On October 6, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights was notified by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of its decision to grant admissibility to six cases of femicide—the murder of women because of their gender—committed in Ciudad Juarez. The IACHR’s admissibility declaration is a critical step in the long fight for justice for these women and their families.
In the six cases, represented by CEDIMAC (Centro para el Desarrollo Integral de la Mujer, A.C.) and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, seven women and girls were forcibly disappeared between 1995 and 2003 in Ciudad Juarez. Ciudad Juarez, located in the state of Chihuahua, shares a border with the American city of El Paso and is internationally known for epidemic rates of femicides and disappearances of women, which have persisted there for several decades.
Six of the women and girls, between the ages of 6 and 20, were later found murdered. One of the women disappeared with her 24-day old child, who has never been found. In each case, the State’s response has been critically deficient. Inaction and mistakes were pervasive throughout the investigations. In some cases, officials refused to look for the women when family members first reported them missing; evidence was never analyzed or DNA tests were negligently conducted; and suspect leads were never followed.
To this day, no one has been held accountable for their murders. Systemic impunity and the normalization of violence against women has undermined progress on the domestic level. In the face of this stagnation, the families of these women and girls filed a petition with the IACHR, an international tribunal that provides a platform to hold the State accountable for failing both to prevent these femicides and to properly investigate and prosecute them.
Mexico’s failures constitute violations of the State’s obligations to prevent, punish, and eradicate violence against women under the Convention of Belém do Pará. They also qualify as violations of the State’s duty to respect victims’ human rights under the American Convention on Human Rights—specifically the victim’s and their families’ right to life, to personal integrity, to honor and dignity, to a fair trial, to equality under the law, and to judicial protection, as well as the rights of the family and of the child.
The shortcomings in our clients’ cases are particularly startling because the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has already ruled that femicide, and the corresponding impunity perpetrators enjoy in Mexico, qualifies as a violation of human rights-- specifically, the victims’ rights to life, liberty, personal integrity, non-discrimination, and rights of the child under the American Convention on Human Rights. In the Gonzalez et al. v. Mexico (2009) case, known as the Cotton Field (“Campo Algodonero”) case, the Court confronted the 2001 disappearance of three women, aged 15, 17, and 20, who were all eventually found murdered in a cotton field in Ciudad Juarez. In finding Mexico liable for these violations, the Court ordered the State to enact reforms to strengthen institutional procedures and to create new programs to stop and hold accountable perpetrators of this violence.
Despite the Court’s demands, the killing of women persists with near absolution in Ciudad Juarez. Between 1985 and 2014, 47,178 women were murdered because of their gender. The real statistics are likely much higher because the type of conduct that qualifies as femicide is a source of constant debate, causing some deaths to be mislabeled even when they meet the criteria for a femicide.
Today, between six and seven women are killed every day in Mexico, and only 4.46% of reported crimes end in convictions. Our cases, consolidated under the name Silvia Elena Rivera Morales y Otras, will help to refocus attention on the enduring rates of femicide in Mexico and to highlight the need for real, systematic change by the state.
Next, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights will work with our partner to move forward in the merits stage of the case before the IACHR. During this phase, the petitioners present additional evidence and expand upon our legal arguments, and the state has the opportunity to respond.