Mexican Women Activists at Risk After Fleeing Death Threats

Amnesty International has urged the Mexican authorities to provide protection to two prominent women activists forced to flee their homes after receiving death threats for their human rights work.

Marisela Ortiz and Maria Luisa García Andrade left  Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua state following a campaign of harassment and intimidation. The threats follow a pattern of attacks against women defenders in Chihuahua state which the Mexican authorities have failed to effectively investigate.

“The lives of these women activists, and their families, are at risk and the government must take urgent steps to protect them,” said Susan Lee of Amnesty International.

“The authorities must also investigate the recent threats and attacks against Marisela Ortiz and Maria Luisa García Andrade and bring those responsible to justice.”

In the early hours of 10 March, a large banner was hung at the school where Marisela Ortiz teaches, reading: “If you want to keep helping the bitch called Malu, fucking teacher Marisela Ortiz, we’re going to screw your family starting with your son Rowe, we have him on the list.”

Publicly displayed banners containing threats are frequently used by organized crime groups in Mexico. On 16 February, the home of Maria Luisa (Malu) García Andrade was damaged in an arson attack by unknown individuals.

Marisela Ortiz and Maria Luisa García Andrade are well known human rights defenders who founded Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Our Daughters Return Home) to campaign for justice and an end to impunity for the abduction, rape and killing of women in Ciudad Juárez.

Marisela Ortiz, along with Maria Luisa García Andrade, founded an activists' group.In 2008, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered Mexico to protect Marisela Ortiz and Maria Luisa García Andrade.

However, the government has failed to grant them any meaningful protection and those responsible for the threats and acts of intimidation have not been identified or brought to justice.

Josefina Reyes, who had been active in protests against violence linked to organized crime and human rights violations committed by the military, was murdered near Ciudad Juárez in January 2010. Four of her family members have since been killed.

In December 2010, local activist Marisela Escobedo Ortiz was murdered in Chihuahua City’s main square during a protest to demand justice for the murder of her daughter Rubí Marisol Frayre Escobedo.

On 10 January 2011, human rights defender Susana Chavez’s body was found in central Ciudad Juárez.

Violence linked to organized crime has spiralled in Mexico since 2007.

More than 30,000 drug cartel-related killings, many carried out in Ciudad Juárez, have been reported in the media.

President Felipe Calderón’s administration has attempted to combat the drug cartels by deploying thousands of federal police and more than 50,000 military personnel in the worst-affected areas, but this has not reduced the violence and reports of abuses by the military have significantly increased.