The Law Society is concerned about the security situation of the lawyer Maricela Vásquez and her colleagues who work at the Paso del Norte Human Rights Centre in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The Centre provides legal and psychosocial assistance to victims of serious human rights violations, such as torture, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Through its activities, the Centre aims to promote a culture of respect for the rule of law and human rights in Ciudad Juárez.

The Law Society is aware that, on 17 May 2019, members of the Human Rights Centre overheard cries and sounds of distress apparently caused by physical violence applied against a detainee by members of the police force at the Anti-Extortion Unit of the Prosecutor’s Office. When they reported this incident at the Internal Control Unit, they were threatened with arrest. The Law Society is not aware of any investigation being undertaken to resolve this incident by the relevant authorities or a clarification into the threat of arrest received by the members of the Human Rights Centre.

The Law Society understands that this is not the first time that staff members of the Centre have been subjected to intimidation. On 5 June 2011, approximately 20 officers from the Federal Police raided the offices of the Centre, seized documents and damaged the premises. During the months of September and October 2012, members of staff of the Centre were allegedly subjected to harassment by the State Prosecutor General’s Office and the Chihuahua Ministerial Police. In January this year, one of Ms Vasquez’ colleagues resigned from her job at the Centre due to death threats made against her in a telephone call. On 9 and 10 May 2019, members of the Centre observed that police officers of the Chihuahua State police were carrying out surveillance of the Centre’s offices.

The Centre has received protection measures under the Chihuahua State’s mechanism to protect human rights defenders and journalists. However, the Law Society understands that these measures do not provide adequate protection. The Law Society is concerned that staff of the Centre is being targeted because of their work to investigate serious human rights violations.

We urge that the relevant authorities in Mexico to guarantee the right to life and physical integrity of Maricela Vásquez and others working at the Centre, to diligently investigate all the security incidents committed against Maricela Vásquez and others working at the Centre Paso del Norte and bring the perpetrators to justice in proceedings that respect international fair trial standards, and comply with Mexico’s international legal obligations and guarantee that Maricela Vásquez and colleagues can carry out their legitimate professional activities without harassment and improper interference.