The Mexican Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of two indigenous women from Querétaro, who claim they are being detained unjustly. In late February, Alberta Alcántara Juan and Teresa González Cornelio were sentenced to 21 years in prison by a federal court on kidnapping charges. The controversy behind the case and the two women’s conviction was discussed in detail in a Justice in Mexico blog entry on February 24, 2010.
Numerous human rights organizations have insisted that the women are innocent and that their continued detention since their arrest in 2006 is a consequence of the inadequacy of the Mexican criminal justice system, as well as existing discrimination against the indigenous and women. Amnesty International has stated that Alcántara and González were denied basic due process rights during their initial trial and that their criminal convictions rest on shaky evidence.
The speed of this decision surprised many onlookers, as it took less than 24 hours from when it was officially presented to the court’s ministers for review. Usually, it takes much longer for the ministers to decide whether or not to grant certiorari, allowing a case to come before them. Furthermore, the court rarely considers overturning a criminal conviction.
Yet, by agreeing to hear the two women’s appeal, it will in effect determine their guilt or innocence—a task predominantly handled at the trial level or other lower courts. According to the statement issued by the court on Wednesday March 17, the ministers chose to hear the case because of the national importance it had acquired and since doing so would allow the court to verify whether discrimination had occurred, in violation of existing laws protecting women and indigenous peoples.
The case of Alcántara and González has gained increasing attention in the last few months. In February, Amnesty International declared them “prisoners of conscience” and the State Commission on Human Rights of Querétaro (Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos de Querétaro, CEDHQ) initiated proceedings to investigate their case. The Querétaro state government also urged the Supreme Court to hear their appeal. The governor cited his “justified concern” as to the women’s fate. In the national Senate, members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) proposed a resolution denouncing any violations of their human rights and calling on the federal government to immediately review their case. They also proposed forming a special Congressional commission to look into this matter.