Press Release

IACHR Takes Case involving Mexico to the Inter-American Court

November 22, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case 12.916, Nitza Paola Alvarado and Others, with regard to Mexico.

The case involves the forced disappearance of Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, José Ángel Alvarado Herrera, and Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes at the hands of State agents in Ejido Benito Juárez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, since December 29, 2009. The fate or whereabouts of the three missing victims are still unknown.

This is the first case concerning forced disappearance in the context of the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. The case is relevant because forced disappearances have been on the rise in recent years, a problem that has been the subject of pronouncements, recommendations, and expressions of deep concern on the part of the Commission and many international organizations, as well as United Nations special mandates. This case provides an example of factors that contributed to the occurrence of this serious human rights violation in this context and to the fact that it was not properly investigated and punished due to multiple means of cover-up and obstruction. The case also offers the Inter-American Court the opportunity to address other related violations stemming from the threats and harassment suffered by the immediate family members of the missing victims.

The Commission determined that José Ángel Alvarado Herrera, Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, and Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes were deprived of their liberty by members of the military, a determination based on contextual factors, eyewitness accounts, and statements of public officials who indicated that they knew or had received information that the victims were in State custody, among other factors, as well as multiple reports from various agencies that believed there was sufficient evidence regarding the army’s participation. Moreover, when family members went to report what had happened and request information, officials told them that they were unaware of the victims’ detention or their whereabouts, and cover-up measures were activated. Based on this, the Commission characterized what happened as forced disappearance.

The case also involves the situation of impunity surrounding the three disappearances. The use of military courts in this case violated the right to access to a competent, independent, and impartial authority for the pursuit of justice. Moreover, the State failed to fulfill its duty to investigate with due diligence and in a timely manner, both with respect to the search for the missing victims and with respect to the clarification of the facts and the identification and punishment of those responsible. In addition, family members’ human rights were violated by the threats and harassment against them, and the forced displacement of some of them.

In its Merits Report on the case, the Commission recommended that the State conduct a thorough, impartial, and effective investigation into the whereabouts of Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, José Ángel Alvarado Herrera, and Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes and, if appropriate, adopt the necessary measures to identify their remains and turn them over to their next of kin according to their wishes. The State should also conduct the appropriate proceedings for the crime of forced disappearance of the three victims, in an impartial and effective manner and within a reasonable time, in order to clarify the facts completely, identify all those responsible, and impose the corresponding punishments. The State should also provide adequate compensation for the human rights violations, in both material and non-material terms, and order the appropriate measures in response to the actions or omissions of State officials that contributed to the denial of justice and to the impunity regarding the facts of the case.

The Commission also recommended that Mexico adopt measures to respond to the problem of forced disappearance in Mexico and its particular incidence in the state of Chihuahua, including measures to strengthen the capacity to investigate cases of forced disappearance of persons and to address structural factors that can lead to impunity in these cases. Mexico should also ensure that military criminal justice authorities refrain from obstructing investigations in cases of forced disappearance.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Inter-American Court’s jurisdiction on November 9, 2016, because it deemed that the State had failed to comply with the recommendations contained in the Merits Report.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 173/16