Jul 31, 2015

For Great Evils, Great Women

La Jornada: In a landmark ruling, issued in Ciudad Juarez on July 27, five people responsible for organizing a network of human trafficking, linked with the murder of at least 11 women, have been sentenced to 697 years in prison. They were found guilty of prostituting and murdering 11 girls, whose remains were found in the Navajo creek, a desolate landscape of the municipality of Praxedis G. Guerrero, 77 kilometers from Juarez.

Women played an important role in the proceedings that led up to the historic decision, with both the relatives of the victims and women’s rights defenders from the organizations Women’s Roundtable of Juarez and Justice for Our Daughters participating.

The trial, which began on April 14, is the first culmination of a series of events that originate to 2009. That was when the mothers of several girls approached the Women’s Roundtable of Juarez, led by Imelda Marrufo, to denounce the disappearance of their daughters. For them, reporting their daughters’ disappearances to the authorities was a fruitless effort. They themselves began to investigate the disappearances, accompanied by activists from the Women’s Roundtable, who provide them unconditional support in the form of psychosocial support and legal advice.

When the remains of the 21 young women were discovered in Navajo creek in December 2011, the mothers of the missing girls tried to identify the bodies. They demanded the remains be examined and documented accordingly. After much struggle, they managed to hire The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to provide a second opinion on the genetic identification of the remains, one the state government initially refused to accept.

They had the courage to look for their missing daughters, to interrogate police and investigate the streets of historic downtown Juarez, where the majority of disappearances took place. They identified hotels and neighborhoods where young women are held captive under the ring of prostitution. They are poor working class women with little schooling who, while accompanied by the Women’s Roundtable Network, did everything themselves.

Thus, they discovered that many young women went missing with the complicity or open cooperation of law enforcement at the height of the violence that rocked the border, while the army, federal, state and municipal police supposedly guarded public safety. The group The Aztecs, armed wing of the Juarez Cartel, in addition to drug trafficking, operated an extensive network of prostitution of young women, many of them underage. Military and police officials were among some of many clients of this prostitution ring.

This hell, which is not over, was unraveling precisely at the time when the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a decision on the cotton field case in December 2009, which requires that the Mexican government be responsible to put an end to the kidnapping, prostitution and murder of women.

The patient and tenacious work of mothers and families of the victims and the women rights defenders who accompanied them, identified several key operators of the prostitution ring and reported them to the authorities. Thus, in 2013 arrest warrants were issued for several of them, although at least one was already in prison charged with the kidnapping of a young sister of another victim of trafficking.

The trial began strong thanks to the tenacity of the mothers of the victims. Several of the mothers of the missing and murdered young women refused to testify as protected witnesses and instead pointed out those responsible for the plight of their daughters face to face. It seemed that the trial would conclude with the conviction of five individuals charged with human trafficking, but it was also necessary to prove the murders. It was then that the women rights defender Norma Ledezma requested that the crimes be classified according to Article 24 of the Criminal Code of Chihuahua as an emerging crime, i.e. that arises from the crime of trafficking. There the crime of femicide results from the crime of human trafficking, as those responsible murder the victims in order to avoid being denounced.

The sentence on trafficking and femicide of these eleven young women-several of them minors- is historical and is unprecedented for several reasons:

It is the first time that fully identified perpetrators are sentenced for these crimes, not fabricated guilty or scapegoats, as was done in the case of “The Egyptian” or “The Match” in previous years.

Women rights defenders from the Women’s Roundtable of Juarez, Santiago Gonzalez, and Norma Ledezma, leader and founder of Justice for Our Daughters were allowed to serve as advisors. From the disappearance and her daughter Paloma in 2002, Norma Ledezma has become an expert in human trafficking in Mexico, even though she has been threatened several times. It was very important that in appealing to various international treaties, Norma was allowed to serve as an advisor, although she was yet to finish law school.

Finally it represents a clear and strong step in the fight against the impunity of individuals and gangs who operate the human trafficking networks, which are probably linked to a number of murders of women on the border. It also shows that organized crime gangs are not confined to illicit drug trafficking, but venture into human trafficking, distribution networks, arms trafficking, extortion businesses, among others. The involvement of the officials designated by the surviving victims still needs to be investigated.

It again demonstrates the enormous power of a mother’s and families’ pain and rage when accompanied and advised properly. Their passion for justice, their courage in investigating and their firmness in denouncing are illustrated and informed by support of civil society organizations.

In the midst of this terrible journey into the heart of darkness of gender violence in Ciudad Juarez, are women like these that light up the torches of hope.

See original article here.

Translated by Nidia Bautista 

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