The issue of targeted violence against the women and girls of Ciudad Juárez began in 1993. Between 1993 and 2003, approximately 300 women were murdered, while an equal number were disappeared. Theories regarding the reasons for this violence abound, many of them focusing on private actors; however, the state of Mexico was also implicated, particularly for its failure to adequately investigate the disappearances and deaths of women and girls.
The families of three women and girls who disappeared and were found murdered in 2001 brought complaints to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding the deaths of their daughters and the ways in which the investigations into their deaths were handled. The Commission ultimately referred the complaint to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (left).
In its 2009 judgment in the Case of González et al. (“Cotton Field”) v. Mexico, the Court held Mexico to be responsible for human rights violations based on the handling of investigations into disappearances and deaths of women and girls in Ciudad Juárez. The state's actions, the court opined, contributed to the atmosphere of impunity surrounding the maltreatment of women in the city. (IntLawGrrls' past posts regarding this Cotton Field decision can be found here, here, and here.)
Stories of more recent violence against the women and girls of Ciudad Juárez, combined with crime reports indicating that over 700 women and girls were murdered in Ciudad Juárez between 2008 and 2011, at first call into question the meaning of the Cotton Field case.
It would not be difficult to extrapolate further, and question the overall meaning of the Inter-American human rights system given the escalation of gender-targeted violence that has occurred in Ciudad Juárez since the Cotton Field decision.
This view would, however, discount the very real place of the Inter-American human rights system in developing meaningful legal norms and take the focus off the responsibilities of the state to respect and implement the judgments of the Court.
► That Mexico ensure a thorough investigation into the deaths of the three named victims and other women and girls in Ciudad Juárez;
► That Mexico properly prosecute persons suspected of being involved in these deaths; and
► That Mexico ensure, in the future, that violence against women is fought, investigated, and prosecuted in accordance with the requirements set forth for the named Cotton Field victims.
Subsequent findings of international organizations and media reports have made it clear that the reparations requirements from the Cotton Field case are not being fully implemented. Specifically, the state reportedly has failed either to protect for women and girls in Ciudad Juárez or to investigate and prosecute, in a timely and thorough fashion, claims of disappearances.
A new petition pending before the Commission, Lilia Alejandra Garcia Andrade et al v. Mexico (admissibility report available here), alleges that Mexico has not implemented the Court’s requirement that the state investigate the unsolved pre-2009 murders of women and girls in Ciudad Juárez and treat the family members of these victims with respect.
This complaint stems from the 2001 disappearance, apparent assault, and brutal murder of Lilia Alejandra Garcia Andrade. The victim’s family alleges that it has not had a thorough investigation of her disappearance and death for eleven years; furthermore, that the family has been routinely disrespected by the authorities in its quest for justice. The complaint was found to be admissible by the Commission in March 2012. It is possible that the Court will be faced with similar issues to the Cotton Field case in the not too distant future.
To date, the Court has not released a compliance report for the Cotton Field case; this makes it difficult to understand the mechanisms that Mexico has attempted to put into place since the decision. Even without such a report, however, it is evident that the measures put in place have not had the intended practical effect, and that Ciudad Juárez is an extremely dangerous place for women and girls who are not involved with crime or cartels but rather seek to go about with their daily lives.
In some sense, this could be seen as an indictment of the effectiveness of the Court’s decisions, especially since the 2011 Report of the Special Working Group to Reflect on the Workings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with a View to Strengthening the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights, concerning how to strengthen the Inter-American human rights system, concluded that a key issue is domestic enforcement of Court decisions. Certainly there is a great deal of truth to this; however, simply leaving the discussion at this point would ignore the larger issue of the need for the states within the Inter-American human rights system to respect the Court’s decisions. Such respect is the foundation for any attempts to enforce its decisions.
When a state is the subject of a Court decision that insists on certain actions being taken to protect the human rights of a particular group and is subsequently made aware of human rights violations that are being committed by state actors in contravention of the Court’s decision, that state should respect the findings of the Court and implement them in accordance with Article 68 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which provides:
'The States Parties to the Convention undertake to comply with the judgment of the Court in any case to which they are parties.'There is no question that the situation of women and girls in Ciudad Juárez has not yet been improved as a result of the Court’s decision in the Cotton Field case, and that this does show some limitations on the immediate enforcement powers of the Court. However, this also shows that these limitations are the result of the state’s lack of will to implement the terms of the decision and must be addressed as part of the debate over the future of implementing the Court's decisions so that there can be full justice for the women and girls of Ciudad Juárez.