• Press Release

Mexico: Authorities Use Criminal Justice System to Investigate and Carry Out Surveillance on Three Women Human Rights Defenders

May 21, 2024

(Illustration © Amnesty International Mexico)
  • The SEIDO of the then PGR – now FEMDO of the FGR – carried out an unlawful judicial investigation and illegal surveillance activities against these three human rights defenders in 2016.
  • It is still not known whether the surveillance and investigations are ongoing. What is certain is that no official has been prosecuted or punished for it.
  • This persecution of the three human rights defenders was authorized at the highest levels of what was then the PGR.

In Mexico, the practice of making arbitrary use of the criminal justice system against people who denounce and investigate human rights violations, and who support the victims of these violations in their search for justice, truth and full compensation for damages has become the norm. This is what Amnesty International Mexico warns in its latest report Persecuted: criminalization of women human rights defenders in Mexico.

The report, released today, documents the cases of lawyer Ana Lorena Delgadillo Pérez, journalist Marcela Turati Muñoz and forensic anthropologist Mercedes Doretti, who were subjected to unlawful investigation and surveillance by the Mexican state for the alleged offences of organized crime and kidnapping.

Involvement of the authorities took place without sufficient evidence to link the three defenders to any of the alleged offences. The investigation and surveillance occurred when they were working in their different fields to shed light on the massacres of people of different nationalities uncovered in August 2012 and April 2011 in San Fernando, Tamaulipas.

Although the investigation and surveillance date from 2016, it is not known whether they are both still ongoing. This uncertainty, which has persisted for eight years, has put the three human rights defenders in a situation of defenselessness, given the constant threat of continued unlawful use of the justice system and investigation without basic standards of due process being guaranteed.

“Amnesty International has voiced concern on several occasions regarding the serious human rights crisis unfolding in Mexico. In this context, the case of Ana Lorena, Marcela and Mercedes is emblematic of how the Mexican state makes arbitrary use of the criminal justice system to persecute, intimidate and criminalize human rights defenders”, said Edith Olivares Ferreto, Executive Director at Amnesty International Mexico.

“With this type of persecution, the Mexican authorities are instilling fear not only in these three women defenders, but also in other human rights defenders who have every right to contribute through their work to the protection of human rights. It is inconceivable that anyone should be criminally prosecuted as a result of these efforts. The three levels of government have an obligation to ensure that human rights are upheld and not to deepen impunity,” Edith Olivares Ferreto said.

Who is responsible for these investigations and surveillance?

The authorities carrying out the investigation and surveillance belong to what was formerly the Deputy Attorney General’s Office for Special Investigation into Organized Crime (Subprocuraduría Especializada en Investigación de Delincuencia Organizada, SEIDO) of the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) and is now the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Organized Crime  (Fiscalía Especializada en Materia de Delincuencia Organizada, FEMDO) of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR), with authorization at the highest level of the then PGR.

To date, no public officials have been investigated for the alleged human rights violations detailed in the Amnesty International report.

The report Persecuted: criminalization of women human rights defenders in Mexico documents how SEIDO staff diverted resources from the investigation into one of the most serious cases of human rights violations, the “San Fernando mass graves” or “San Fernando II”, to carry out surveillance on the three human rights defenders.

To take legal action against these three defenders, the SEIDO made unfounded use of legislation on kidnapping and organized crime to improperly request communications records of the women.

The SEIDO obtained information on the contacts and whereabouts of the three human rights defenders. It also improperly requested and obtained the women’s personal data to analyze their signatures. All of these actions were taken without complying with the formalities required by law, in particular the lack of a judicial order.

It is important to note that Ana Lorena, Marcela and Mercedes were investigated and subjected to surveillance as part of the preliminary investigations into the San Fernando mass graves case, under volume 221 of the relevant case file.

Officials from the SEIDO conducted an investigation without any of the three women being indicted. Moreover, they were not informed of the accusations made against them, nor of what they were being investigated for.

Grievance upon grievance

The investigation and surveillance against Ana Lorena, Marcela and Mercedes constituted a violation of their rights to privacy, freedom of expression, defense of human rights, non-discrimination and due process. None of the three have received justice or full reparation for the harm caused to them. In addition, they have suffered serious physical, personal, psychological and professional consequences.

But there is yet another grievance added to all of this. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) closed the complaint filed by the defenders without a detailed and accurate analysis of the human rights violations, and only reopened the complaint after the women filed an injunction and multiple appeals before this institution.

It is also important to note that, while the criminal justice system has been used against the three women human rights defenders, the serious human rights violations committed against people of different nationalities in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, continue to go unpunished: to date, not a single person has been convicted of these deplorable acts.

Recommendations for the FGR

Amnesty International Mexico’s investigation includes several recommendations for the Public Prosecutor’s Office. These include the following:

  • Refrain from exercising criminal prosecution in relation to the investigations into Ana Lorena, Marcela and Mercedes.
  • Stop any investigation, surveillance activity and attempted arbitrary criminal action against Ana Lorena Delgadillo Pérez, Marcela Turati Muñoz and Mercedes Doretti.
  • Stop, by means of an internal agreement by the Public Prosecutor, any messaging and action within the Public Prosecutor’s Office (FGR) (formerly the PGR) and other criminal investigation bodies that criminalize and undermine the human rights, journalism and forensics work of these three human rights defenders and the organizations and networks to which they belong.
  • Remove all confidential information and personal data of the three women defenders from the preliminary investigations into the San Fernando mass graves case, and prevent the reproduction and disclosure by public officials of the information contained in the said preliminary investigations.
  • Carry out an effective, impartial, independent and full investigation into the public officials involved in the unlawful investigation and surveillance against Ana Lorena, Marcela and Mercedes within the FGR (formerly PGR), the chains of command and public officials from other government bodies, such as staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who provided information on them, and punish those responsible.
  • Provide full reparation for the harm caused to the victims, including clear guarantees that this will never happen to other human rights defenders, independent experts and journalists.
  • Make a public apology for the investigation and surveillance carried out.

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