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MEXICO: Toll of Murdered Young Women Tops 300

by Diego CevallosIPS
February 20th, 2003

Three more young women were added this week to the list of over 300 like them who since 1993 have been murdered and mutilated in the border city of Ciudad Juarez.

The remains of the women were discovered Monday by residents in the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.2 million that borders the United States and has gained prominence among human rights groups for the periodic killings of women over the last decade.

"Enough! This can't go on," said attorney Adriana Carmona, member of the local "Stop the Impunity" campaign. More than 300 non-governmental groups in Mexico are participating in the effort to halt the long chain of apparently related murders.

The story keeps repeating itself. As in previous cases, the police authorities have promised to conduct in-depth investigations into the killings, while human rights groups and families of the victims decry the continued failure to solve these crimes.

The matter of the ongoing murders of women in Ciudad Juarez has been taken up in recent years by legislative commissions, foreign experts, and international organizations like the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

But in spite of the arrests of several suspects, bodies continue to be found, and most are women between the ages of 15 and 30.

In December, UNIFEM director Noeleen Heyzer demanded that the Vicente Fox government take immediate action to halt the killings to prove that Mexico complies with international conventions to protect the rights of women.

Most of the victims' bodies have been found in outlying areas of the city and usually bear signs of torture and rape. In some cases they have been burned, and many have had their nipples bitten off.

The murder victims have been found "semi-nude, their panties twisted around their ankles, mouth open in a scream, eyes protruding. The body language of the girls reflects the atrocious suffering to which they were subjected," wrote noted Mexican author Elena Poniatowska in a description of the Ciudad Juarez killings.

The murdered women have mostly been workers at Ciudad Juarez's maquiladoras, which operate in tax-free zones producing for-export goods using foreign materials. At least 250,000 women work in the city's maquiladoras and most are young and single, earning just a few dollars a day.

Many of the 300 victims have disappeared on the way to or from work. UNIFEM's Heyzer points to the maquiladora labor policies, including night shifts and locking out of late employees, saying these rules leave the women of Ciudad Juarez vulnerable.

Raul Jiminez, of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), charges that the authorities of Chihuahua state, where Ciudad Juarez is located, and the Fox administration are "accomplices" to the murders due to their ineptitude in solving the crimes.

Federal officials say they, too, are frustrated by the continued murders, but point out that the police investigations and efforts to catch the killers are under the jurisdiction of Chihuahua state.

In 1995, Egyptian national Abdel Latif Sharif was arrested for allegedly committing five of the 300 murders of women in Ciudad Juarez. The local authorities assured the public at the time that the serial killing would stop.

But more women became victims under the same circumstances. The police then suggested that Sharif, behind bars, had hired a gang to continue the killings. Several members of Los Rebeldes gang were arrested. Nevertheless, the murders of Ciudad Juarez women continue.

A wide range of theories has emerged about who could be behind the murders. Possibilities that have been suggested include the drug mafia, networks that traffic in human organs, a psychopath living in the United States who crosses the border to kill, and even a satanic cult that hates young women.

And some criminal experts believe the perpetrators' objective could be to videotape the crimes and sell the tapes as "snuff," or death, films.

Ciudad Juarez is home to 500 gangs of youth delinquents. In the maquiladoras, women make up the vast majority of the labor force.

The "Stop the impunity: not one more death" campaign presented the Ciudad Juarez case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is part of the Organization of American States legal system. In 2001, the IACHR sent special rapporteur Marta Altolaguirre to the Mexican border city to investigate.

Altolaguirre said she was shocked by the murders and stressed that the federal government must take action to resolve the cases and bring those responsible to justice. "It is not tolerable or acceptable for the assassinations to continue while nothing is done," the rapporteur said.

Stop the Impunity spokespersons said the IACHR could issue an official recommendation to the Fox government on the case as soon as next week.





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