Inter-American Rights Watch

Court Determines Mexico Responsible for Failures in Investigation into Death of Human Rights Defender

By: Sallie Moppert

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — In a judgment handed down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, IACHR, Mexico was deemed to be internationally responsible for the failures of the investigation into the death of human rights activist Digna Ochoa y Plácido in October of 2001. The court determined that the “serious shortcomings” of the investigation into Ochoa’s death constituted a violation of the obligation to guarantee to the right of life for Ochoa in addition to a violation of the right to the truth on behalf of Ochoa’s family.

A woman leaves a tribute at a memorial set up for Digna Ochoa
after her assassination in 2001. Photo courtesy of Reforma.

Ochoa was a human rights lawyer and activist in Mexico. Prior to her death, she endured many threats and attacks against her in response to her human rights defense work. With the continued threats to her safety, Ochoa, with support and accompanied by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and la Red de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos, came before the IACHR in 1999 to obtain preventative measures and later provisional measures to combat the continued threats and attacks. The protective measures were granted and in place for two years before IACHR terminated the provisional measures in 2001. Ochoa was assassinated two months after the protective measures were lifted.

The IACHR ruled that the investigation into Ochoa’s death was biased and corrupted from its inception. Although her body was found to have multiple gunshot wounds, Mexican officials determined that Ochoa’s death was a suicide, so the investigation was halted and the case deemed to be closed. In addition, the IACHR found that there was little equal protection under the law for Ochoa and females in general, as gender stereotypes were relied upon and intimate and personal aspects of Ochoa’s life were used against her to question her credibility. “[A]s a result of the deficient investigation and the discourse of state agents aimed at insulting her public image, the defender’s right to honor and dignity was also prejudiced,” the court found. The court also found that Mexican officials had failures in its handling of the crime scene, its documentation and the forensic autopsy, along with not investigating the facts within a reasonable time frame.

Along with its judgment, the IACHR ordered Mexico to take several measures of reparation, with the main order being to continue the necessary investigations to determine the circumstances surrounding Ochoa’s death. Other reparations included: making a public act of acknowledgment of international responsibility, creating an award for the defense of human rights that is to be named after Ochoa, and creating and then implementing a specific and specialized protocol for the investigation into attacks of human rights activists at a federal level, among others.

For further information, please see:

Center for Justice and International Law – Cejil 30 Years: Digna Ochoa

Inter-American Court of Human Rights – Judgment of the Inter-American Court in the Case of Digna Ochoa and relatives v. Mexico: The State is responsible for the serious failures in the investigation of the death of human rights defender Digna Ochoa – Jan. 19, 2022

Reforma – Llevan a Corte IDH caso de Digna Ochoa – Feb. 18, 2020

Mexican Supreme Court Declares Criminalization of Abortion Unconstitutional

By: Christian González

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Managing Editor of the News

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – The National Supreme Court of Justice unanimously voted on September 7, 2021 that criminalization of abortion is unconstitutional.

Protestors demonstrate for abortion rights in Mexico City. Green handkerchiefs have become a symbol for pro-choice and women’s rights movements in Latin America. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

The Court made its ruling when determining the validity of several provisions of the Penal Code of Coahuila, a state in northern Mexico. Article 196 of the Penal Code imposed a prison sentence of up to three years on women who voluntarily undergo an abortion and on those who help facilitate the abortion. The Court held this provision to be invalid in totality. A portion of Article 198 forbade healthcare professionals from assisting a woman with her abortion. A portion of Article 199 created an exception to penalization for abortions occurring before the twelfth week of pregnancy – but only instances of rape or artificial insemination. Both these individual portions of were also held to be invalid by the Court. Additionally, the Court ruled that section II of Article 224 – a provision that gives a lower penalty for crimes of rape between spouses, common-law partners, and civil partners – was also invalid.

In a press release, the Court stated that it “understood that the product of pregnancy deserves protection that increases over time, as the pregnancy progresses. However… this protection cannot ignore the rights of women and pregnant people to reproductive freedom. Therefore, the Plenary establishes, to absolutely criminalize the interruption of pregnancy is unconstitutional.” The President of the Court, Arturo Zaldívar Lelo de Larrea, explained the consequences of this ruling: “From now on, you will not be able to, without violating the court’s criteria and the constitution, charge any woman who aborts under the circumstances this court has ruled as valid.” The final decision of the Court has yet to be published, so what the Court’s “criteria” is remains to be seen.

Only four states in Mexico – Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Veracruz, and Mexico City – have thus far affirmatively legalized abortion, with all allowing for access to abortion before the twelfth week of pregnancy. The remaining twenty-eight states in the country all have some form of criminal penalization for abortion in their respective state codes. Since decisions from the National Supreme Court of Justice are binding to all federal and state judges, there are now constitutional grounds for challenging the restrictive laws in each of these states. Rebecca Ramos Duarte, director of the pro-reproductive rights group GIRE, believes that state legislatures will now be pressured into revising their anti-abortion laws before facing potential litigation.

Mexico, a largely conservative and Catholic country, will potentially be the largest Latin American country to allow abortion. This decision comes within a week of a new abortion law in Texas being signed into effect, which bans all abortions in the state after six weeks of pregnancy. The United States Supreme Court ruled to deny an injunctive order on the law on September 1. María Verza of AP News suggests that women in Texas, a state that shares a border with Coahuila, could now potentially find access to legal abortion in Mexico.

For further information, please see:

AP News – Mexico’s Supreme Court rules that abortion is not a crime – 7 Sep. 2021

Reuters – Mexico’s top court decriminalizes abortion in ‘watershed moment’ – 7 Sep. 2021

Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación – Comunicados de Prensa: Suprema Corte declara inconstitucional la criminzación total del aborto – 7 Sep. 2021

Supreme Court of the United States – Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson – 1 Sep. 2021

The New York Times – Mexico’s Supreme Court Votes to Decriminalize Abortion – 7 Sept. 2021


In a Historic Vote, Argentina Legalizes Abortion

By: Elizabeth Maugeri

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina In 2018, Amnesty International of Argentina (AIAR), Catholics for the Right to Decide (CDD), Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), and the Latin American Team for Justice and Gender (ELA) hosted a public hearing regarding reproductive rights laws in the country. This hearing, hosted alongside the IACHR, called upon the Argentine Congress to adopt a law legalizing abortion nationally.

Young pro-choice activists celebrating the passing of the abortion legalization bill. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

At the time, under the Argentine criminal code, abortion was legal in some provinces and only in cases of rape or when the mother’s health was at risk. However, no national standard had been set to provide all women with safe access to voluntary abortions. The IACHR asserted the importance for Argentina to enact a nationwide standard that coincided with the country’s international human rights obligations.

In 2018, Congress attempted to pass a sweeping bill that would provide abortion access, although it ultimately failed when it reached the Senate. However, the prospect of a second attempt arose in 2019 when President Alberto Fernández was elected. A large part of his running platform was reproductive rights and abortion access, making the statement “I’m Catholic but I have to legislate for everyone” during his campaign. In December 2020, he delivered on his promise.

The Argentine Senate passed a bill legalizing voluntary abortion up to 14-weeks in a 38-29 vote. The same day, the CIDH – IACHR expressed approval for the Argentine Senate passing the Law on Access to Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy and Post-Abortion Care. It stated that the passing of the law marked a new set standard for inter-American human rights which it hoped would influence Argentina’s neighbors.

President Fernández asserted that providing free and legal abortions was a public health matter, highlighting how many women die from undergoing dangerous and illegal abortion procedures. Alongside this bill, the Senate also passed a piece of targeted legislation titled the “1,000-Day Plan,” which provides higher quality healthcare to pregnant women and women with young children.

Despite the new sweeping measure, anti-abortion activists have made it a point to challenge the legislation on all fronts. They have made sure doctors know they can deny a woman an abortion, they have called the laws unconstitutional, and they have filed lawsuits in at least 10 provinces.

Doctors in northern Argentina, mostly in the Jujuy province, consider themselves “conscientious objectors” and have asserted that they will not provide the services for women who ask. Only a few obstetricians and gynecologists in the province will offer the care, leaving many women in the same circumstances as before the bill was passed. The most rural provinces, where women are most likely to suffer from clandestine abortions, are those opposing the bill.

It is believed that at least one of the lawsuits will make it to Argentina’s Supreme Court. Though it is not clear as to what might happen once it arrives. However, pro-choice activists have been pushing for this legislation for years, even changing the perspectives of once anti-abortionists. Former president and current Vice President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner originally opposed a similar bill during her tenure as president but has since changed her position thanks to her daughter’s activism. This change was considered a big win for the pro-choice movement, and activists are hoping to continue this charge.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Argentina abortion: Senate approves legalization in historic decision – 30 Dec. 2020

CELS – iachr hearing on abortion: legalization is a human rights imperative – 9 May, 2018

CIDH – IACHR – IACHR approval of Law on Access to Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy and Post-Abortion Care tweet thread – 30 Dec. 2020

The New York Times – Abortion Is Now Legal in Argentina, but Opponents Are Making It Hard to Get – 7 Mar. 2021

Dissenting Voices Shutdown in Nicaragua

By: Mark Burroughs

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – In October and December of 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the seizing and occupation of property belonging to various government oppositional organizations. The recent events stem from anti-social security reform protests that began in April 2018. After three months of protests, Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, initiated “Operation for the Peace” also known as “Operation Clean Up” with the goal of stopping the protests.

One of the properties that belonged to Confidencial confiscated by the government, now a health facility. Photo Courtesy of the Havana Times.

In December, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) and the IACHR launched an investigation to examine the consequences of the crackdown. Since the 2018 protests, the government has arrested journalists, shutdown news organizations, and seized the assets of human rights organizations. 

The IACHR released the contents of the investigation earlier this year, and it details various incidents of human rights abuse by the Nicaraguan government. The report documents 328 deaths, approximately 100 people still incarcerated, 150 students expelled from university, and around 100,000 people that were forced to leave the country.

In 2020 Nicaragua’s National Assembly, which is mostly controlled by Ortega’s political party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front passed various laws intending to shut down dissenting speech. One of the bills passed is the Foreign Agents Regulation Law. The government claims it passed this bill to stop foreign influence in Nicaragua. One section of the law that Amnesty International highlights is article 14. This part of the bill prohibits Nicaraguans and foreign nationals from intervening in external and internal political issues. The bill also bans Nicaraguans from being a member of or financing any organization that is implanting political activities in Nicaragua.

The Ortega government also passed a bill called the “Special Cyber Crimes Law.” This law has been condemned by various human rights organizations, including the IACHR. This bill established a prison term of two to four years for people who “promote or distribute false or misleading information that causes alarm, terror, or unease in the public.” The government is responsible for determining the appropriate term. Sandinista politician, José Zepeda praises the bill saying, “it helps protect the integrity of the family.” Azucena Castillo, a politician from Nicaragua’s Liberal Constitutionalist Party, condemned the bill as an attack on free speech.

Another bill that the IACHR has condemned is the “Act to Defend the Rights of People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination.” The IACHR has specifically condemned article 1 of this bill. This bill will ban Nicaraguans from running for elected office if they have “promoted terrorist acts, incited foreign interference in internal affairs, organized and implemented acts of terrorism and destabilization with financing from foreign powers, or welcomed and applauded sanctions against the State of Nicaragua and its citizens.” 

One consequence of the various bills passed is the seizing of properties owned by Confidencial, a news organization in Nicaragua. The government began confiscating property owned by Confidencial and other news and political organizations in December 2018. Since that time, the police have occupied the buildings. Other organizations targeted by the government were the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Institute for Democracy and Development. This year, the government transferred ownership of the properties seized to the Nicaraguan Health Ministry, also known as MINSA, without officially giving notice to Confidencial. On February 23, 2021, the government transferred the last of the buildings they occupied to MINSA.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – Silence at any Cost: State Tactics to deepen Repression in Nicaragua – 22 Mar. 2021

Havana Times – Nicaragua: A Monument to Crimes against Press Freedom – 26 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – Ortega’s Final Act of Confiscation against Confidencial – 23 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – IDB & World Bank Silent on Nicaragua Confiscations – 15 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – Amnesty International: “Ortega Wants to Suffocate Dissent” – 17 Feb. 2021

IACHR – IACHR Condemns Destruction of Civilian Organizations’ Property in Nicaragua – 8 Feb. 2021


IACHR Condemns Argentina for Investigation of the 1994 Terrorist Attack

By: Lauren Della Stua 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C – Nearly 27 years after the terrorist attack at the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) places responsibility on Argentina.

Rescue workers search the rubble of the 1994 Bombing. Photo Courtesy of CNN News.

On July 18, 1994, Iranian backed Hezballah terrorists bombed the AMIA, killing 85 people and injuring over 300 people. The attack was followed by numerous warnings, as well as the 1992 suicide bombers attack on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina.  Despite the attack taking place in Argentina, the bombing has been associated with accusations of Argentinian cover-ups. In 2004, suspects of the cover-up were found not guilty.  Shortly after the federal judge overseeing the case, Juan Jose Galeano was removed from his position for his grave mishandling of the case.

In 2006, a new prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was appointed to investigate the bombing and accused members of the Iranian Government and Hezbollah. Nisman also formally accused Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, former President of Argentina, of covering up Iran’s involvement in the attack. In 2015, hours before Nisman was going to testify against the President, he was murdered. Despite the lead prosecutor’s untimely murder, Kirchner is facing trial for treason based on her involvement in the cover-up.

In February 2019, the federal judge, Galeano, 2 prosecutors, a police commissioner, and several intelligence agency members were found guilty of covering up evidence and paying off witnesses in order to delay the case.

IACHR decided to investigate the alleged cover-up and divided its investigation into three parts: (1) Argentina’s investigation under the Federal Criminal and Correctional Court No. 9 from 1994-2005, (2) AMIA Attack Investigation Prosecution Unit (UFI AMIA) from 2005 to present, and (3) judicial cover-ups.

On March 25, 2021, following their investigation, the IACHR issued a Report on the Merits discussing Argentina’s responsibility and possible reparations. As to responsibility, IACHR noted that Argentina had a responsibility to adopt safety measures after they had knowledge of such a real threat. Furthermore, Argentina, although not necessarily willfully, declined to take protective measures of the Jewish community, and therefore violated of the right to equality and non-discrimination.

As to the Federal Criminal Court, IACHR concluded that the mishandling of evidence, forced hypothesis, and irregularities culminated to a cover-up. The second investigation, led by Nisman, uncovered more flaws of the Federal Criminal Court. For example, undue delays, improper handling of evidence, lack of expert testimony, and uncorroborated evidence. Furthermore, the State violated the right of the families to access information pertinent to the case by claiming it is classified. Lastly, the IACHR also found the State violated the right to psychological and moral integrity of the victims’ families by delaying and covering up the investigation.

The Merit Report gave 6 recommendations for the State. The recommendations included completing the investigation and punishing those responsible, paying reparations to the victim’s and their families, creating policies to manage the budget of the intelligence agencies, creating educational programs related to fighting terrorism, granting access to all information related to the case and investigation, and creating measures to prevent future attacks based on discrimination. 

To this day, the terrorist attacks have not been fully investigated nor have the accused all been brought to justice. However, the Merit Report will hopefully shed light on the corruption and prevent future attacks on the minority communities.

For further information, please see:

ABC News – 8 found guilty in cover-up of deadly 1994 bombing of Jewish center in Argentina – 28 Feb. 2019

AJC Global Voice – 25 Years since the AMIA Bombing: Hezbollah and Antisemitism – 17 July 2019

BBC News – Argentina prosecutor Alberto Nisman was killed, judge rules – 27 Dec. 2017

BBC News – Argentina Marks 1994 Bomb Attack – 18 July 2006

CNN News – Prosecutor in 1994 Buenos Aires Bombing Found Dead – 27 Dec. 2017

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – IACHR refers case on Argentina to the Inter-American Court – 26 Mar. 2021