Commissioners: Tracy Robinson, Rodrigo Escobar Gil, Rosa María Ortiz

Petitioners: Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Jesús Ochoa y Plácido, Asociación Nacional de Abogados Democráticos (ANAD) 

State: Mexico


A well-known Mexican human rights lawyer, Digna Ochoa, died on October 19, 2001. At a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 14, 2013, the petitioners claimed that the cause of her death was murder. Before her death, Ochoa argued that the Mexican army and police committed human rights violations and that she received death threats during this time. The petitioners asserted that the government investigated none of the death threats she received. In addition, the petitioners noted that 61 other human rights defenders have been murdered in Mexico. The petitioners argued that it is Mexico’s duty to investigate Ochoa’s murder with due diligence and to not dismiss her death as suicide, given the physical evidence of bullet impacts on her body. According to Article 46 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the petitioners must show that all domestic remedies have been pursued and exhausted. Under the same article, Mexico cannot deny the petitioners domestic remedies or prevent them from exhausting these remedies.

The proceedings of the original case involving Ochoa’s death were brought to a close after the Attorney General stated that it was likely the death was a suicide. The petitioners said that the military police and the Attorney General refused to acknowledge the forensic evidence provided by the family. In 2010, after the closing of two initial cases, Ochoa’s family filed a complaint with the Commission. The petitioners sustained that the exhaustion of domestic remedies does not mean the case should continue to be sidelined. The domestic remedies the petitioners sought were a proper investigation and continuation of the legal proceedings. The petitioners claimed that instead of this, Mexico undertook the proceedings with partiality and bias.

Mexico’s representatives said that all of the domestic remedies had been exhausted in accordance with Article 46, and they argued it would be impossible to open up the investigation again. Mexico cited Section C of Article 47 of the American Convention to argue that the petitioners’ claims were baseless and, therefore, the case should be dismissed. Mexico further said that the right to fair, impartial, and expedient legal proceedings does not mean that the petitioners will get a result favorable to them. Mexico argued that it has recognized the highly sensitive nature of this case, and offered three lines of investigation, one of which was based on a suicide theory. Mexico said the forensic evidence and chemical evidence suggested a situation contrary to the petitioners’ claims, which the state asserted had technical deficiencies.

Commissioner Rodrigo Escobar Gil said it was the duty of the state to act with due diligence and comply with regulations. Only if the decision Mexico took was openly arbitrary would the Commission believe the state had met the admissibility requirements. The petitioners responded that Mexico did not act with due diligence but instead arbitrarily dismissed the Ochoa family’s special motion to reopen the case on her death. The Commission asked Mexico why the special motion was not accepted, and if there were any deficiencies in this or any prior or subsequent proceedings. Mexico reiterated the technical problems with the petitioners’ claims and concluded that since the petitioners did not meet the conditions for case admissibility as dictated by Articles 46 and 47, the case should be dismissed. The Commission thanked both sides for their participation in this case.