Our Voices

Femicide Epidemic in Ciudád Juarez: A Visual Narrative

In September 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) heard the case Silvia Elena Rivera et al. v. Mexico, filed by Centro para el Desarrollo Integral de la Mujer, AC (CEDIMAC) and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights on behalf of María Sagrario, five other femicide victims who disappeared from Ciudad Juárez between 1995 and 2003. This hearing represented the latest battle to hold the Mexican government accountable for the ongoing epidemic of violence against women.

Ivonne Mendoza (left) and Carmen Herrera of CEDIMAC, who represent the victims’ families, prepare for the hearing late into the night at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Washington office. Along with the rest of the team at CEDIMAC, they have fought against impunity and have supported the victims’ families for two decades as they search for answers.

Paula Flores Bonilla (left), María Sagrario’s mother, prepares to deliver her testimony with Angelita Baeyens, international advocacy and litigation program director at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “I have faith that [the IACHR] will bring awareness to this issue and put themselves in our position as mothers,” she said. “Even though my daughter’s case is from 21 years ago, I still feel the same pain of my daughter not being here. She deserves justice.”

While members of CEDIMAC and lawyers from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights represented the victims during the hearing, members of the Mexican government defended the state’s conduct. “This hearing is a key moment for us to demonstrate to the commission that the state is responsible for human rights violations,” said RFK’s Angelita Baeyens (center). “We hope more awareness leads to more protections that address the epidemic of femicide and that ensure women and girls in Mexico—and particularly Ciudad Juárez—can live their lives free of violence.”

Paula Flores Bonilla wore this scapular to the hearing as a symbol of her demand for justice for her daughter’s disappearance and murder. She kept it on the table when she testified, to represent her daughter’s presence.

During the hearing, the victims’ representatives addressed multiple failures in the investigation proceedings: State authorities discouraged the families from filing missing persons reports, delayed the search for the missing women, were negligent during their investigation, and did not take into account information given by the victims’ families when searching for those responsible for their disappearance and death. “This case shows that in Mexico, nothing has changed,” Ivonne Mendoza said. “The lack of political will to address the femicide epidemic persists even today.”

After listening to testimony and arguments, Martha Delgado (left), Mexico’s undersecretary for multilateral affairs and human rights, and Georgette Rosas Morales, of the Mexican Office for Domestic Affairs, blamed the previous administration for the lack of development in this case. The Mexican delegation offered a settlement that would include compensation and rehabilitation.

IACHR Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay delivers an impassioned response after hearing both sides present their arguments. “I do apologize that it has taken 16 years within the commission for us to be discussing this,” she said. “I offer my heartfelt sympathy to [Paula Flores Bonilla] and the other mothers. I don’t know how I would have reacted myself if that had happened to my one and only daughter. This [issue] is vitally important.”

Representatives from CEDIMAC and Paula Flores Bonilla (center) hold a banner showing the names and faces of the six women represented in the case, as well as nine others. RFK Human Rights hopes the IACHR will quickly release a merits report stating that human rights violations were committed, after which the Mexican government must address the report’s recommendations. If it fails to do so, the IACHR will refer the case to the Inter-American Court.

Photography and videography: Ojos Nebulosos.