When police and kidnappers are sometimes one and the same, families of victims are forced to take justice into their own hands
“Yes I did, ma’am.”
The chilling words spoken by Jacobo Tagle Dobin in answer to Isabel Miranda de Wallace’s question “Did you kill my son?” brought to an end – almost – the investigation the mother of Hugo Alberto Wallace had been conducting for six years since Hugo’s disappearance.
Almost singlehandedly, she brought to justice 11 members of the gang that kidnapped Hugo, including Tagle.
Less than two weeks later, Marisela Escobedo Ortíz, another mother who had been searching for justice for her slain daughter without government help, was shot dead in front of the state capitol in Chihuahua.
Isabel Miranda de Wallace and Marisela Escobedo sought the same thing: justice for a crime against their children. This is the story of the two mothers’ quests for justice in a country where crimes are often not investigated, and their radically different outcomes.
A preacher riding a train through the South to demand freedom for oppressed minorities: It could be a scene from the Civil Rights Era in the U.S., but it is happening in Mexico this weekend.
Father Alejandro Solalinde and other leaders of migrant rights organizations are holding a protest beginning in Chiapas and ending in Chahuites, Oaxaca, where 50 Salvadoran immigrants were kidnapped about two weeks ago.
It is a common route for undocumented immigrants coming through Mexican’s southern border on their way to the U.S. Chahuites is the first town reached when coming into Oaxaca from Chiapas, which makes it an unfortunate site of assaults and kidnappings of Central American immigrants.
“Today, Chahuites has become an example of the injustice against our southern brothers,” said a communiqué from the organizations leading the protest. “Not because of its people, but rather due to the indifference of the political and ecclesiastical authorities.” More >
Former PAN senator and presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos was returned to his family Monday, after being held by unknown kidnappers for seven months.
Querétaro state authorities stayed out of the investigation at the request of Fernández de Cevallos’ family, who had their own negotiator and reportedly paid a ransom of $20 million.
Police also took a “hands-off” role in investigating the kidnapping of Hugo Alberto Wallace Miranda, who was abducted in 2005. But, says his mother, hers was a very different experience.
Isabela Miranda de Wallace, who helped bring Hugo’s kidnappers and killers to justice on her own, told Mexico Weekly that even if she had wanted government help, “in my case, the government didn’t do
“And there are many more cases like mine,” she said.
The human rights honoree and anti-kidnapping activist had a novel
strategy, putting up billboards with the images of the alleged
kidnappers of her son. Through the billboards and her own
investigation, she has been able to send no fewer than 11 members of
the kidnapping band to jail.
On Nov. 23, Miranda was awarded the 2010 National Human Rights Prize.
Called a “tireless social fighter” by the National Human Rights
Commission, Miranda de Wallace now heads the organization Alto al
Secuestro (Stop Kidnapping), which advises families of how to act when
confronted with the nightmarish scenario of a loved one’s abduction.
She advised looking for a government investigator so that they know
what their options are within the law. “No private investigators –
they are often charlatans,” she said. “Don’t do it.”
Another problem, she said, is when people pay the ransom without
bringing in a professional negotiator. “Without this, you can make
mistakes,” said Miranda de Wallace. “You need to have proof of life,
She explained Mexico’s ongoing wave of kidnappings — 8,000 in the
first ten months of this year, according to Multisistemas de Seguridad
Industrial — by saying the country lacks strong institutions like
trustworthy police forces. In fact, she added, police sometimes are
involved in the kidnappings. “In Mexico [the authorities] don’t know
how to investigate,” said Miranda de Wallace. “We live what we live.
‘No pasa nada.’”
“The deeper root is the social problem we are living in this country,”
she said. “People have no opportunities, no employment, no school.”
In order for the government to improve, she advised, “Each state has
to have well established anti-kidnapping units, as is mandated by the
If this happens, she said, “little by little,” the kidnappings will cease.
Miranda de Wallace collaborated on the bill “Preventing and Punishing
Kidnapping Crimes” that was signed into law in November. The bill
created a fund for victims and mandated prison sentences of up to 70
years for kidnappers who kill their victims.
Former presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos, kidnapped seven months ago by a mysterious group that communicated through Twitter, has been released and is at home, Televisa reported on Monday.
The former PAN senator, who is close to President Felipe Calderón, had been missing since May 15, when his vehicle was found near his ranch in Querétaro.
In October El Universal reported that the politician’s family paid a $20 million ransom, and that his abductors agreed to release him in early November. Three weeks ago, El Universal reported that Fernández had been freed, based on the reports of his nephew. However, Fernández did not appear at that time. More >
Leaders discuss impunity, mechanisms of protection in Human Rights Day forum
Mexico Weekly / Dec. 13, 2010
By KAREN HOFFMANN
To honor the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, the Senate invited panelists to discuss how the state can better protect human rights defenders and journalists.
Isabel Miranda de Wallace, who recently received the 2010 Mexican National Human Rights Prize, said she regretted that in Mexico there are daily abuses against fundamental rights “to the point that we have gotten used to living with it.”
“The reality is frankly scandalous,” said Alberto Herrera, executive director of Amnesty International México. “It worries me that, after three years of forums and dialogues, little has changed. The problem is not the lack of dialogue or initiative. We need concrete steps that let us give human rights defenders a mechanism of protection.”
REFORMING MILITARY CODE OF JUSTICE
The Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) has given Mexico a deadline of December 2010 to reform the Military Code of Justice so that “the military jurisdiction cannot operate [in] situations that violate the human rights of civilians.”
On Oct. 18, President Felipe Calderón had proposed a reform to the code that would allow torture, rape, and forced disappearance to be tried by civilian, instead of military, authorities.
However, human rights organizations and senators have criticized the reform as not complying with the IACHR mandate. The reason: Of all the “serious abuses” committed during the Calderón administration, only five percent fell into the categories of torture, rape, and forced disappearance, according to Human Rights Watch. The remaining 95 percent included extrajudicial exectutions, sexual aggression, and cruel and degrading treatment. Under Calderon’s proposed reform, these would still be investigated by the Military Public Prosecutor.
And even in the cases of rape, torture, and forced disappearance, the Prosecutor would still be able to downgrade the charges so that they stayed in military courts. According to a report from the Security Sector Reform Resource Centre, the Prosecutor has a history of doing just that:
“In October 2008, soldiers detained four men in Chihuahua. A CNDH investigation into the incident found that the soldiers ‘put them face-down on the ground, covered their eyes, tied them up with rope, inserted a broom handle in their anuses, and then tied them to a tree so that they would confess to participating in criminal acts.’ Rather than charging the soldiers with rape or torture, the military is investigating them for ‘abuse of authority and sexual abuse.’ Both crimes would fall under military rather than civilian jurisdiction despite Calderón’s proposed reform. In November 2009, soldiers detained two brothers from Chihuahua without a warrant. The men’s whereabouts are unknown. The CNDH ruled that soldiers disappeared the men, but the military invested the case as ‘abuse of authority,’ not forced disappearance. Under Calderón’s reform, this case would also stay in military courts.”
MILITARIZATION OF THE STATE
Calderón’s proposed reform also reportedly puts a statute of limitations on forced disappearances. Senator Rosario Ibarra de Piedra (PT), whose son was “disappeared” 35 years ago, argues that the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearances prohibits putting time limits on the investigation of forced disappearances. She reported that the Army is kidnapping people for political purposes and called it unfair that the state violates human rights. “Aqui no pasa nada,” (she quoted Gabriel Garcia Marquez), “everything’s fine. I think the principal problem of human rights is the militarization of the state — a state of war has been declared.”
Standing at a podium in front of a statue of Belisario Dominguez, her voice filled the hall of the Senate anteroom. The 84-year-old said, “We’re not pessimists, but I tell you, we live in a state that talks about rights for some and takes them away for others. Even the IACHR condemns the Mexican state. The military state has to end.
Pointing to a banner with the names and photos of those who had been forcefully disappeared since 1969, she said, “Here are all the ones we’ve lost — brother, husband, my son. But we are not tired of fighting.”
PROTECTING JOURNALISTS, FREE EXPRESSION
In the panel on “Aggression against journalists and free expression,” Brisa Maya Solis, director of CENCOS, said “We’ve had to push to get this subject on the national agenda. There are ‘silent zones’ — certain types of information aren’t being published. Unfortunately, in 2010, the aggression took on a new level of violence. It became a part of daily life. Corruption, narcotrafficking, human rights violations — these topics couldn’t be covered. How many more deaths do we need to implement a mechanism of protection?”
Edelmiro Franco, a journalist from Colombia who has worked for Notimex for more than two decades, talked about the Colombian example, relevant now as everyone from Hillary Clinton on down talks about the “Colombianization” of Mexico. In Colombia, since 1977, 136 journalists have been killed. Those responsible include the narcotraffickers, the paramilitaries, the guerrillas, and agents of the state, he said.
In his official closing statement, Senator Carlos Navarrete Ruiz, coordinator of the parliamentary group of the PRD in the Senate, said: “It’s clear that regions of our country aren’t secure. Our Armed Forces are not police, and they are not prepared to act as such. They confront arms from the US just as strong, if not stronger, than what the armed forces have. The action of our armed forces is bringing as a consequence a regression in human rights, a regression with grave consequences for the daily life of thousands and thousands of Mexicans.”
Navarrete presented a resolution, signed by many senators, commemorating the International Day of Human Rights and promising to “analyze the existing proposals of adopting laws that protect journalistic work and any individual, group, or organization that is dedicated to promoting and defending human rights.”
"Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." Cree Indian Prophecy