the justice system.  In several interviews, relatives of victims and members of civil society expressed doubts about the grounds supporting the charges against alleged culprits.  Further, in certain specific cases, the relatives say that they have grave doubts about the real identity of the corpse identified by the authorities as being that of their loved one.


There was repeated mention of the lack of consideration shown by some officials to relatives who came forward to enquire about the status of the investigations.  In addition, the Special Rapporteur has received several reports to the effect that some relatives feel unprotected, and that, on the contrary, they say some officials are undermining their reputations and those of the victims.  According to these reports, there is a tendency to relate the crime to the mode of dress or behavior of the victim, essentially blaming her rather than directing attention toward the murderer.  This type of treatment or response reflects discrimination that is unacceptable for the IACHR.


The Special Rapporteur was also informed that human rights defense attorneys, representatives of NGOs that work with relatives of the victims, and journalists, have received threats in connection with their work in this area.  The Rapporteur wishes to recall that these defense attorneys play a pivotal role in the protection of human rights, and she underscores the importance for persons at risk to have access to protection measures.     


It is also important to mention the duty of the State, under both the American Convention on Human Rights and the Convention of Belém do Pará, to take reasonable steps to prevent violations of human rights,.  At the meetings, civil society representatives and public officials alike mentioned certain circumstances or special features of Ciudad Juárez, such as the disproportionate growth as a result of the in-bond assembly plants and employment opportunities, the presence of other migrants waiting to cross the border, the porous nature of that border, and the rise in the sale of drugs and the infiltration of organized crime.  Furthermore, and in light of the circumstances of the murders under investigation, repeated mention was made of the need for enhanced security measures and public policies designed to guarantee the life and physical integrity of the women of Ciudad Juárez, for instance, in the areas of street lighting, public transport, and aspects of public security.


In that connection, the Mayor told the Special Rapporteur that in recent months after a series of meetings with civil society representatives, steps were taken, inter alia, to arrange with TELEMEX to set up a telephone hotline to take emergency calls from women at risk from domestic violence, harassment in the street, etc.; implement a program of stricter controls for hiring drivers in the public transport service; install more street lighting; launch a new anonymous complaint program called “Juntos contra la Delincuencia” (Together against Crime); and work with some in-bond assembly plants to adopt measures to ensure that no woman is left alone on the trucks that transport them.  The Rapporteur hopes to receive information on the results of these and other initiatives in the near future.


In conclusion, the Special Rapporteur wishes to acknowledge the efforts of the Mexican Government and civil society to find solutions to the problem of violence against women in Ciudad Juárez. She fully supports these efforts, particularly with respect to the need for government at all levels and civil society to join forces.  As the Convention of Belém do Pará indicates, violence against women is not a private problem but, fundamentally a social one, and it affects all members of civil society. 


However, in light of the gravity of the situation, the Special Rapporteur cannot but mention its disappointment with the sluggish progress made in a situation that dates from 1993.  On one hand, it is essential to solve these crimes and to punish the culprits in accordance with the law. And, on the other hand, it is just as important to adopt effective policies with an adequate budget to prevent and eliminate violence against women.  The Special Rapporteur reiterates her readiness to continue to collaborate with the authorities and with civil society within the framework of the applicable instruments, in order to help strengthen domestic and international mechanisms the for the protection of women's rights, in particular the right to a life without violence.  Finally, the Special Rapporteur wishes to thank the journalists and the mass media for their interest and coverage of this visit.



Mexico, February 13, 2002