Human Rights

Juarez Killings Escalate As Investigation Stalls

The Mexican government drops its investigation, leaving unsolved the brutal murders of hundreds of young women.
Like the families of hundreds of murdered and missing women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Cipriana Jurado is infuriated. More than 400 young women have been raped and murdered since 1993, their bodies left in the desert in the border region south of El Paso, Texas. This summer -- quietly, and shortly after national elections to usher in a new government -- Mexican federal authorities returned 14 cases it had been investigating to the state of Chihuahua saying there is no evidence federal crimes were committed. 

Jurado's organization, Centro de Investigacion & Solidaridad Obrera a Juárez (CISO), works to review the investigations and to identify and return the bodies to their families. She said the 25 families she works with are angry and frustrated knowing the decision will further delay answers about the murder and disappearance of their loved ones. Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) issued a major report on the murders in 2003 and has been pressuring authorities to investigate. But spokesman Eric Olson agreed, "It's been a very discouraging process." Among 2003 findings by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an agency chartered by the Organization of American States, the investigation of the killings has been impeded by institutionalized discrimination against women.

While the investigation stalls, the killings escalate. In the first five months of this year, 23 murders have been reported -- approximately the same number of murders committed in all of 2004. The level of fear is such that the victim's families now avoid the media so as not to call attention to themselves. According to advocates at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the "ages, identities and backgrounds of victims suggest that a broad curve of violence against women is expanding." 

The federal government's position that resolving the femicides rests with the state of Chihuahua puts the onus back on State Attorney General Patricia González Rodríguez -- a situation that Olson calls "gloomy" because of the corruption and ineptitude of state and local authorities. CISO, while crediting the AG's office with making some advances in the murder cases, is demanding more serious investigations.

Many activists argue for a bi-national response, with the United States assisting in investigate the killings. This spring the House and Senate approved identical resolutions urging U.S. involvement in solving the Juárez murders. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), author of the Senate resolution, said Congress wanted to make sure that the investigation and efforts to prevent further murders became part of the diplomatic agenda between the two nations.

Advocates for the murdered women and their families must now turn to the new administration, following recent national elections in Mexico. But AIUSA's Olson said that by backing away from the Juárez murders and offering a "clean slate to the incoming government," the government seemed to be "washing its hands of a very serious and tragic series of events." 

Cipriana Jurado, though, is not counting on Mexican authorities to resolve the femicides. CISO is seeking justice through international organizations, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which stated, "resolution of these killings requires attention to the root causes of violence against women -- in all of its principal manifestations."

Ed. Note: While a new arrest was recently made in the case, the Mexican federal government has still not resumed its investigation.
Leslie Fishburn-Clark is an Albuquerque-based journalist.
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