Press Release

IACHR Brings Mexico Case before the IA Court

February 18, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On October 2, 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) over case 12.229, relatives of Digna Ochoa y Plácido, concerning Mexico.

The case relates to the state of Mexico’s responsibility for the lack of due diligence in the investigation that followed the death of human rights defender Digna Ochoa y Plácido. The IACHR established that a context of threats and aggressions against human rights defenders existed at the time of the events and deemed that both the extent of this context in the state of Guerrero and the high levels of impunity in cases involving the Armed Forces contributed to this.

The IACHR found that following the death of human rights defender Digna Ochoa on October 19, 2001, the state began a criminal investigation that lasted around 10 years, in which a high number of forensic, chemical, ballistic, and psychological reports were issued and testimonial, documentary, photographic evidence was recorded. In its report, the IACHR analyzed the due diligence around the investigation into Ms. Ochoa’s death in relation to the recording of forensic medical information, the expert psychological opinions that were included in the investigation, the chain of custody for the evidence, the contents of the testimonial evidence, the lines of investigation pursued, how the investigation was conducted, and the reasonableness of the timeframe, among other key aspects of the investigation which were to the detriment of Digna Ochoa’s relatives.

In Merits Report 61/19, the IACHR found that there were a series of grave irregularities in the investigation concerning the impartiality of the body leading the first stage of the investigation, which alleged the cause of Ms. Ochoa’s death to be suicide, omissions in the forensic pathologist’s record that were not remedied and injuries that were not observed during the different medical examinations, contradictions in the ballistic evidence, and evidence of poor management of the chain of custody. The IACHR also observed that Ms. Ochoa’s relatives were obstructed from taking part in the investigation, which in turn had an impact on the reasonableness of the timeframe for proceedings, which was extremely drawn out.

Likewise, the IACHR found that testimonial evidence was included without considering the possible repercussions this might have for witnesses or providing them protection. Indeed, a key witness (who was granted precautionary measures by the IACHR and who identified a perpetrator) was also murdered, without this prompting a new line of investigation to be opened. Likewise, the IACHR noted that the harassment that Ms. Digna Ochoa experienced while going about her work as a human rights defender was not considered in the lines of the investigation, while undue importance was placed on the opinions of expert psychological witnesses, and a key testimony regarding harassment by members of the Armed Forces days before Ms. Ochoa’s death was discarded.

As a result of all these factors, the IACHR concluded that the state was responsible for the violation of the rights to judicial guarantees and legal protection of the relatives of Digna Ochoa, which are enshrined in articles 8.1 and 25.1 of the American Convention and relate to article 1.1 of the same instrument. Likewise, as a result of the suffering caused by lack of knowledge of the cause of Ms. Ochoa’s death and the delay in the investigations, the IACHR also deemed that article 5.1 of the American Convention was violated to the detriment of her relatives.

In its Merits Reports, the IACHR made the following recommendations to the state of Mexico:

1. Provide comprehensive tangible and intangible redress for the human rights violations described in the report. The IACHR also requested that the IA Court order the state to provide economic compensation and redress.

2. Provide the physical and mental healthcare measures needed to help Digna Ochoa y Plácido’s family with the recovery process, should they so wish, and that any such measures should be agreed upon with them.

3. Reopen the criminal investigation into these events diligently, effectively, and within a reasonable period of time, so as to completely clarify events. This investigation should have access to all the resources needed to remedy the violations described in this Merits Report, including: i) carrying out the due diligence that was described in Merits Report 61/19 as not having been effectively implemented, specifically by requesting further expert opinions to provide the greatest possible clarification for the contradictions that currently characterize the case; ii) determining whether the testimonies for the lines of investigation associated with Ms. Ochoa’s work as a human rights defender were heard appropriately, taking into consideration the potential risks faced by those who gave them; iii) investigating the death of Mr. Torres Cruz and its connection to that of Digna Ochoa;  and iv) designing and exhausting a line of investigation into the threats and acts of violence that Digna Ochoa had been subjected to previously and which led to her being granted international protection.

4. Provide nonrepetition mechanisms that include strengthening capacities to investigate acts of violence against human rights defenders in light of the guidelines mentioned in Merits Report No. 61/1, which should include designing and implementing protocols, institutional strengthening, and providing appropriate training for all authorities who come into contact with this type of case, including members of the police force and ministerial and judicial staff.

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 and to defend 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. 042/20