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MEXICO: Human rights defender killed

On Friday 19 October, Digna Ochoa y Plácido, a leading human rights lawyer who had won international awards in recognition of her human rights work, was found shot at her office in the center of Mexico City. The killers left a death threat warning human rights defenders of the PRODH that they could meet a similar fate.

A catalogue of threats and attacks preceded the killing of Digna Ochoa who had worked for many years with the Centro de Derechos Humanos "Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez" (PRODH), Human Rights Center "Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez".

In August 1999, Digna Ochoa was forced into a car in Mexico City by two unknown men and punched in the stomach. She was later released, but warned she would be killed if she reported the attack. In September 1999, PRODH received three separate letters containing death threats. Attached to one of the threats was one of Digna Ochoa's business cards, supposedly stolen when she was abducted. On 28 October 1999, three unidentified men entered Digna Ochoa's house, blindfolded her and interrogated her for several hours about members of the PRODH and members of armed opposition groups operating in Guerrero and Chiapas. The men tied Digna Ochoa to her bed and locked her
in a room with an open gas canister. After they left she managed to set herself free. The same night the offices of the PRODH were broken into and searched. Another threat was left behind.

None of these incidents were properly investigated. Amnesty International believes that if the previous and current Mexican authorities had taken the appropriate action to ensure an exhaustive and independent investigation of these incidents the killing of Digna Ochoa could have been averted.

However, the investigation by the Offices of the Attorney General, which is responsible for all judicial investigations in Mexico, was unduly slow and cumbersome. Although the authorities provided police protection for Digna Ochoa and members of the PRODH, they failed in their responsibility to bring those responsible to justice and to send a clear message that such attacks on those who defend human rights would not be tolerated.

Digna Ochoa and members of the PRODH have worked on cases of serious human rights violations in which public officials have been implicated, including members of the Offices of the Attorney General and the military. The threat left by Digna Ochoa's killers leaves no doubt that Digna Ochoa was killed because of her human rights work. Her killing is the act of those seeking to evade prosecution by silencing human rights defenders who expose the perpetrators of human rights violations and insist that the authorities ensure they are brought to justice.

-- Amnesty International Human Rights Defenders Network Action, 20 October 2001