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Announcement :: Human Rights
Digna Ochoa - Birthdate
18 Oct 2006
"My father was a union leader in Veracruz, Mexico. He struggled for potable water, roads, and securing land certificates. He was unjustly jailed, then “disappeared” and tortured.
This led to my determination to do something for those suffering injustice, because I saw it in my father's flesh. I studied law because of these experiences and because I was always hearing that my father and his friends needed lawyers."
Mexican Panel Challenges Ruling on Rights Lawyer's Death
July 21, 2004
By GINGER THOMPSON, New York

MEXICO CITY, July 20 - The human rights commission of Mexico City is expected to release a report on Wednesday challenging prosecutors' findings that a prominent human rights lawyer, Digna Ochoa, killed herself more than two years ago.

The commission's chief, Emilio Álvarez Icaza, said the group had found that government prosecutors failed to properly investigate Ms. Ochoa's death - and even covered up pieces of important evidence. He said in an interview that photos of Ms. Ochoa's body at the crime scene showed bruises on her face and neck. Those injuries were not mentioned in the autopsy, he said.

"We are not going to declare whether or not there was a suicide," he said. "But we ask for certainty in the investigation, because the absence of certainty affects the entire process and the conclusion."

Ms. Ochoa, 37, was a lawyer who had won international awards for work that exposed human rights abuses by the Mexican military and the police. She had reported receiving death threats for the last six years of her life. Then in October 2001, Ms. Ochoa was found slumped at her desk, with two bullet wounds; she had been shot at point-blank range. Her death caused outrage among human rights activists around the world. And it was widely considered the first test of this young democracy's commitment to ending decades of repression and impunity.

The international pressure forced President Vicente Fox, less than a year after he was inaugurated, to release Mexico's most prominent political prisoners from jail, including two peasant ecologists who had been detained on trumped-up charges. Human rights groups, including the government's own National Human Rights Commission, said the two men were tortured by the military while in custody. Ms. Ochoa had been the ecologists' lead defender.

Meanwhile, the investigations into Ms. Ochoa's death have been shrouded by public doubts about the municipal government's handling of the case. Three separate lawyers were assigned to investigate the death. All concluded that she was distraught and that she committed suicide.

Some international human rights investigators reviewed the investigations and had privately accepted the findings. Rumors spread among Ms. Ochoa's peers that she had made up the death threats to get attention and that she had committed suicide because she wanted to be a martyr.

Critics charged that prosecutors blamed a victim unable to defend herself rather than pursue leads incriminating the soldiers, police and rural political bosses who were the target of Ms. Ochoa's human rights work. Mr. Álvarez agreed with that charge.

"If we find so many irregularities in a case as emblematic as this one," he said, "then that indicates there remain serious weaknesses and irregularities in the entire justice system."

"The message we are sending with this report," he added, "is that we will not permit impunity."

Members of the commission said their 200-page report was initiated by complaints filed by Ms. Ochoa's family and lawyers. Most of its findings question the basics of the investigation, noting errors in the way investigators collected and processed evidence, rather than in the conclusions that were drawn from it. The report also pointed out inconsistencies in the conclusions drawn by each of the three prosecutors.

The report complains, for example, that none of the forensic experts at the scene were involved with conducting the autopsy on Ms. Ochoa. In some cases, the report states, descriptions of Ms. Ochoa's wounds by a criminal expert and then by a medical expert "did not match and in some cases were contradictory." The report even indicates that doctors conducting the autopsy on Ms. Ochoa disagreed about the trajectory of the bullet that hit her in the head, killing her.

Human rights activists said they would withhold comment on the report until after they had time to review it. Meanwhile, Ms. Ochoa's family enjoyed a quiet moment of vindication.

"For Digna's family, her alleged suicide, as argued by the prosecutor's office, was just an easy way out," said Jesús Ochoa, Ms. Ochoa's brother and most ardent defender. "We will never accept it."



Digna Ochoa
The following comments by Digna Ochoa are adapted from an earlier published interview:

My father was a union leader in Veracruz, Mexico. He struggled for potable water, roads, and securing land certificates. He was unjustly jailed, then “disappeared” and tortured.

This led to my determination to do something for those suffering injustice, because I saw it in my father's flesh. I studied law because of these experiences and because I was always hearing that my father and his friends needed lawyers.

Early on, when I was a prosecutor, I remember a very clear issue of injustice. My boss wanted me to charge someone whom I knew to be innocent. There was no evidence, but my boss tried to make me prosecute him. I refused - and then left the attorney general’s office and went on the other side, the side of the defense.

My first case was against court police officers who were involved in the illegal detention and torture of several peasants. I had obtained substantial evidence against the police, so they started to harass me. Then I was detained.

Later, they sent telephone messages telling me to drop the case. Then by mail came threats that if I didn’t drop it I would die, or members of my family would be killed. I kept working and we publicly reported what was happening.

The intimidation made me so angry that I worked even harder. I was frightened too. Then I was kidnapped and held incommunicado by the police.

Now, I felt in the flesh what my father had felt, what other people had suffered. There was a month of torture. Finally, I managed to escape.

I’ve always felt anger at the suffering of others. For me, anger is energy, it’s a force. You channel energy positively or negatively. Being sensitive to situations of injustice and the necessity of confronting difficult situations like those we see every day, we have to get angry to provoke energy and react.

It’s injustice that motivates us to do something, to take risks, knowing that if we don’t, things will remain the same.

- Adapted from Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, Speak Truth to Power, Crown, New York, 2000.



They are after me but I will not live in fear.

On October 19, 2001, Digna Ochoa, a leading Mexican human rights lawyer, was found shot at her office in Mexico City. Her killers also left a death threat against other members of the "Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez" Human Rights Centre (PRODH), where Digna Ochoa worked.

Digna Ochoa was killed because of her human rights work. She and other members of the PRODH have worked on cases of torture and other serious human rights violations in which Mexican officials have been implicated. As a result, these defenders of human rights have been the target of many threats and attacks.

Ochoa’s murder could have been prevented if the Mexican government had investigated these earlier attacks and brought to justice those responsible.

Amnesty International is now demanding that the authorities thoroughly investigate Ochoa’s murder, bring to justice those responsible, and protect the other activists who worked with Ochoa.


Ugent Action Appeal
20 October 20, 2001

Digna Ochoa y Plácido, Human Rights Lawyer
Mexico
Extra-judicial execution

On Friday 19 October, Digna Ochoa y Plácido, a leading human rights lawyer who had won international awards in recognition of her human rights work, was found shot at her office in the centre of Mexico City. The killers left a death threat warning human rights defenders of the PRODH that they could meet a similiar fate.

A catalogue of threats and attacks preceded the killing of Digna Ochoa who had worked for many years with the Centro de Derechos Humanos "Miguel Agust'n Pro Ju‡rez" (PRODH), Human Rights Centre "Miguel Agust'n Pro Ju‡rez".

In August 1999, Digna Ochoa was forced into a car in Mexico City by two unknown men and punched in the stomach. She was later released, but warned she would be killed if she reported the attack. In September 1999, PRODH received three separate letters containing death threats. Attached to one of the threats was one of Digna Ochoa's business cards, supposedly stolen when she was abducted. On 28 October 1999, three unidentified men entered Digna Ochoa's house, blindfolded her and interrogated her for several hours about members of the PRODH and members of armed opposition groups operating in Guerrero and Chiapas. The men tied Digna Ochoa to her bed and locked her in a room with an open gas canister. After they left she managed to set herself free. The same night the offices of the PRODH were broken into and searched. Another threat was left behind.

None of these incidents were properly investigated. Amnesty International believes that if the previous and current Mexican authorities had taken the appropriate action to ensure an exhaustive and independent investigation of these incidents the killing of Digna Ochoa could have been averted.

However, the investigation by the Offices of the Attorney General, which is responsible for all judicial investigations in Mexico, was unduly slow and cumbersome. Although the authorities provided police protection for Digna Ochoa and members of the PRODH, they failed in their responsibility to bring those responsible to justice and to send a clear message that such attacks on those who defend human rights would not be tolerated.

Digna Ochoa and members of the PRODH have worked on cases of serious human rights violations in which public officials have been implicated, including members of the Offices of the Attorney General and the military. The threat left by Digna Ochoa's killers leaves no doubt that Digna Ochoa was killed because of her human rights work. Her killing is the act of those seeking to evade prosecution by silencing human rights defenders who expose the perpetrators of human rights violations and insist that the authorities ensure they are brought to justice.



This is the original Urgent Action in 1999

Mexican Lawyer Under Threat of Violence for human Rights Work

The Centro de Derechos Humanos "Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez, AC (PRODH), the human rights organization in Mexico City currently providing the lawyers defending Rodolfo Montiel Flores and Teodoro Cabrera Garcia have received death threats, sent to their offices on September 3rd and 8th, 1999. Although the death threats have not been directly linked to the Flores and Garcia case, there is concern that PRODH's general human rights work, including defending ecologist farmers like Garcia and Flores, have made them a target for intimidation.

According to reports, these threats are related to the abduction on August 9th, 1999 of Digna Ochoa y Pl‡cido, a human right lawyer working with PRODH, in Mexico City. Digna Ochoa was forced into the back of a car by two unknown men and punched in the stomach. She was later released, but was told she would be killed if she drew attention to her situation as she left the car.

On September 3rd, 1999, PRODH received three letters with the following death threats: "Reverendo padre aqu' est‡ su sentencia de muerte" ("Reverend Father here is your death sentence"); "El que sigue es otro, hijos de puta. As' se los cargar‡ su madre a todos" ("This is another [threat], sons of bitches. This way you are all going to be dead meat"); and "A los que se creen los omnipotentes tambiŽn se mueren" ("Those who believe they are omnipotent also die"). Attached to the death threat was one of Digna Ochoa's business cards, stolen when she was abducted.

On September 8th,1999, four more letters containing death threats arrived at the offices of PRODH. Members of the organization have also been receiving threatening phone calls at their homes. The anonymous letters were made up using newspaper cuttings. One was addressed to the PRODH legal team which is run by human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa y Pl‡cido. The PRODH have also reported other incidents which they fear may be related to the threats. These include repeated power cuts and interruptions to telephone lines affecting calls, e-mail and internet-related work.

On the eveniong of 28 October 1999 three unidentified men entered the house of Digna Ochoa y Placido and interogated her at length about members of the PRODH in Mexico City. They asked her about the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN) The men tied Digna to a chair, securing her arms and legs, and locked her in a room with an open gas canister; the telephone line was cut. After they left she managed to set herself free. The same night the offices of the PRODH were broken into and turned upside down. A video ws erased, papers were stolen and a message was left behind: 'poder suicida.'

PRODH is a non-governmental human rights organization founded by Jesuits. The organization has long worked in collaboration with Amnesty International and has played an important role in investigating, documenting and defending human rights in Mexico.

In 1996, Amnesty International documented six separate occasions in which members of the PRODH were targeted with acts of intimidations, including death threats (see UA 200/96, AMR 41/43/96, 13 August 1996, and follow-ups: AMR 41/51/96, 29 August; AMR 41/56/96, 26 September; AMR 41/62/96, 11 October; AMR 41/72/96, 11 November, AMR 41/79/96, 27 November). To Amnesty International's knowledge no one has been brought to justice for any of these crimes.




Digna with Group 137 member Patricia Cofre and Tibet monk Palden Gyoto

DEMOCRACY NOW
Thursday, April 27th, 2006
The Assassination of Digna Ochoa: A Look at the Life and Death of the Renowned Mexican Human Rights Lawyer

In October 2001, renowned Mexican human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa was found shot dead in her Mexico City office. Despite previous attempts on her life and other evidence pointing to foul-play, Ochoa's death was declared a suicide by Mexico City prosecutors. We discuss her life and death with award-winning journalist Linda Diebel, author of "Betrayed: The Assassination of Digna Ochoa" and Kerry Kennedy, founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. [includes rush transcript]
We take a look at the life and death of the Mexican human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa. Ochoa was a former nun who went on to represent some of Mexico"s poorest constituents against powerful government interests. She also uncovered torture and other abuses by the Mexican military and police. Ochoa worked on behalf of peasant ecologists in the state of Guerrerro, Zapatistas guerrillas in Chiapas and indigenous Indians in her home state of Verazcruz. At the time of her death, she was defending three men charged with bombing banks in Mexico City to protest against globalization.

In October 2001, Digna Ochoa was found shot dead in her Mexico City office. She was thirty-seven years old and had received many death threats. In fact, when Ochoa was twenty-four she was kidnapped and raped only days after discovering a blacklist of union organizers and political activists in the office of the state attorney general.

Later in her life, she was forced to flee to the United States for her safety. Despite these previous attempts on her life and other evidence pointing to foul-play, Ochoa's death was declared a suicide by Mexico City prosecutors. Ochoa's family and fellow human rights activists never accepted the finding and fought for years to have the case re-opened. In February of 2005, prosecutors re-opened the investigation into Ochoa's death.

A new book by award-winning journalist Linda Diebel provides an in-depth account of Ochoa's murder and the cover-up that followed. It's called "Betrayed: The Assassination of Digna Ochoa." Linda Diebel is the former Washington bureau chief for the Toronto Star. For many years she was a Latin-America correspondent based in Mexico City. She is a three-time recipient of the Amnesty International Media Award.

Kerry Kennedy is the founder and former Executive Director of the Robert F Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. She is also author of the book "Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World" She devoted a chapter in her book to Digna Ochoa.

They both join us in our firehouse studio.

Linda Diebel, author of "Betrayed: The Assassination of Digna Ochoa." Diebel is the former Washington bureau chief for the Toronto Star. For many years she was a Latin-America correspondent based in Mexico City.
Kerry Kennedy founder and former Executive Director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. She is also author of the book "Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World" She devoted a chapter in her book to Digna Ochoa.

RUSH TRANSCRIPT

This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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JUAN GONZALEZ: A new book by award-winning journalist Linda Diebel provides an in-depth account of Ochoa's murder and the cover-up that followed. It's called: Betrayed: The Assassination of Digna Ochoa. Linda Diebel is a former Washington bureau chief for the Toronto Star. For many years, she was a Latin America correspondent based in Mexico City. She's a three-time recipient of the Amnesty International Media Award. We're also joined by Kerry Kennedy. She is the founder and former Executive Director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. She's also the author of the book, Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World. She devoted a chapter in her book to Digna Ochoa. Welcome to both of you.

LINDA DIEBEL: Thank you.

KERRY KENNEDY: Thank you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Linda, I'd like for you to start. You became involved -- you met Digna Ochoa when you were in Mexico City for the Toronto Star, and you became involved in your own investigation of what happened to her. Could you talk a little bit about why you decided to write the book and what propelled you to continue this investigation, even after the Mexico City government has closed it down essentially?

LINDA DIEBEL: Yes. I did become involved with Digna after I went to Mexico City. She was a very scrappy lawyer. And she took cases very personally. And one of the first stories I did involving the death and torture of two young men, 17 and 21, in Veracruz, had been her case, and they were last seen in the company of the police -- never solved. And I had known her over the years on various stories.

After 2001, I came back up to Washington to work in the bureau there, came up to New York City to pay my respects in October, and on the train going back to Washington from New York, read that she had been murdered. And from that moment, I knew I had to write her story. And on the train, what struck me was, Digna used to wear these white blouses, and I sat there looking out the window wondering if she had gotten blood on her blouse and if the blouse had been ruined. It's really funny what you think about. But I decided that I had known her, and I owed it to her to tell her story.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you end up uncovering as you investigated her death?

LINDA DIEBEL: I thought that I would be telling her story, a homicide. I would lay out who her enemies were, the threat that she represented to the States. And she was well known in the States. It was her fame, in some degrees, in human rights circles that made her a threat. And I was in the middle of that investigation, and then in March 2002, suddenly there was a cover-up. Suddenly they started to whisper that it was probable suicide, that she had, wearing great big red rubber gloves -- a very small woman -- these huge gloves in her office, had shot herself in the thigh, apparently trying to bleed to death, and then wrapped her arm around her head and with her wrong arm shot herself in the head. And while they were saying that this was a legitimate investigation, both the conservative president of Mexico and the leftist mayor -

AMY GOODMAN: Vicente Fox?

LINDA DIEBEL: Vicente Fox and the leftist mayor of Mexico City, López Obrador, who is running for president this year, promised justice. And while everyone was saying that it was a legitimate investigation that was going on, behind the scenes it was being set for a probable suicide. There were two investigations that followed. Apparently very serious investigations. The woman who headed -- the judge who headed the final investigation had overseen a case in Mexico City a few years before. There had been a report done on a man who had apparently committed suicide by shooting himself twice in the heart. So you get the sense of how serious it was. And they ruled probable suicide with so many things, both from the physical evidence to the events of her life, that it was just preposterous.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Kerry Kennedy, you met Digna Ochoa, wrote a chapter in your book about her as one of the world's true human rights leaders. Talk to us a little bit about your experience with her and your concern about what's happened since her death.

KERRY KENNEDY: Well, when I was researching my book, I was looking for people who are the heroes of human rights, people who have faced imprisonment, torture, and death, but who had a history of success in creating change in their communities. So we were not looking for victims, but really looking for the Martin Luther Kings, the agents of change in their countries. And, again and again, Digna's name came up as the leading human rights defender in Mexico.

She was an extraordinary woman, just somebody with such vitality and life, and just a bright, cheerful look at the future. She approached her work under such difficult circumstances. First of all, to be a human rights defender in Mexico is an extremely dangerous job in and of itself, but in addition to that, she was a woman, and she was a nun, and she was an Indian. So she had a lot going against her in a very, very difficult society.

You know, I talked to her one day about some of the human rights work that she did, and she was constantly coming up against police, the army, people involved with drugs, people involved with -- the most dangerous people in her society and confronting them. And I said to her, "Where do you get that courage? Is that something that you're born with, or is that something that you can develop?" And she said, "You know, I'm just so angry when I think about what they've done to me and to my family and to my country. And I take all of my outrage, and it gives me this extraordinary sense of strength with which I can confront anyone."

And I think really the message of her life in a way was - reminds me of the pyramids that were built by slaves, and they say on them -- there's graffiti that's thousands of years old that says, "No one was angry enough to speak out." And I think what Digna was saying is, "You have to be angry enough to speak out when you see injustice."

AMY GOODMAN: Who do you believe, Linda Diebel, killed Digna Ochoa, the Mexican human rights lawyer?

LINDA DIEBEL: My sense is -- my gut feeling is regarding her work in Guerrero, because in Guerrero she was helping to defend people who were trying to protest against illegal logging by, among others, U.S. corporations like Boise Cascade who have since moved out of Mexico. But it could be other cases. She was, as Juan mentioned, investigating the bombing at Banamex. I think the most important - so, I was not trying to show who killed her, but that there was a cover-up. But she - what was very important about Digna was that she took on the army. She's the only lawyer that I've ever seen in Mexico who actually took -- was able to interview soldiers in court, question soldiers in court who were charged with torture. So, it was the threat that she represented of trying to make the army accountable.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And many people look at Mexico, and they think that it's been progressing in terms of democracy. But your sense -- and we've only got a little bit in this segment, then we're going to continue it -- but the --

AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.

JUAN GONZALEZ: -- your sense of Mexico's real picture in terms of human rights.

LINDA DIEBEL: Right. So many Americans go to Mexico every year. Huge tourist spot. But behind the palm trees and the lovely beaches is this other world which was Digna's world.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to leave it there now. Part two tomorrow. Linda Diebel, author of Betrayed: The Assassination of Digna Ochoa, and Kerry Kennedy, founder and former Executive Director of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, author of the book, Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World, Digna Ochoa, one of the people she profiled.

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sources
18 Oct 2006
The first article is written by G.Thompson, New York Times
The next few are pasted from Amnesty International web sites.
The last is from a Democracy Now program, as indicated.