The Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which hears cases of human rights violations by governments, reprimanded the Mexican government for its pitiful response to the infamous female homicides in Ciudad Juárez. Specifically, this ruling referred to three of the eight victims found dead in a field (el Campo Algodonero) in November 2001. The authorities’ slow response, inadequate investigation, failure to correctly identify some of the bodies initially, and inability to bring the murderers to justice after eight years were reprehensible.
In this monumental decision, the court ruled that the government of Mexico failed to comply with the American Convention on Human Rights as well as other international agreements by violating the victims’ and their families’ rights to access to justice, protection from violence, fair treatment, and freedom from discrimination. The court subsequently ordered the government to penalize the officials responsible for the botched investigation, pay reparations to the victims’ families, and encouraged it to issue a formal apology.
The Inter-American Court on Human Rights was established in 1979 by the Organization of American States (OSA) to help combat human rights abuses. It does so by enforcing recommendations made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is tasked with investigating instances of abuse and creating policy recommendations for a country to follow.
Though the court’s rulings are technically legally-binding on a country, in actuality they are often ignored by states. What gives their decisions teeth is a subsequent public outcry, political pressure from domestic and international actors, and a government’s willingness to comply with the court’s ruling. Also, very few cases get to be heard by the court and it can take years to reach that point. However, the court has had success in providing punitive damages to victims. In this case, it ordered the Mexican government to pay a total of over $800,000 pesos (about $62,000 USD) to the three families within one year. If history is an accurate guide, there is a good chance that they will receive these reparations.