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Human Rights Court issues landmark decision holding Mexico responsible for unsolved disappearances and murders of women in Ciudad Juarez.

December 10, 2009

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On December 10, World Human Rights Day, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Court of Human Rights published a decision holding Mexico responsible for failing to respond to the disappearances of three young women—part of a wave of unsolved slayings of hundreds of women and girls in the border city of Ciudad Juarez over the past 15 years. The court found Mexico violated human rights laws by failing to diligently investigate these killings, failing to adequately financially compensate the victims’ families, and failing to punish officials who mishandled the murder investigations. The court ordered the Mexican government to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to the families of the three victims.

The decision breaks legal ground by applying not only the basic human rights treaty of the Americas (American Convention of Human Rights), but, for the first time, also interprets the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention Belem do Para). The decision interprets women’s rights in the broader human rights context, and provides a powerful statement of the basic liberties of which the women and their families were deprived. The decision is being cited as a landmark human rights case and has been widely reported by the press.

In July, Horvitz & Levy LLP partners M.C. Sungaila and David Ettinger submitted an amici curiae brief in this matter on behalf of Amnesty International and over 50 other local, national, and international women’s and human rights organizations, law school clinical programs, and law and social science professors. Horvitz & Levy’s amicus brief explained how Mexico’s regional human rights obligations correspond with human rights norms, practices, and international treaties and instruments. The brief also urged that, because the gender-based violence and the authorities’ indifferent and ineffective responses to it was longstanding and multidimensional, the court should provide the full range of remedies for these violations contemplated by the American Convention and Convention Belém do Pará, including: restitution, satisfaction, cessation, rehabilitation, public recognition of wrongdoing, legislative and policy reform, training and education programs for state officials, information gathering, consolidation and analysis, and the compiling of human rights indicators. The court’s decision awards many of these remedies, including public recognition in the form of a memorial and a website listing all the women who have disappeared.

This case builds on amicus briefing Horvitz & Levy submitted in another human rights case pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Gonzales v. U.S., arguing that the United States violated international human rights norms by failing to enforce a domestic violence restraining order. 

This case, and and Horvitz & Levy’s role in it, has received widespread attention in the legal community.  See this editorial in the Pasadena Star News, this blog post on the Cal Law Legal Pad, and this blog post at the Feminist Law Professors blog. 

Click here to view the English-language version of Horvitz & Levy’s amicus brief. (A Spanish-language version of the brief was prepared by Merrill Brink International, with assistance from volunteer translators Silvia Esparza, Iran Hopkins and Maurizio Mangini. Please contact Horvitz & Levy to request a copy.)

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