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Murder of lawyer leads to call for better protection for human rights workers in Mexico

12 Nov 2001

The murder of a prominent human rights lawyer in Mexico has led to calls for the Government to give better protection to those at risk because of their work.

Digna Ochoa, 37, a prominent human rights lawyer, was found shot dead on October 19 in her office in Mexico City.

A former nun, she had worked on the legal team at the Jesuit-run Miguel Agustn Pro Jurez Human Rights Centre (PRODH).

Ms Ochoa had defended peasant farmers and environmental activists, including two men whom Amnesty International consider prisoners of conscience. She was the recipient of a number of threats in the past and was attacked and left for dead in her home in January 2000.

A note was found by her body threatening other human rights workers at PRODH leading to speculation that the murder was political.

The Mexican Government has been the subject of much criticism from human rights groups within and outside the country, as the officials responsible for investigating past attempts on her life and the continued threats, appear not to have taken the situation seriously.

According to PRODH representatives, the death of Ms Ochoa could have been avoided if there had been an effective investigation and if those responsible for the threats and assaults against her and other members of PRODH had been penalised.

In the wake of Ms Ochoa's murder, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica recommended on October 26 that the Mexican Government put into place, within ten days, effective measures to protect the lives and well-being of all PRODH staff and three other lawyers, Pilar Noriega, Brbara Zamora and Leonel Rivero Rodrguez. This will be evaluated by the Court on November 26.

In addition, after meeting with representatives from PRODH and other Mexican human rights groups, the Government has agreed to develop a human rights working group within the Ministry of the Interior to examine the situation for human rights defenders in Mexico as well as the overall human rights situation there.

CSW supports PRODH and other Mexican human rights groups in calling for a complete and prompt investigation of Digna Ochoa's murder, as well as the threats that staff at the PRODH centre have been subject to.

Stuart Windsor, National Director of CSW, said: Two years ago we called upon the Mexican Government to protect Ms Ochoa and to bring those who attacked her to justice. Her death is a tragedy and our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and loved ones.

"We say again that the Mexican Federal Government must implement appropriate mechanisms in order to fulfill its commitments under international human rights agreements.

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