In Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican city across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, more than 500 women have been killed or disappeared since 1993. The mothers of three of those women may finally find relief after an eight-year struggle for justice when the Inter-American Court on Human Rights hears their stories this week.
Claudia Ivette Gonza'lez, a 20-year-old worker in a maquila, Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, a 15-year-old maid, and Laura Berenice Ramos Mona'rrez, a 17-year-old student, left their homes one morning in 2001 and disappeared. One month later, the bodies of were found naked in a cotton field. No forensic analysis was conducted and their bodies were handed in without scientific certainty regarding their identity. The mother of Claudia recalls that "all I received was a bag of bones." Some evidentiary items and testimonies were collected but the investigations have not been done in a complete fashion.
Since their daughters disappeared, the mothers have not received proper attention from the local and federal authorities, but have been mistreated and intimidated. In 2002, frustrated with the lack of response by the Mexican State to sufficiently investigate these murders, the courageous mothers of Claudia, Esmeralda, and Laura joined with a local advocacy group, Red Ciudadana de No Violencia y por la Dignidad Humana (Non-Violent Citizen Network for Human Dignity) to seek justice. They brought their cases before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, an international tribunal created to protect human rights in the region. Although its resolutions are not binding, the Commission can issue recommendations for the States to take appropriate measures to repair the damage to the victims and to ensure human rights violations will not be repeated. On the other hand, the decision of the Court is enforceable and States are obliged to comply with them.
After reviewing the mother's petitions, the Commission has found that the Mexican government violated the human rights of these young women by failing to prevent gender crimes. It cited the pattern of violence against women in Ciudad Juarez and the failure by authorities to investigate or prosecute those responsible Under the American Convention on Human Rights and other treaties to which Mexico is party, all States have the obligation to act with "due diligence" to prevent, investigate, and eradicate violence against women.
The Commission has requested the intervention of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which will hold a hearing April 28 to examine the arguments of the mothers, the State of Mexico, and experts on the case. If the Court finds the Mexican government failed to protect the human rights of the three women and therefore violated its international duties, the State will have to comply with the final resolution and take appropriate measures to end the pattern of judicial ineffectiveness and impunity that leaves women subject to violence and crime in Ciudad Juarez and to prevent future gender-based crimes.
The Court's decision can set an important precedent to enforce international human rights standards for the investigation and eradication of violence against women in the Americas and provide the mothers of the victims with adequate reparation Â– and public recognition of the tragedy. The international community has not forgotten the deaths and disappearances of women in Ciudad Juarez who, like Claudia, Esmeralda, and Laura, once left home and never returned.
Alma Beltran y Puga is a Mexican human rights lawyer and graduate student at Columbia University. She is part of a team of students working in the Human Rights Clinic of Columbia Law School in the case of the femicides of Ciudad Juarez. The Clinic (more...