Ending murders of women and the systematic use of torture in investigations in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua, Mexico

Dual Injustice: Torture and Feminicide in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua

 

Human Rights Issues: Feminicide and Torture

 

Location: Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua, Mexico

 

Partner: The Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción del los Derechos Humanos works on a range of human rights issues in Mexico. In 2001, they spearheaded a campaign to bring feminicide in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua into the national and international spotlight.

 

Background on the Issue: Since 1993, young women's mangled bodies, often showing brutal signs of sexual violence, have been appearing on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez, a city just across the border from El Paso, Texas. In 2000, this problem spread to neighboring Chihuahua City. To date, over 450 women have been murdered - a phenomenon called feminicide and known as one of the most embarrassing human rights scandals in recent Mexican history. While explanations for the murders have ranged from forced prostitution to satanic rituals, there has not been sufficient evidence convincingly explaining these murders. Moreover, the local authorities' lack of investigation and mishandling of evidence has cast serious doubt on their ability to properly address the cases. Under fire for its negligence, authorities have tried to appease the public outcry by torturing people into confessing to these murders.

 

Dual Injustice: Torture and Feminicide in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua tells the story of Neyra Cervantes, who disappeared in May 2003, and her cousin, David Meza, who was tortured to confess to her murder. As authorities were slow to investigate Neyra's case, her family called upon David, who traveled 1,500 miles to help search for her. As they pressured authorities to properly investigate, they were told, "You want a culprit? You will have him very soon." One week later, David was in jail. Even though there was no evidence linking him to her murder, he spent nearly 3 years in prison, awaiting a judge's ruling. The video was a part of an international campaign for his acquittal, which successfully led to his release in June 2006.

 

Target Audiences: Local, national and international decision-makers, as well as community solidarity groups in Europe, Mexico and the U.S.

 

Advocacy Goals of Video: By telling the story of one family affected by both feminicide and torture, Dual Injustice uses one emblematic case to illustrate the situation in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. While the video advocates to end the widespread murders of women and the systematic use of torture as an investigatory tool, it calls for immediate action on Neyra and David's cases as a starting point. Dual Injustice urged Mexican authorities to review David's case and release him from jail, as well as to launch an objective investigation into Neyra's disappearance, rape and murder. Dual Injustice also targeted international audiences, calling for increased engagement by the UN, the U.S. Congress, and the European Union to contribute towards resolving the murders of women and the use of torture.

 

Distribution Strategy: In April 2005, Dual Injustice premiered at a parallel briefing at the UN Human Rights Commission's session in Geneva. This event launched a series of other screenings targeting U.S. Members of Congress, as well as local and national decision-makers across Mexico. In Europe, the video was screened at hearings before the Austrian and European Union's Parliaments, introducing resolutions considered the most notable out of all international recommendations on feminicide.

 

Since its launch, Dual Injustice has reached thousands of people in film festivals and several grassroots mobilizing events around the globe. For instance, it was included in the "16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence" Campaign Kit coordinated by several UN agencies and international organizations, as well as in Amnesty International's "Campaign to Stop Violence against Women" Action Kit. The video's online presence on several popular websites such as the official site of the internationally known Mexican rock band Jaguares, has inspired thousands of others to pressure decision-makers to take action.

 

Advocacy Results: Dual Injustice was part of an international campaign for David's acquittal, which successfully led to his release in June 2006.

 

Thanks to a successful advocacy strategy within which the video played a pivotal role, 149 members of the U.S. Congress signed resolutions condemning the abduction and murders of women in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. These resolutions were in turn unanimously approved. The video also was used in one-on-one meetings with several Members of Congress, prompting seven of them to send individual letters to Mexican authorities specifically asking for David's immediate release.

 

In Mexico, Dual Injustice was screened in several private meetings with high-level authorities to discuss David's upcoming trial, while a series of public screenings garnered national press attention around his case. In August 2005, days after a screening for the office of the Attorney General at the Chihuahua state level, high ranking officials declared that all evidence acquired under torture to be inadmissible and announced that charges against David might be dropped due to a lack of evidence. This represented an unprecedented shift in local authorities' approach towards the situation, which historically has been to shy away from addressing possible mishandling of cases. Months later, the judge issued a decision with David's acquittal and release from prison.

 

Dual Injustice continues to urge Mexico to acknowledge that David was tortured, to hold the responsible officials accountable, and to offer David redress. It also continues to be used to advocate for an objective investigation into Neyra’s disappearance, rape and murder so that the real perpetrators will be brought to justice. In August 2007, the video was featured at a press conference and gala hosted in Mexico City by actors Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna to mobilize people to sign a petition calling upon Mexico’s President to take action on Neyra and David’s cases.

 

In March 2009, Peter Gabriel, Diego Luna, Saúl Hernández, and Patricia Cervantes, the mother of Neyra, hand-delivered thousands of signed petitions to Mexico's President Calderón, asking him to end feminicide in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. As a result, the Attorney General and Minister of Interior (also present at the meeting) committed to following up on the cases of Neyra and David. Since the meeting, Comisión Mexicana has met twice with government officials who are reviewing the status of the cases and studying the list of priority policies related to feminicide. The press conference in Mexico City was attended by over 200 journalists and led to significant press coverage.