On November 6, 2013, Mexico’s Supreme Court ordered that Israel Arzate Meléndez be immediately released from house arrest. Arzate had been falsely accused of participating in the January 31, 2010, massacre of 15 students in the neighborhood of Villas de Salvárcar, in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua State. He was arbitrarily detained on February 3, 2010 and subsequently tortured by Mexican soldiers until he confessed to the crimes. Since then, he has been imprisoned, first in jail and then, since September 2012, under house arrest.
Mexican and international human rights organizations, as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, have advocated for Arzate’s release and have sought to bring public attention to his case. His release is largely the result of the tireless and effective work of human rights organizations such as the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juarez) and the Ciudad Juárez Women’s Network (Red de Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juárez), on his behalf.
Arzate’s case underscores ongoing concerns about Mexico’s judicial system, especially the widespread use of torture to obtain confessions. His confession was accepted by courts in Chihuahua State, even though the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) had verified that the confession had been obtained by torture. This is particularly concerning given that the use of confessions obtained through torture is prohibited in Mexico, and given that Chihuahua State is one of the states that have most fully adopted Mexico’s judicial reforms, which is meant to better protect against such irregularities and abuses.
This ruling is a positive step toward respect for due process and human rights in Mexico.
Note: This statement previously stated, incorrectly, that 17 students were killed in the Villas de Salvárcar massacre. In fact, 15 students were killed. The statement has been revised accordingly.