Femicides in Ciudad Juárez: 10 years of impunity and discrimination

During the last 10 years in Mexico the violence fuelled by massive social inequalities, powerful drug cartels and high levels of corruption has been compounded by a more brutal violence against females just because of their gender. A new reform of the Mexico City’s penal code has identified such crimes as femicides, but the impunity of authorities and police inaction in the investigation of the cases make still a long way to go.

New Mexico City’s penal code reform came into force a few weeks ago to identify ‘femicide’ (feminicidio) as the murder of a female on the grounds of gender. Under the new Act, charges of femicide will be prosecuted in cases of violence or sexual violence against women involving degrading injuries or mutilation before or after the murder. Also, when there are evidences which establish that violence has occurred after previous threats, harassment, or injury against the female victim or when her body has been exposed in public.

Reforms also define the penalties, which range from 20 to 60 years in prison depending on the relationship between victim and perpetrator, and include measures to better identify the bodies, such as the creation of a photographic record of the victim’s body and her belongings, as well as DNA samples recorded in a DNA database under the Attorney General.

Despite femicide is identified as a crime only in six Mexican states – Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Guanajuato, Veracruz, Morelos and now in Federal District – violence against women is widespread across the country and this reform follows the path of Guatemala, where a law against femicide and other forms of violence against women was enacted in 2008.

This pattern of violence reaches staggering levels in the border town of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua state. In fact, the reform comes after recommendations from the ‘Inter-American Commission of Human Rights’ (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos – CIDH -) to Mexican government to criminalise femicide after the events of Cotton Field (Campo Algodonero).

In November 2001 the bodies of three young women were found in Campo Algodonero, a cotton field near the headquarters of AMAC, the maquiladora association in Ciudad Juárez. Hours later, an additional five bodies were found at the same site. The bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition and required DNA and dental testing for identification. In February 2001 the body of young maquila worker Lilia Alejandra Garcia was found 100 metres away from where those bodies were found. At that time, it was considered an isolated murder. The victims were young women aged 15-25, students or employed at maquiladoras and at other local business.

This is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights sentence case on 16 November 2009
González et al. (“Cotton Field”) v. Mexico

The Cotton Field case became infamous for the discrimination by local, state and federal authorities against female murder victims and their families. Not only did the authorities fail to identify the bodies, collect forensic evidence or carry out a thorough investigation, but they resorted to dubious practices, such as torture, to obtain confessions and build false cases.

A report from Amnesty International released in May 2010 revealed that “despite the 2009 judgement by the Inter-American Court, the government failed to take effective measures to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the abduction and killing of three women in Ciudad Juárez in 2001 (the Cotton Field case) or to combat the ongoing pattern of violence against women and discrimination in the city.”

This is a video from Amnesty International exposing the government failure and police corruption regarding the investigation of femicide cases in Ciudad Juárez.

According to official data, 6,000 girls and women were killed in Mexico between 1999 and 2006, and a total of 10,000 during the last 10 years. In Ciudad Juárez femicides have gained more visibility and awareness because of the brutality of the killings. The case of the European woman Hester Van Nierop murdered in Ciudad Juárez in 1998 – and whose case still has impunity – is symbolic to point out that femicide is not an internal politics issue but a case of human rights violations.

Despite the significant reforms made in Mexico City’s penal code, femicide is still an ongoing national problem. The changes have brought a bit of hope for the families of femicide victims, however, it does not ensure the end of discrimination and impunity for gender crimes, still there is a long way to go.

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