Our Voices

Mexico to officially recognize responsibility in emblematic, decades-long femicide case

Today, the Mexican government is signing a compliance agreement, issuing a public apology, and recognizing their responsibility for the inaction, impunity, and negligence in the case of Silvia Elena Rivera Morales et al. v. Mexico. Ahead of the ceremony, here are five things to know about the key case.

Amidst a backdrop of escalating drug-related murders and violence in the region from 2008 and 2013, the rising trend of femicide—the murder of women because of their gender—sexual violence and disappearances of young women and girls became impossible to ignore. In those five years alone, 890 femicides occurred in the state of Chihuahua, as compared to the 447 femicides that occurred in the 14 years between 1993 and 2007. Historically, the plight of women in Ciudad Juárez has also been compounded by a justice system that often failed them. Murders of women were frequently categorized as crimes of passion, resulting in mitigated sentences for perpetrators. To this day, Ciudad Juarez, a city on the U.S.-Mexico border just south of El Paso, TX, remains a hotbed for violence against women and pervasive trends of impunity: in 2023, 25 women were victims of femicide, a staggering number that represents a 12% increase from 2022.

Silvia Elena Rivera Morales, Maria Elena Chavez, Olga Alicia Carrillo Perez, Maria Sagrario González Flores, Brenda Berenice Rodríguez Bermúdez, Cecilia Covarrubias, and her 24-day-old daughter all disappeared from Ciudad Juarez. Six of those women, all between the ages of 6 and 20, were found murdered. The 24-day-old child who disappeared with her mother has never been found. Inaction, ambivalence, botched DNA tests, and unfollowed leads defined the police response in all cases. Nobody has been charged for a single one of the murders. Learn more about the victims and their stories.

In each case, the State’s response has been critically deficient. Inaction and mistakes were pervasive throughout the investigations. State authorities discouraged the families from filing missing person reports, delayed the search for the missing women, never analyzed evidence or conducted DNA tests negligently, never followed up with suspect leads, and did not take into account information given by the victims’ families when searching for those responsible for their disappearance and death. To this day, no one has been held accountable for their murders. While the seven femicides represented in the Silvia Elena case occurred over 20 years ago, the issue of violence against women in Mexico has only grown—along with the subsequent impunity, in spite of international pressure and the Inter-American Court for Human Rights’s demands for reform.

After joining Centro para el Desarrollo Integral de la Mujer, AC (CEDIMAC) as co-counsel on the case in 2015, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights filed the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In September 2019, the IACHR held a public merits hearing where the victims’ representatives—including the mother of one of the victims—addressed the multiple failures in the investigation proceedings. After listening to testimony and arguments, the Mexican delegation offered a settlement that would include compensation and rehabilitation. Two years later, in December 2021, the IACHR determined that the State of Mexico was responsible for violating several human rights of the victims and their families, including the rights to life, personal integrity, personal liberty, access to justice and equality. In its merits report, the IACHR also recommended a series of measures of reparations and gave the State a deadline to comply.

The signing of the compliance agreement will take place as part of the events of the day, which also include an official acknowledgement of responsibility and public apology from the Mexican State.