The International Human Rights Prize
“Ludovic Trarieux” 2003
The 21 European lawyers members of the Jury called the Mexican authorities to ensure an effective, independent and thorough investigation into the killing of Digna Ochoa and expressed deep concern for the safety of Barbara Zamora and urged to give her immediately an appropriate protection.
Mexican human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa y Plácido was found shot dead in her office in Mexico City on October 19 2001 after being shot in the head and leg.
A note, directed at Ochoa's Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center and presumably left by the killers, warned: "If they continue, this will also happen to another. You have been advised. This is not a trick."
Ochoa, 38, had been kidnapped and had received a string of death threats since 1995 that Batiz's office was investigating. But Edgar Cortez, the center's director, said the investigations weren't sufficient.
Although Ochoa had received protection in the past, Cortez said, she left the country for work and was not given government guards when she returned in April.
Ochoa had often defended rebel sympathizers in southern Mexico, including those jailed for supporting Zapatistas who led a 1994 uprising in Chiapas state.
Digna Ochoa was shot dead on 19 October in a legal office in the centre of Mexico City. The killers left a message next to her body, threatening to kill other human rights defenders from the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Centre, (Centro de Derechos Humanos "Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez", PRODH).
This murder could have been prevented if the Mexican authorities had carried out their responsibility to investigate the threats and the attacks suffered by Digna Ochoa and members of the PRODH over a number of years, and they had brought the perpetrators to justice.
"The Mexican government has an unequivocal obligation to protect the work and the integrity of human rights defenders," Irene Khan added. She insisted that the authorities undertake an independent and thorough investigation in accordance with national laws and the international obligations of the Mexican government.
"The impunity which has so far protected those responsible for the threats and harassment against human rights defenders is a pivotal factor in this latest tragedy," Irene Khan said. The inability of previous and current Mexican authorities to carry out the required investigations, to prosecute or punish those responsible for the attacks, threats and harassment against human rights defenders, has created an environment in which the perpetrators feel certain that they will not be punished for their crimes. This impunity is a permanent and real threat against human rights defenders in Mexico.
Digna Ochoa worked in the legal team of the PRODH and with other human rights lawyers. There is no doubt that her murder was the result of her work in defence of human rights. In particular, her insistence that the authorities fully investigate cases of serious human rights violations in which state agents could be implicated, including officials in the army and the Office of the Attorney General, Procuraduría General de la República (PGR).
Digna Ochoa and other human rights defenders have been victims of attacks and threats for a number years. Almost none of the official investigations undertaken have managed to identify or prosecute the perpetrators.
In 1995 Digna Ochoa began to receive death threats as a result of her human rights work. In 1999, along with other colleagues from the PRODH, she suffered intense harassment.
On October 28 1999, human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa, head of the legal division of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Center for Human Rights (PRODH) was attacked in her home, and PRODH’s offices were broken into. Recent events signaled an alarming escalation of threats and attacks that have been occurring since 1995. Ms Ochoa and PRODH staff are in danger.
· In a nine-hour ordeal beginning late October 28 1999, Digna Ochoa was attacked in her Mexico City home, rendered unconscious, blindfolded, tied up, threatened, harshly interrogated on activities of her and her colleagues, and pressured to sign papers by at least two unidentified individuals, who seemed to be recording her answers on a portable computer. They insistently questioned her on insurgent organizations in southern Mexico. She was left tied up near escaping natural gas. Her phone line was cut. She later discovered files, apparently left behind by her assailants, that had been taken from her during her attack and abduction by unknown assailants on August 9.
· On the morning of October 29, PRODH staff found that their offices had been broken into and desks in the legal area ransacked. They discovered a death threat scrawled on a file folder.
· On October 13, an anonymous written communiqué containing a bomb threat was discovered in the area of PRODH offices where the legal staff works. Several members of the legal staff, including Ms. Ochoa, had just returned from a two-day trip to the southern state of Guerrero for legal defense of imprisoned clients.
· On October 5, Ms. Ochoa found in her home identity papers that had been stolen from her during the August 9 attack. The identity papers appeared at her new address even though they contain a former address, suggesting her whereabouts are being tracked.
· On the morning of September 14, PRODH staff found two written death threats in a desk drawer of PRODH offices.
The attacks, threats and harassment have been intensifying since early August despite Mexico City District Attorney Samuel Del Villar's promises in late September 1999 that the incidents would be vigorously investigated by law enforcement officials.
On September 3, 1999, three anonymous communiqués containing death threats arrived in the mail at the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Center for Human Rights (Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez or PRODH) offices. While the threats appear to be directed against all members of PRODH, there is particular concern for the safety of lawyer Digna Ochoa, PRODH's legal coordinator. On August 9, she was forced into the back of a car and struck in the stomach by two unknown men, who threatened her with death upon releasing her. PRODH believes the latest threats are related to this abduction. Ms. Ochoa's PRODH business card, possibly the one stolen from her during the abduction, was included with the mailed threats. On September 8, four more anonymous communiqués containing death threats arrived at PRODH offices. One of them was addressed specifically to the PRODH legal staff. PRODH staff members have also been receiving threatening phone calls at their homes.
PRODH has been the target of threats since 1995, when PRODH lawyers including Ms. Ochoa took the cases of individuals accused of involvement with the Zapatista insurgency in Chiapas. In several of these cases, PRODH alleged that their clients suffered torture and due process violations at the hands of the police and prosecutors. Ms. Ochoa has also initiated legal proceedings against 16 paramilitary groups that operate in Mexico's troubled Chiapas state.
More about Digna Ochoa :