Washington, D.C.—For the first time, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will hear a case involving human rights violations that have occurred during the Mexican government’s military-led operations to combat drug trafficking and organized crime. On April 26 and 27, during the Inter-American Court’s 123rd Regular Session in San Jose, Costa Rica, the Center for Women’s Human Rights (Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres, CEDEHM) will represent the families of three civilians—Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, José Ángel Alvarado Herrera, and Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes—who were detained by Mexican soldiers in the northern state of Chihuahua in December 2009, and whose whereabouts remain unknown.
According to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading research and advocacy group, the Inter-American Court’s examination of the case will illustrate the dangers of the militarization of public security in Mexico, and could set an important precedent for the Mexican Supreme Court, which is evaluating the constitutionality of a controversial Internal Security Law that would further solidify the Mexican military’s role in domestic law enforcement.
“Mexican authorities cannot deny that the deployment of the military across the country has had a devastating impact on human rights,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights. “The state of Chihuahua bears witness to some of the worst abuses committed by soldiers against civilians. After almost ten years, the families of the victims will finally have their day in court to seek the justice that has been denied to them in Mexico.”
In the context of the Alvarado case, WOLA submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Inter-American Court on two important issues to be addressed in the case: the human rights impact of the military’s presence in the state of Chihuahua from 2008 to 2010 during “Joint Operation Chihuahua,” and the persistent lack of accountability for military abuses in Mexico. WOLA’s amicus shows that the massive presence of soldiers in Chihuahua not only failed to reduce violence in the state, but also led to an upsurge in serious military abuses against the civilian population. By September 2009, the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission (Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos de Chihuahua, CEDH) had received more than 1,450 complaints of human rights violations committed by security forces during the operation.
The amicus also shows how Mexico’s Military Code of Justice does not comply with inter-American standards, and that civilian investigations do not ensure justice for victims of human rights abuses committed by soldiers. A recent WOLA report found that Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office has failed to properly investigate and sanction cases of human rights violations committed by Mexican soldiers against civilians, citing a 97 percent impunity rate for such abuses. In December 2017, as Mexico’s Congress was debating the Internal Security Law, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also expressed its concern for “the prevailing impunity for agents of the armed forces involved in cases of human rights violations,” and urged the Mexican government to “avoid the militarization of public security.”
The public hearing “Case of Alvarado Espinoza et al. v. Mexico” will be held in San Jose, Costa Rica on April 26 (9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3 p.m.-6:30 p.m.) and April 27 (9 a.m.-1 p.m.). Click here to register for the hearing.
* Click here to read CEDEHM’s statement about the case.