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Historic Femicide Trial Gets Underway

Frontera NorteSur, News Report, Staff Posted: May 05, 2009

Thousands of miles and a continent away, its a long haul from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to Santiago, Chile. But thats where the road to justice led Benita Monarrez, Irma Monreal and Josefina Gonzalez. Mothers of murder victims, the three women from the Mexican border city pressed their case last week against the Mexican government as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights opened a milestone trial in Santiago, Chile.

Marking the first time the Organization of American States court has heard a Mexican femicide case, the historic legal proceeding centers on the slayings of three young women who were found with five other female victims in a Ciudad Juarez cotton field in 2001. The three victims, Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, 14, Laura Berenice Ramos Monarrez, 17, and Claudia Ivette Gonzalez, 20, all went missing between September 25 and October 29, 2001.

Counting only two months in Ciudad Juarez at the time of her disappearance, Herrera was a domestic worker employed by Mitla Caballero. A high school student, Ramos also worked for the Fogueiras restaurant. An assembly-line worker for the U.S.-owned Lear Corporation, Gonzalez was turned away at the plant gate because she was a few minutes late and then vanished. Relatives contend the disappearances and subsequent murders of their loved ones were never truly investigated or punished by the Mexican government.

For example, Benita Monarrez has stated that two investigators from the Chihuahua state attorney generals office (PGJE), Ramirez and Miramontes, personally knew two young men, El Gato and El Perico who appeared in a photo taken with Laura Berenice Ramos. When pressed to explain their relationship to the mysterious pair, the law enforcement officials clammed up, Monarrez has asserted.

This is the case to show the many failings there have been by the Mexican government, said Maureen Meyer, program associate for the non-profit Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a group which supports victims relatives. Meyer told Frontera NorteSur that the Inter-American Court case could set a precedent for other femicide cases, including sex-related homicide cases from 1993 or 1994 that are now falling into legal oblivion because of Mexican statutes of limitations.

Mexican, U.S, and European human rights activists are throwing their support behind the mothers involved in the Santiago trial. Together with other organizations, Ciudad Juarezs Citizens Network for Non-Violence and Human Dignity called the Inter-American Court case a historic opportunity for femicide victims.

The Long Road to Chile

Many irregularities marked the Mexican governments response to the disappearance of the three young women, who vanished along with numerous others in both Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City during 2001. The disappearances followed a pattern of young, low-income women suddenly disappearing in the northern Mexican state since at least the early 1990s.

Several suspects were investigated or arrested in the cotton field slayings, but human rights activists and other observers widely criticized government legal cases as lacking any shred of credibility.

The grisly discoveries of the eight cotton field victims on Nov. 6 and 7, 2001, set in motion a chain of events that culminated in the Inter-American Court trial. In 2002, the mothers of Herrera, Ramos and Gonzalez filed a complaint with the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that charged the Mexican government with committing human rights violations and denying justice in the cases of their daughters.

After finally determining that the Mexican government never provided an adequate response to the petitioners, the IACHR pursued the next step in the OAS human rights system and referred the case to the Inter-American Court in late 2007. The international legal institution is considering the cotton field case based on the Mexican governments alleged violations of the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem Do Para), international agreements that uphold popular access to the justice system and the right of women to live without violence. Under the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court, Mexico is obliged to follow any rulings the legal body will issue.

Last year, Mexico filed a preliminary defense but did not submit all the documents requested by the Inter-American Court, according to a statement from the legal body.

The mothers seek reparations of damages from the Mexican government, the launching of a serious murder investigation and the dismissal and sanctioning of officials involved in allegedly botching their daughters cases.

Showdown in Santiago

On April 28 and 29, 2009, the mothers and Mexican government mustered their respective forces in Santiago, Chile, for a legal battle that will be heard around the world. Supported by Mexican and international lawyers and human rights activists, the mothers from Ciudad Juarez spent several hours retelling their stories to the judges.

In her testimony, Benita Monarrez accused Mexican government officials of covering-up the murders for other officials involved in the crimes.

This trial proves we are right. The state has never approached us, always acting with a lot of hypocrisy and nothing has changed, Josefina Gonzalez testified. I dont believe anything is going to change if the court doesnt help us in the name of all the women of Mexico.

For its defense, the Mexican government flew in a team from the Foreign Relations Ministry and the PGJE, including Chihuahua State Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez. Chihuahuas top law enforcement official said she was satisfied to represent the Mexican state and its tireless work of changing the logic of gender themes and the murder of women in my country.

Gonzalez admitted that numerous irregularities characterized the cotton field investigations during 2001-2004, but insisted authorities cleaned up their act afterward, reordered the investigation and moved forward with a statewide legal reform, a project supported by the United States Agency for International Development. The PGJE stands ready and willing to provide additional reparations and assistance to the mothers, Gonzalez said.

There were omissions and irregularities before my service, Gonzalez, said, not only in these cases but other ones too that have since been resolved and the mothers left totally satisfied.

Gonzalezs comments were reminiscent of statements made by previous PGJE personnel, including former Ciudad Juarez special prosecutor Suly Ponce (1998-2001), who frequently accused predecessors for widespread disarray in the femicide investigations only to be later blamed themselves by successors.

Rodrigo Caballero, a special homicide investigator for the PGJE told the Santiago courtroom that Chihuahua legal authorities know of two men involved in the womens murders.

Currently, the states prime suspect is Edgar Alvarez Cruz, who was fingered by an old friend, Jose Francisco Granados de la Paz. The two young men came to public light in 2006 when Tony Garza, then the U.S. ambassador in Mexico, made a sensational announcement that U.S, authorities were cooperating with Mexican officials in what could be a major break in the cotton field case.

A former Ciudad Juarez resident who had been living in Denver, Colo., Cruz was deported to Mexico to face charges based on a confession made by Granados to the Texas Rangers.

Alvarez has since been convicted of the murder of another cotton field victim, Mayra Juliana Reyes Solis, whose slaying is not part of the Inter-American Court case. Alvarez lost an appeal in a Mexican court last month, and is serving a 26-year sentence.

Alvarez and his family vehemently deny the murder charges, pointing to contradictions and irregularities in the states most recent cotton field case.

Additional sources: Norte, May 3, 2009. Article by Nohemi Barraza and Guadalupe Salcido. Lapolaka.com, April 29 and May 1, 2009. El Paso Times, May 1, 2009. Article by Diana Washington Valdez. El Universal, April 25 and 30, 2009. Articles by Silvia Otero and Notimex. El Diario de Juarez, April 25 and 29, 2009. Articles by Sandra Rodriguez Nieto, Gabriela Minjares and Alejandro Salmon. Cimacnoticias.com, April 28 and 29, 2009. Articles by Sandra Torres Pastrana, Nancy Betan, and editorial staff. Wola.org

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news, Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Related Articles:

Juarez Femicides on the Big Screen

Mothers of the Disappeared March Againand Again

Femicides in Mexico Remain Unsolved

Violence in Mexico Forces Families to Emigrate

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