Site hosted by Build your free website today!

State Protection against Serial Murder


The Global Persecution of Women

Human Rights


Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Article 26

All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.


Kent Paterson, "The Juarez Women's Murders," Albion Monitor, 19 Jan. 2005.

Although the Mexican government claims to uphold international human rights agreements disallowing torture, the continued imprisonment of various suspects in the serial murders despite the lack of any hard evidence against them suggests otherwise. Besides David Meza, other suspects include U.S. citizen Cynthia Kiecker and her Mexican husband Ulises Perzabal. Both claim they were savagely tortured. The couple is currently being tried for the 2003 murder of 16-year-old Viviana Rayas in Chihuahua City, and a decision in their case is expected very soon.

Then there is bus driver Victor "El Cerrillo" Garcia. Detained with fellow driver Gustavo Gonzalez in 2001 for the murders of 8 women, Garcia and Gonzalez accused members of the Chihuahua State Judicial Police (PJE) of torturing them. Gonzalez's lawyer, Mario Escobedo Jr., who complained to colleagues that he was threatened to abandon the case, was later shot to death by PJE officers led by the same commander who had allegedly overseen the detention and torture of the bus drivers. In 2003, Gonzalez himself mysteriously died in a Chihuahua prison before ever receiving a sentence.

Commissioner Morfin gives credence to reports by the United Nations, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, National Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International that suspects including Garcia have been tortured into confessing to crimes they did not commit. Morfin's office has promoted the application of the Istanbul Protocol, a rigorous method of documenting torture, in confirming suspects' claims. Earlier this year, Morfin secured Garcia's transfer back to a Juarez jail from Chihuahua City and set up interviews with PGR personnel to verify the suspect's torture allegations under the Istanbul standard.

But Morfin's efforts were shot down last month when Chihuahua Judge Gustavo Munoz Gamboa, ignoring both the pending application of the Istanbul Protocol and the lack of any hard physical evidence against Garcia -- handed the man a 50-year prison sentence for murder.

With both state and federal efforts mired in chaos, there are several hypotheses about who is actually responsible for the femicides that merit further investigation. Leads include a network of private computer schools, bars, and businesses operating in both the downtowns of Juarez and Chihuahua City; police officers from different agencies; drug traffickers; wealthy businessmen; politicians; immigrant smugglers; El Paso residents; and elements within the PGJE -- the same law enforcement agency supposedly probing the women's murders.

"They're all in this up to their necks, in the murders and kidnappings," charges Evangelina Arce. Frustrated at state inaction, Arce began her own investigation into the 1998 disappearances of her daughter Silvia and a friend, Griselda Mares. She sniffed out a trail that led to two Federal Judicial Police officers as the probable culprits. The men have not been detained, but Arce says she has been under surveillance by Chihuahua state police, beaten up on the street, and hit by a car since speaking out.

Another unpursued lead concerns Hector Lastra, a former PGJE official who was arrested last February on charges of running a prostitution ring of underage teenage girls. Denying the accusations, Lastra was quickly released on bail. Reportedly, Lastra pressured teenage girls working at Juarez fast food restaurants into having sex with prominent businessmen. Clients were allegedly offered catalogues with photos of the girls, whose age and physical appearance resembled those of previous serial killer victims. At a meeting with the Mexican Chamber of Deputies femicide commission in Juarez last month, attorney Lucha Castro, who represents family members of murder victims, said that two of the girls who lodged charges against Lastra denounced that the ring had been taking minors from Ciudad Juarez to the Chihuahua City campaign headquarters of the current Chihuahua governor. Commissioner Morfin, whose office has repeatedly spoken out about the gravity of the Lastra case, earlier requested protection for the family members of the girls involved.

Amnesty International, Mexico: Intolerable Killings. 11 Aug. 2003.

Chapter 1: Who protects the women of Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua?

It is 10.15 on the night of 19 February 2001. People living near waste ground close to a maquila (an assembly plant) in Ciudad Juárez dial 060, the number of the municipal police emergency services, to inform them that an apparently naked young woman is being beaten and raped by two men in a car.

No patrol car is dispatched in response to the first call. Following a second call, a police unit is sent out but does not arrive until 11.25pm, too late to intervene. The car has already left.

Four days earlier, the mother of Lilia Alejandra García reported her 17-year-old daughter missing to the Unidad de Atención a Víctimas de Delitos Sexuales y Contra de la Familia, Unit for the Care of Victims of Sexual Offences and Offences against the Family. Lilia Alejandra, the mother of a baby and a three-year old boy, was working at a maquila called Servicios Plásticos y Ensambles. At 7.30pm on the previous night, her colleagues saw her walking towards an unlit area of waste ground near the factory. Lilia Alejandra used to cross it every day to catch the bus home. But that night she never reached her destination.

On 21 February the body of a young woman was found on the waste ground near to where the emergency call had been made. It was wrapped in a blanket and showed signs of physical and sexual violence. The cause of death was found to be asphyxia resulting from strangulation. The body of the young woman was identified by the parents as being that of Lilia Alejandra. The forensic report concluded that she had died a day and a half earlier and that she had spent at least five days in captivity prior to her death.

A Municipal Police report taken at 11.15 pm on 19 February simply states "nothing to report" ("reporte sin novedad"). The identity of the woman attacked that day was never established and no attempt was made to investigate whether there was any connection between the incident and the abduction of Lilia Alejandra or any other case. The authorities never investigated the lack of response on the part of the 060 Emergency Services in Ciudad Juárez. There is still no lighting on the waste ground near the maquiladora. A small cross commemorates the place where the body was found.

Over 370 women murdered, at least 137 of them after being sexually assaulted - this is the harsh reality of the violence which women and teenage girls of Chihuahua state have been subjected to since 1993, according to reports received by Amnesty International. In addition, over 70 young women are still missing, according to the authorities, though Mexican non-governmental organizations say the figure is over 400. The response of the authorities over the past ten years has been to treat the different offences as ordinary acts of violence committed within the private domain, without recognizing the existence of a continuing pattern of violence against women, the origins of which are more deeply rooted in discrimination. The fact that the authorities, both within the state of Chihuahua and at the federal level(1), have been unwilling to recognize the extent of the pattern of violence against women and to implement effective policies for dealing with it, has meant that Chihuahuan society has been left without the protection it deserves while the families who have lost daughters, mothers and sisters have been left without an effective judicial remedy.

"We don't deserve this treatment or the pain we are suffering every day, all I am asking is that they find my daughter and for justice to be done".(2)

The murders with sexual violence that have taken place in Ciudad Juárez and the city of Chihuahua constitute, without a doubt, a most worrying and horrific example of violence against women. In the main, young women from poor backgrounds are abducted, held captive and sexually assaulted in a most ferocious manner before being murdered and left amongst rubble on wasteland. In some cases, their remains are found by passersby days or even years later. In other cases, the women are never found and their relatives have to live with the permanent anguish of never knowing what happened to them or where they are.

All the evidence seems to indicate that these young women are chosen by their killers because they are women who have no power within Chihuahuan society, itself characterized by high crime rates and public insecurity due to the fact that drugs trafficking and organized crime operate in the area. The women are usually workers from the maquiladoras set up by the multinational companies that control the economy of Ciudad Juárez as well as waitresses, workers in the informal economy or students. Many of them live in poverty, often with children to support. They are women who have no option but to travel alone on the long bus journeys that take them from the poor suburbs surrounding Ciudad Juárez to their place of work, study or leisure.

These horrendous crimes in which women and teenage girls are kidnapped and later found dead with signs of sexual assault are simply one of the most dramatic examples of the violence perpetrated against women in Chihuahua state, where domestic violence and sexual harassment in the community or at the workplace are also problems. However, despite the high number of cases, domestic violence was not made a criminal offence at the state level until three years ago and so far no one appears to have been convicted for it, showing that the authorities' response to the different types of violence affecting women has been slow and limited. ...

Gender-based discrimination

"Women who have a night life, go out late at night and come into contact with drinkers are at risk. It's hard to go out on the street when it's raining and not get wet".(4)

Discrimination has been a persistent feature of the various offences against women that have been committed as well as in the response provided by the State. The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Marta Altolaguirre, has highlighted this issue in her March 2003 report.(5) She points out that, in 1993, when the crimes exhibiting a specific pattern began, the authorities repeatedly blamed the women themselves for their own abduction or murder and refused to acknowledge that the situation was out of the ordinary. In her 1999 report on Mexico, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir, also said the following: "The arrogant behaviour and obvious indifference shown by some state officials in regard to these cases leave the impression that many of the crimes were deliberately never investigated for the sole reason that the victims were "only" young girls with no particular social status and who therefore were regarded as expendable".(6)

Discrimination is not only evident in the crimes themselves, it also appears in other guises. The reaction of the authorities to the disappearance of the young women, the way in which the killings are investigated and the inadequate protection programs in place to prevent such murders are all examples of discriminatory treatment. Furthermore, the fact that the vast majority of the women murdered or reported missing come from poor backgrounds means that they suffer discrimination on two counts: on the basis of both gender and social class.

In her report, the IACHR Rapporteur states that "[t]he denial of an effective response both springs from and feeds back into the perception that violence against women -most illustratively domestic violence -is not a serious crime. The lack of an effective official response is part and parcel of the larger context of discrimination. Addressing the killings necessarily requires addressing the larger problems of violence and discrimination based on gender through, first and foremost, prompt and effective access to justice". (7)

None of this happens in Chihuahua state where the authorities deny the existence of a pattern of violence against women rooted in gender-based discrimination. The fact that the murders and abductions of women in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua have been played down is proof of this. There has been an ongoing policy of disinformation and denial of access to case files. The authorities have shown no interest in systematizing the information on the cases reported or in creating an effective record of data that would facilitate the investigations and help find and punish those allegedly responsible for the crimes. Given this situation, the mistrust felt by the relatives and organizations working on behalf of the victims is understandable. However, those who have been most vociferous in speaking out against the official version of events have been subjected to intimidation and harassment and no attempt has been made to investigate such incidents or to identify those responsible. The state has also frequently attempted to publicly discredit individuals and organizations fighting for justice and truth so that those raising the criticisms will become marginalized. This has led to increasing scepticism that the authorities really have the political will to protect the rights of women in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua.

In most cases where a young woman has gone missing, there are no witnesses or clear evidence of kidnapping or other offences, especially in the first few hours after the woman has vanished. However, the families, while not knowing what has happened to her are nevertheless in a state of anxiety, all too aware of the pattern of abductions and murders. Despite this, the authorities refuse to open a formal criminal investigation (averiguación previa, preliminary investigation) to determine whether a criminal offence, such as unlawful detention (privación de libertad) or kidnapping, has taken place and disregard the pattern which ought to guide the state's actions from the outset. Although the authorities assured Amnesty International that a missing person's report is pursued with the same degree of urgency as a preliminary investigation, according to reports received by the organization, initial investigations are inadequate in many respects and the perception remains that the authorities have not learned sufficient lessons from ten years of similar abductions and murders.

It is precisely because there is a clear pattern to the sexual killings in Ciudad Juárez and, since 2000, in the city of Chihuahua that when a young woman goes missing, the relatives fear that something bad may have happened to her. From the outset they try to find out where she might be by contacting her friends, other families, her college or place of work. As time passes and the young woman fails to appear, their fears grow. They know that sometimes, as in other parts of the world, young women leave home without warning and then suddenly return or are found alive and well elsewhere. However, they are also aware of cases in which young women have vanished without explanation, never to be seen again or, in the worst case scenario, later to be found brutally murdered. Bearing all this in mind and even when it is not known whether a woman has left home of her own free will or not, Amnesty International believes that the authorities have a duty to immediately open a criminal investigation once she is reported missing. The investigation must have the necessary resources and political will committed to it, it must be linked to other State investigation mechanisms and it must give the families the opportunity to collaborate fully in the investigation (la coadyuvancia).(8)


(2) "No merecemos este trato ni este dolor que sentimos todos los días, sólo estoy pidiendo que busquen a mi hija y que se haga justicia." Testimony of Eva Arce, mother of Silvia Arce who disappeared on 11 March 1998 in Ciudad Juárez. ...

(4) "Las mujeres que tienen vida nocturna, salen a altas horas de la noche y entran en contacto con bebedores, están en riesgo. Es difícil salir a la calle y no mojarse". Arturo González Rascón, Former Procurador de Justicia del Estado, State Public Prosecutor, February 1999. El Diario de Juárez, 24 February 1999.

(5) The Situation of the Rights of Women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, report by the IACHR Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, 2002.

(6) Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, E/CN.4/2000/3/Add.3, paragraph 89.

(7) Report by the IACHR Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, 2002, paragraph 36.

(8) Article 20.B.II of the Constitution of the United States of Mexico gives the relatives of victims or persons appointed by them the legal right to assist Public Ministry officials in investigations and criminal proceedings.


The Global Persecution of Women