In a context of debates and proposals in Mexico around the conformation of a National Guard in charge of pubic security, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) published it´s sentence in the Alvarado Case on 28th November 2018, an emblematic case of forced disappearances caused by the context of militarisation, that happened in 2009 in the State of Chihuahua.  An historic tragedy, this case tells of the various serious human rights issues in the country: forced disappearances, forced displacement, impunity and militarisation

The Alvarado Case: the disappearance of three members of one family during the Joint Chihuahua Operative

The event took place in the framework of the so-called "war against drugs" declared in 2006 by the then President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón.  This strategy focused on the participation of armed forces, specifically the army, in public security activities.  From March 2008 the Joint Chihuahua Operative was implemented, with 2,000 members of the Mexican Army as well as members of the Federal Police.  The operative did not manage to end the violence, in fact cases of aggravated homicide as well as human rights violations increased.  The Alvarado Case is one of these: in December 2009, three members of the same family, Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, José Ángel Alvarado Herrera and Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes, were arbitrarily detained by army members; nothing more was ever known about their destination or whereabouts.

Eight years fighting for truth and justice

Since then, the family members of the Alvarado cousins have fought non-stop for the truth about the whereabouts of their loved ones and have demanded justice.  The case has been represented by the Human Rights Centre Paso del Norte and the Womens´ Human Rights Centre (CEDEHM), as well as by organisations such as COSYDDHAC (The Solidarity and Human Rights Defense Commission) and MEXENEX (Mexicans in Exile).  The case eventually arrived to the IACHR in 2016, due to the fact that the Mexican State did not comply with the recommendations emitted by the Inter-American Commission.

#FueElEjercito (It was the army)

In it´s sentence on 28th November 2018, the Court recognised the Mexican Army´s responsibility in the disappearance of the three cousins, as well as the Mexican State´s responsibility for errors in the inadequate investigation of the case.  The Court established specifically that the Mexican State allowed the case to be passed to the military jurisdiction, an act considered serious due to the "accredited context of impunity in Mexico with respect to these types of cases highlighting the lack of audit of these operatives with military participation"; and that the State is responsible in the unjustified delay in carrying out the investigations.  The Court dictated in its sentence reparation measures, as well as the investigation of the whereabouts of the cousins Nitza, Rocía and José Ángel Alvarado; the sanctioning of those responsible for the disappearance; the organisation of a public act of recognition of responsibility where representatives of Sedena (defense ministry) would be present; attention to damage to the life projects of the victims´ families; and the generation of conditions for the families to return or relocate as they were forcefully displaced. 

Threats, intimidation and acts of violence

The families as well as the lawyers working on the case have been targets of intimidation, threats and violence.  Various family members were forced to move from their homes, a few sought political asylum in the United States.  The IACHR has emitted various provisional measures at different moments in favour of the three cousins, 34 family members and their representatives.  Despite the risks, family members and lawyers continued with their work until the sentence was emitted by the IACHR.

A critique of militarised strategies against violence

The sentence sounds like a warning in the current context of the implementation of a National Guard in Mexico after the decision of the current President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.  Many similar cases have occurred in the country and Mexican civil society as well as international organisms have warned of the risks of militarisation as a strategy to fight organised crime.  In 2018, the Human Rights Centre Paso del Norte, along with other civil society organisations, presented a document to the International Criminal Court about crimes against humanity in the State of Chihuahua in the framework of the Joint Chihuahua Operative between 2008-2010 - in this period the forced disappearance of the Alvarado cousins occurred.  

A call to end violence and to defend the right to defend human rights

The situation of forced disappearances in Mexico is concerning: the government recognised at the beginning of February 2019 the existence of 40,000 disappeared people in the country and referred to the human rights violations in the country as a "humanitarian crisis".  Almost all the cases remain in impunity.  PBI calls on the authorities to take all possible measures to guarantee human rights and ensure access to truth and justice.  PBI also reminds authorities that defending human rights continues to be a high-risk activity in Mexico, as seen in the case of the family members and lawyers in the Alvarado Case, and calls upon Mexican authorities at all levels to assume their responsibilities to ensure their protection and security so they can continue their legitimate work in safety.