Urgent Action Appeal
20 October 20, 2001

Digna Ochoa y Plácido, Human Rights Lawyer
Mexico
Extra-judicial execution

On Friday 19 October, Digna Ochoa y Plácido, a leading human rights lawyer who had won international awards in recognition of her human rights work, was found shot at her office in the centre of Mexico City. The killers left a death threat warning human rights defenders of the PRODH that they could meet a similiar fate.

A catalogue of threats and attacks preceded the killing of Digna Ochoa who had worked for many years with the Centro de Derechos Humanos "Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez" (PRODH), Human Rights Centre "Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez".

In August 1999, Digna Ochoa was forced into a car in Mexico City by two unknown men and punched in the stomach. She was later released, but warned she would be killed if she reported the attack. In September 1999, PRODH received three separate letters containing death threats. Attached to one of the threats was one of Digna Ochoa's business cards, supposedly stolen when she was abducted. On 28 October 1999, three unidentified men entered Digna Ochoa's house, blindfolded her and interrogated her for several hours about members of the PRODH and members of armed opposition groups operating in Guerrero and Chiapas. The men tied Digna Ochoa to her bed and locked her in a room with an open gas canister. After they left she managed to set herself free. The same night the offices of the PRODH were broken into and searched. Another threat was left behind.

None of these incidents were properly investigated. Amnesty International believes that if the previous and current Mexican authorities had taken the appropriate action to ensure an exhaustive and independent investigation of these incidents the killing of Digna Ochoa could have been averted.

However, the investigation by the Offices of the Attorney General, which is responsible for all judicial investigations in Mexico, was unduly slow and cumbersome. Although the authorities provided police protection for Digna Ochoa and members of the PRODH, they failed in their responsibility to bring those responsible to justice and to send a clear message that such attacks on those who defend human rights would not be tolerated.

Digna Ochoa and members of the PRODH have worked on cases of serious human rights violations in which public officials have been implicated, including members of the Offices of the Attorney General and the military. The threat left by Digna Ochoa's killers leaves no doubt that Digna Ochoa was killed because of her human rights work. Her killing is the act of those seeking to evade prosecution by silencing human rights defenders who expose the perpetrators of human rights violations and insist that the authorities ensure they are brought to justice.

 

This is the original Urgent Action in 1999

Mexican Lawyer Under Threat of Violence for human Rights Work

The Centro de Derechos Humanos "Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez, AC (PRODH), the human rights organization in Mexico City currently providing the lawyers defending Rodolfo Montiel Flores and Teodoro Cabrera Garcia have received death threats, sent to their offices on September 3rd and 8th, 1999. Although the death threats have not been directly linked to the Flores and Garcia case, there is concern that PRODH's general human rights work, including defending ecologist farmers like Garcia and Flores, have made them a target for intimidation.

According to reports, these threats are related to the abduction on August 9th, 1999 of Digna Ochoa y Plácido, a human right lawyer working with PRODH, in Mexico City. Digna Ochoa was forced into the back of a car by two unknown men and punched in the stomach. She was later released, but was told she would be killed if she drew attention to her situation as she left the car.

On September 3rd, 1999, PRODH received three letters with the following death threats: "Reverendo padre aquí está su sentencia de muerte" ("Reverend Father here is your death sentence"); "El que sigue es otro, hijos de puta. Así se los cargará su madre a todos" ("This is another [threat], sons of bitches. This way you are all going to be dead meat"); and "A los que se creen los omnipotentes también se mueren" ("Those who believe they are omnipotent also die"). Attached to the death threat was one of Digna Ochoa's business cards, stolen when she was abducted.

On September 8th,1999, four more letters containing death threats arrived at the offices of PRODH. Members of the organization have also been receiving threatening phone calls at their homes. The anonymous letters were made up using newspaper cuttings. One was addressed to the PRODH legal team which is run by human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa y Plácido. The PRODH have also reported other incidents which they fear may be related to the threats. These include repeated power cuts and interruptions to telephone lines affecting calls, e-mail and internet-related work.

On the eveniong of 28 October 1999 three unidentified men entered the house of Digna Ochoa y Placido and interogated her at length about members of the PRODH in Mexico City. They asked her about the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN) The men tied Digna to a chair, securing her arms and legs, and locked her in a room with an open gas canister; the telephone line was cut. After they left she managed to set herself free. The same night the offices of the PRODH were broken into and turned upside down. A video ws erased, papers were stolen and a message was left behind: 'poder suicida.'

PRODH is a non-governmental human rights organization founded by Jesuits. The organization has long worked in collaboration with Amnesty International and has played an important role in investigating, documenting and defending human rights in Mexico.

In 1996, Amnesty International documented six separate occasions in which members of the PRODH were targeted with acts of intimidations, including death threats (see UA 200/96, AMR 41/43/96, 13 August 1996, and follow-ups: AMR 41/51/96, 29 August; AMR 41/56/96, 26 September; AMR 41/62/96, 11 October; AMR 41/72/96, 11 November, AMR 41/79/96, 27 November). To Amnesty International's knowledge no one has been brought to justice for any of these crimes.

 
 
Digna with Group 137 member Patricia Cofre and Tibet monk Palden Gyoto