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Suicide or murder? The case of Digna Ochoa and Mexico's apology 21 years after her death

The afternoon of 13 October 2001, Digna Ochoa was found dead in her apartment in Colonia Roma, an emblematic neighborhood in Mexico City. After 21 Years after her death, the Mexican government recognized that the human rights defender had not committed suicide, as previous investigations had confirmed for decades, but that she was murdered.

“I offer a public apology to your family because the Mexican State did not guarantee your access to justice. I offer a public apology for the failures in the implementation of the specialized protocols for the investigation of his case, due process and due diligence,” said Alejandro Encinas, in charge of the Undersecretary for Human Rights, during an event held last Wednesday.

Our appreciation to the family. Receive our expression of commitment and solidarity to vindicate the memory of Digna Ochoa.

— Alejandro Encinas (@A_Encinas_R) October 19, 2022

The change in the government’s position stems from a resolution issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in November 2019, which determined that the Mexican authorities did not maintain the corresponding standards or deadlines in the investigations of the case, in addition to applied gender stereotypes that hindered the process, damaging “the honor and dignity” of the defender.

An outstanding activist

Digna Ochoa y Plácido was born on 16 May 1964 in a small community of Veracruz, in the southeast of the country. She came from a poor home. His father worked as a bricklayer in order to support the 13 family members.

Despite adversity , Ochoa was able to study for a law degree at the State University. Since the beginning of her career, the lawyer has been inclined towards the defense of human rights.

In 1964 joined a national committee, created by the opposition group to the government, to promote the democratic vote. However, that same year, she was kidnapped and raped, crimes for which she would not find support in the authorities, which motivated her to redirect her professional goals.

In 1989 The defender began working in the civil association, Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (ProDH). Two years later, she enrolled in a convent to pursue a religious life, combining her work as an advocate, but left the institution in 2000 before making your final vote.

As a lawyer, she worked in the defense of a group of more than 30 people accused of inciting an act against the then president, Ernesto Zedillo (1994-1999), as well as in the “Aguas Blancas” massacre (1995).

In most of the cases that she defended, elements of the police, the Army and the government were involved , so she was constantly persecuted and threatened by unknown subjects.

Among 1995 Y 2000, the activist presented death threats to the authorities, but the claims were never investigated, so he stopped filing complaints with the passage of time, despite the fact that I never stopped being intimidated.

Among 1995 Y 2000, the activist presented 13 death threats before the authorities, but the demands were never investigated.

In 1995, after being kidnapped again, the The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Mexican government to take measures to protect the life of the lawyer. And although she was assigned an escort, the woman was murdered in her home two years later.

A controversial death

On Sunday 19 October, around 18: 00 hours, Digna Ochoa was found dead by one of her colleagues from ProDH in the living room of her apartment on Zacatecas street in the Roma neighborhood, in Mexico City. He had been shot in the temple and in his left thigh, while the right one showed a bruise. Near her corpse was a caliber weapon 16 and three bullet casings.

After notifying the authorities, they began the investigations pursuing three hypotheses, among them, the possible murder of the lawyer by a member of the Army. However, in July 2003, the The Attorney General’s Office of the capital decided that the activist had committed suicide.

Este es el país más peligroso para los defensores de la tierra y el medioambiente, según un informe

The authorities assured that the lawyer’s mental health had been affected by the threats he received, which would have led to his supposed suicide. Her family, however, showed evidence that the defender did not suffer from any ailment and that, instead, she was constantly watched and attacked.

In 2003, the case was reopened, but in 2008 it was again determined that there was insufficient evidence for homicide, despite the fact that a year earlier a peasant identified the former municipal president of Petatlán in Guerrero, Rogaciano Alba, as the intellectual author of the crime.

In 2010, An attempt was made to change the judicial resolution again, without any success, and a year later an amparo appeal was filed, which was also rejected.

For decades, the family took the case to various institutions such as the National Commission for Human Rights in Mexico City. Finally, in 2019, the Inter-American Court required the State that the case was reopened and, in January 2022, declared the government “responsible internationally due to the serious shortcomings” detected in the proceedings of the case.

The public apology

The 19 October 2010, to 21 Years after the murder of Digna Ochoa, the López Obrador government publicly acknowledged that the lawyer had been murdered, announcing that the case would be reopened to review the facts.

Este es el país más peligroso para los defensores de la tierra y el medioambiente, según un informe

Receive our expression of commitment and solidarity from the Mexican State to vindicate the memory of Digna Ochoa and with it defend a fundamental human right: the human right to defend the human rights of all people,” said Undersecretary Alejandro Encinas.

The official also announced that two streets in the capital and in the state of Veracruz would be renamed in honor of the lawyer.

In the country, attacks against activists continue to be recorded. From June 2021 to May 2022, 28 human rights defenders were murdered in the country, according to a count by the organization Committee Cerezo Mexico.


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