Activist was shot and killed Friday
A lawyer was murdered in Mexico on Friday evening.
Digna Ochoa y Placido was 38. She was a human rights lawyer, often a
dangerous thing to be during Mexico's transition to democracy.
In the past, Ochoa had defended several controversial people -- Zapatista
rebels, political prisoners and alleged bombers said to be Marxists, among
She was shot to death Friday.
"There is no doubt the motive was political," the city prosecutor, Bernardo
Batiz, said during a news conference.
This wasn't the first time Ochoa had faced disagreement in the form
of physical harm. In three years she had received "many" death threats,
and she was kidnapped twice in 1999. The second time, she was tied up and
left to die in a room with an open gas canister, but she managed to free
herself and survived.
Last year, human-rights organization Amnesty International awarded Ochoa
its "Enduring Spirit Award" for her persistence and resolve in the face
of the threats she had faced. In 1999, the Inter-American Human Rights
Court took precautions to protect Ochoa and her co-workers -- they were
even assigned bodyguards.
In the end, none of it mattered. Ochoa had worked with the Miguel Agustin
Pro Juarez human rights center until about a year ago, when she left the
country for personal safety and to study. Questioned by previous abductors
about this organization, she had been asked to identify individuals associated
with it and threatened with death if she did not comply.
When she returned to Mexico, Ochoa set up a practice with other human
rights lawyers. It was in their offices that she was found murdered.
Two of Ochoa's recent clients were anti-logging activists Rodolfo Montiel
and Teodoro Cabrera Garcia. In August 2000, these men were sentenced to
six and 10 years respectively on drug and weapons charges. Ochoa had argued
those charges were falsified and her clients were being retaliated against
for their active protesting against clear-cutting of old growth forests
near the coast of the Pacific.
It's plain that Ochoa, while she defended those of controversial political
beliefs, was motivated primarily by the ideology of human rights. "This
was a person who never shied away from taking on the toughest and most
sensitive cases," Daniel Wilkinson, a researcher for Human Rights Watch,
told England's The Guardian. "She broke ground on using the Mexican legal
system for defending human rights victims."
There are fears that Ochoa's murderers will never be found or prosecuted.
A note left with Ochoa's body read, "If they (the human rights center)
continue, this will also happen to another."
The Mexico City rights commission leader and other activists have pledged
justice, but Edgar Cortez, leader of the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez rights
group, told local radio stations that "(i)n more than a year (of investigation
into previous threats against Ochoa) there has been nothing, which makes
it difficult to have confidence in this investigation."
The murderers' goal in taking Ochoa's life was to frighten those who
are using the Mexican legal system to fight for human rights. Their tactics
are getting more frightening and their acts more desperate.
Digna Ochoa y Placido was an exceptionally brave person. It's to be
hoped that others like her don't lose hope in the face of her brutal murder.
And it's to be hoped that her murderers, against expectation, will indeed
someday be brought to justice.