Mexico: The abduction and murder of women in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua City

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1 Aug 2006

Minerva TorresMinerva Teresa Torres Albeldaño, an eighteen-year-old woman from Chihuahua City in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico, disappeared on 13 March 2001 after leaving home to attend a job interview. It took nine days for the police to initiate a search for Minerva. They maintained that she had run away, denying the urgent and repeated requests of her parents for intervention. When the media reported that the remains of a body had been found by the Chihuahua State judicial police in July 2003, Minerva’s family, along with the families of other missing girls, called for DNA tests to be carried out or for other attempts to be made to identify this and other bodies that had been discovered. The authorities, however, did not perform any DNA testing on the remains and did not inform the families of any other efforts they were undertaking to identify the body. Instead, they stored the remains in the Office of Expert Services of the State Public Prosecutor’s Office. At the same time, they repeatedly told Minerva’s parents that Minerva was alive, even that she had been located. The police took Minerva’s mother and other mothers whose daughters were missing to brothels in areas where the missing young women had supposedly been located, leaving the women waiting in vain while the policemen reportedly sat around drinking. Officers assigned to the case changed repeatedly and leads were not followed up in a timely way. Finally in April 2005, four years after Minerva’s parents had declared her missing, the Public Prosecutor’s office asked Minerva’s parents to provide DNA samples. On 28 June 2005 they were informed that the remains discovered on 16 July 2003 and held in the Office of Expert Services for two years were those of Minerva. It was at that time also that Minerva’s family identified the clothing on the remains, which matched the details they had provided to the police when she first disappeared. Jesús José Solís Silva was the State Public Prosecutor when Minerva was reported missing. He resigned in 2004 when 17 state police officers were implicated in the drug-related murders of 12 people.

Over the past decade, several hundred women have been murdered in or near Ciudad Juárez, a town in the state of Chihuahua at the United States border. Murders of a similar pattern have also occurred in Chihuahua City. Minerva’s case illustrates the repeated and consistent failure of the Mexican authorities to investigate these crimes properly. The federal government officially cites 379 murders of women from 1993 up to the end of 2005, but this official number does not include homicides in Chihuahua City. In addition, federal officials have cited 34 missing women from Ciudad Juárez unaccounted for.

International bodies, state and national human rights commissions and international, national and local non-governmental organizations and family groups have undertaken independent inquiries into the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez. They have all criticized the Mexican authorities’ inefficient and incompetent investigations of the murders. The National Human Rights Commission in Mexico as early as 1998 called for the investigation of the Chihuahua State Public Prosecutor for his role in neglecting to investigate the human rights abuses being committed against women in Ciudad Juárez. The Special Rapporteur of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported after her visit to Mexico in February 2002 that the impunity that had existed since 1993 with respect to the serious violations of women’s rights in Ciudad Juárez contributed significantly to the perpetuation of violence against women. The 2005 report issued by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (the CEDAW Committee), following its 2003 visit and inquiry into the murders in Ciudad Juárez, noted that “[v]iolence against women has…taken root [in Ciudad Juárez] and has developed specific characteristics marked by hatred and misogyny.” The CEDAW Committee found that these crimes were gender-based and suggested this is why they have been tolerated for years by the authorities with total indifference. In addition, in Chihuahua State evidence of use of torture in one case and allegations of others to extract confessions has compounded the belief that some of those accused have been framed, which has put in further doubt the government’s commitment to securing justice in these cases.

The federal authorities have always maintained they do not have the authority to investigate cases from Chihuahua State unless there is suspicion of organized crime. However, with the continuing failure of the Chihuahua State authorities to respond effectively to the murders and to identify and bring the perpetrators to justice, they finally in 2004 established the Office of the Special Prosecutor with a mandate to collaborate with and support the Chihuahua State authorities to resolve the homicides in Ciudad Juárez. The first Special Prosecutor, María López Urbina, issued three reports in which she identified 131 state officials who appeared to have criminal and/or administrative responsibility for the mishandling of investigations. The federal authorities replaced María López Urbina in May 2005 without explanation and the position of Special Prosecutor was brought to an end in February 2006 with the issue of a final report. That report implicated 177 public servants, including judicial police and prosecutorial staff, involved in 120 cases (i.e. over 35% of all public servants involved in homicide cases from 1993 to 2005), who are said to have acted either with administrative or criminal negligence. The State Public Prosecutor’s office claims that all state officials implicated by the Special Prosecutor in negligence have been removed from their positions. However, information from the Special Prosecutor documenting the alleged misconduct remains confidential and there has been no indication that any of the officials mentioned have been prosecuted, even in cases of suspected criminal responsibility.

The Special Prosecutor’s final report points out that some murders in Ciudad Juárez may go unpunished due to serious deficiencies and omissions of investigation, as well as the length of time that has passed since these crimes were committed. This ongoing failure to deliver justice is evidenced by the handing back in June 2006 by the federal authorities to Chihuahua State investigators of 14 cases of rape and murder in Ciudad Juárez, which remain unsolved despite a 3-year federal inquiry. Federal authorities had taken over from the Chihuahua State authorities on the basis that organized crime might be involved, but even by 2003 when the inquiry began many of the cases were already two years old. In the meantime, in the continuing climate of impunity, murders of women continue in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua City. As recently as July 2006, 23-year old Elsa Anglae Jurado Torres was doused in gasoline and set on fire by an unidentified man in Ciudad Juárez. She died five days later.

Mexico ratified CEDAW in 1981. CEDAW requires under Article 2 (c) that States Parties “establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and…ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination.” Although the federal government claims not to have the authority to investigate crimes committed within an individual state, it does have an obligation under CEDAW to ensure the equal protection of women under the law. A similar obligation is imposed under the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará), which Mexico ratified in 1998. The Mexican Constitution at Article 133 provides that international treaties ratified by Mexico (including CEDAW) prevail if they are in accord with the laws and the Constitution of Mexico, and the Mexican Supreme Court in interpreting this provision has ruled that international conventions to which Mexico is a party rank higher than federal statutes and can be directly applied. In addition, Mexico’s own Constitution guarantees women and men equality before the law.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the authorities listed below. Remind them of the government’s obligations under CEDAW to ensure equal protection of the law to women. Urge them to find ways to ensure that all cases of the murder of women in Chihuahua State are appropriately investigated and punished, in particular by prosecuting all those officials considered by the Special Prosecutor to be criminally negligent in their investigations. Mention the case of Minerva Torres as a clear example of investigative misconduct and ask what is being done to bring to justice those who were responsible for the delay or obstruction of justice in her case, including State Public Prosecutor Jesús José Solís Silva, who had oversight responsibility at the time. Call on the authorities to make clear by prosecuting the responsible government officials that obstruction of justice will not be tolerated. Address your letters to:

MDP Patricia González Rodríguez
Chihuahua State Public Prosecutor
C. Vicente Guerrero #616
Col. Centro C.P. 31000
Chihuahua, MEXICO
Fax: +52 614 4 29 33 0

President Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa
Residencia Oficial de "Los Pinos"
Col. San Miguel Chapultepec
C.P. 11850, México, D.F., MEXICO
Fax: +52 55 52 77 23 76
To send an email to President Calderón, go to:

Send copies of your letters to the recently appointed Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Related to Acts of Violence against Women in Mexico, Dr. Alicia Elena Pérez Duarte, at Río Amazonas No. 43 Piso 9, Col. Cuauhtémoc, Delg. Cuauhtémoc, C.P. 06500 México, D.F., MEXICO, Fax: +52 55 53 46 09 90, Email: