NGOs Unhappy with Government Action

Anne Marie Mackler, FNS Editor 

On November 11, NGOs denounced the new state government’s silence regarding the investigation of women’s murders. Patricio Martínez, PRI, promised during his recent gubernatorial campaign that this issue would be one of his top priorities. However, he has not yet accepted a request for an interview with the NGOs, according to NGO spokesperson, Lilia Quintana, as reported in El Diario. Esther Chávez Cano, an anti-violence activist in Cd. Juárez and NGO coordinator, said that the governor’s office is like a “bulwark,” impossible to penetrate.

According to Graciela Rosa, Health and Community Development Coordinator, this inattention reminds her of the typical PRI approach, one that is insensitive. This has not stopped the NGOs, however. The members of the NGOs in Cd. Juárez agreed to continue insisting on solutions and pressuring the government to take action.

Therefore it was no surprise when on November 22 Frontera NorteSur learned that the NGOs did finally arrange a November 19 conference with the state attorneys general to discuss the prevention, eradication and punishment of violence against women. Governor Martínez continued to refuse to meet with the NGOs and was not present, although invited, at this meeting.

The NGO’s presented the problems facing the special prosecutor’s office to investigate crimes against women noting that the office relies entirely on one telephone line, has no radio, has no archivist, has minimal personnel and too little space. The NGOs also expressed concern for the minimal attention that has been paid to the disappearance of women and the lack of progress in the investigations of murders.

According to Chávez, Attorney General Arturo González Rascón promised that new communication equipment will be in place soon and an archivist will be hired. However, he said that missing women and children reports do not constitute crimes, which is why they are not investigated, and that he believes 85 percent of these cases are people that left their homes voluntarily for personal reasons.

Once a corpse appears, according to González, the police will intervene. Regarding the searches that are performed by the community, he says they are completely preventative which is work that is not a part of his office. But during the month of discovering a dead body, and to show goodwill, the state police will assist the searches. Assistant Attorney General Nahúm Nájera suggested the creation of a special department for the search of missing women and children. The NGOs were pleased with this suggestion, however, González did not agree with the idea. He did suggest that the 25 agents from the office of the public prosecutor in Cd. Juárez will commit themselves to the investigations. However, the NGOs insisted that professional investigations should be carried out and from within the legal system.

Regarding the Casa Amiga Crisis Center, a woman’s shelter to be opened in Cd. Juárez in January 1999, Nájera promised to let the NGOs know soon if the General Hospital and Family Hospital in Juárez will perform examinations of the victims, and then provide the evidence to the prosecutor’s office for analysis. It was recommended that the NGOs contact the Secretary of Health for medical supplies for those at the shelter with sexual diseases.

Related events occurring in November are chronicled below.

On November 6, a special task force of ten state police agents arrived in Cd. Juárez from the Capitol to execute 45 warrants for the arrest of alleged assassins of women, according to Nahúm Nájera Castro, assistant attorney general. Since January of 1993 there have been 167 women murdered in Juárez, according to the report in El Diario, although this number is reported
differently by different sources.

Nájera requested this special task force to assist the local officials because they do not have the personnel to carry out these warrants in a timely manner. These 45 warrants are related to a total of 42 inquiries over the last six years. Of the 167 murders, 74 are being investigated and 21 victims have not been identified.

Since November 6, FNS knows of no follow up stories reported on the status of these arrests.

On November 8 the attorney general’s office announced the appointment of lawyer Zuly Ponce Prieto as the Special Prosecutor to Investigate the Murders of Women. She will work from her office in Cd. Chihuahua believing that this will not inhibit her ability to proceed with the investigation in Cd. Juárez because “These murders don’t only concern residents of Cd. Juárez, but all Chihuahuans and all of México.” She is “extremely angry” about the the murders and says, “Women’s lives have been taken by some sick person.”

Upon her first two days of work, she found her new department in total disarray. Many files were lost, which she says, may account for the continual discrepancy in statistics regarding exactly how many women have been murdered in Cd. Juárez. Attorney General Rascón is pleased with the appointment of Ponce finding her very qualified and glad that “she has the additional characteristic of being a woman.”

Ponce plans to perform her duties without concern for party politics and with the objective of launching a prevention campaign to avoid the sexual assaults and murders of women. Ponce believes that with the help of the community and the media “we are going to see these crimes come to an end.” She requested that “respect” be shown for the locations of the crime sites so that “the areas are not contaminated which will completely inhibit the investigations.”

Interestingly enough, on the day Ponce’s appointment was reported, the NGOs performed one of their routine searches for missing women in areas where women’s tortured bodies have been found in the past. Members of NGOs, victims’ families and other concerned individuals and groups met and in their search discovered the remains of an unidentified man.

These searches are mostly symbolic, according to Esther Chávez Cano. However, the searches are a vital activity of the NGOs; it is their way of communicating to the community that they care, and that they are actively doing something towards solving these crimes, which they believe the government is not doing.

NGOs regularly hold peaceful protests which include sit-ins and/or posting murals with the names of victims and crosses for each one at the entrances of state government offices, as well as continuing with the Sunday morning searches.

Source: FNS, El Diario, El Norte de la Ciudad

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