Between October 6th and 11th, a delegation from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights visited three different regions of Mexico to bring attention to persistent human rights concerns there. Led by Kerry Kennedy, the delegation consisted of actress Catherine Keener and Leadership Council Member Karen Mehiel, as well as staff members Angelita Baeyens, Max Burns, and Caitlin Callahan. The mission included meetings with local partners, victims and their families, and government officials.
In Ciudad Juárez (state of Chihuahua), the delegation witnessed the impact of widespread violence against women, normalized by impunity. In particular, disappearances of women and high rates of femicide—the killing of women because of their gender—have reached epidemic proportions over the past several decades. Partners for Human Rights has joined CEDIMAC (Centro por el Desarrollo Integral de la Mujer, A.C.) to file petitions before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of fourteen victims and their families.
We had the chance to meet and speak with the mothers of those victims, to learn about their daughters, and to understand better their struggle to look for those who are missing and to demand justice for those who have been murdered. The mothers’ courage and determination is particularly remarkable given the absence of results in all of their cases. To this day, no one has been held responsible for the crimes committed against these fourteen women and girls. All around Ciudad Juárez, pink crosses with the words “Ni Una Mas” (“Not One More”) can be found tacked to street lamps or staked in the ground, a constant reminder of the missing and murdered women and their aggressors, free from accountability.
The delegation then visited Guerrero, a state similarly characterized by its high rates of violence and, in particular, enforced disappearances (those disappearances involving state actors). Our partners, Tlachinollan—led by 2010 Human Rights Award Laureate Abel Barrera Hernández—and Centro Prodh introduced us to victims of violence, persecuted journalists and human rights defenders, and families of missing people, who shared their stories with us at a town hall-type meeting. At the Ayotzinapa school, the delegation also met with families of the 43 students who were disappeared in September 2014.
The families held missing posters for their sons and the current students met us with chants calling for the return of their peers: “Vivos se los llevaron. Vivos los queremos.” (“They were taken alive. We want them alive.”). The mothers’ and fathers’ calls for action and the current students’ tribute resonated as a strong message of resilience, despite the lack of progress in locating the missing students or prosecuting those responsible. The Ayotzinapa disappearances continue to be the most visible symbol of human rights violations and impunity in Mexico.
Additionally, the delegation had the opportunity to meet with several governmental agencies and officials in Mexico City, who acknowledged and expressed concern for these crimes. Local officials in Ciudad Juárez, however, commented on the lack of resources available to conduct needed investigations, an indication of the minor importance attributed to these victims and their cases. Recent legislative progress, including the passage of the federal General Forced Disappearances Law, could effectuate positive change, but the true success of these reforms will be measured by their implementation.
The 2017 Mission to Mexico provided insight into the ongoing human rights violations in Mexico and the efforts by civil society and the state to combat these abuses. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights will continue to work with our courageous partners to seek justice on behalf of the women, men, and families that we met.