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Mexico: Investigate Assassination of Rights Lawyer

(New York) - Human Rights Watch today called on the Mexican authorities to conduct an independent and thorough investigation into the killing of prominent Mexican human rights advocate, Digna Ochoa.

Ochoa was found dead in her Mexico City office Friday evening after being shot in the head and leg. A note left by her side warned members of the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, where Ochoa worked until last year, that the same could happen to them.

"This is a great loss for the human rights community," said José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Americas Division. "Digna Ochoa was a courageous lawyer who helped break new ground in using the Mexican judicial system to promote human rights."

Among those she defended were alleged guerrillas jailed during the 1990s, and environmental activists Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera Garcia, who were illegally detained in 1999 and sentenced on dubious drug and weapons charges.

Ochoa had been subject to repeated threats in the past because of her work and, on two occasions, had been held and interrogated by unknown assailants. The government of then President Ernesto Zedillo failed to conduct thorough investigations of these acts of harassment. In 1999, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Mexican government to take special measures to protect the lives of Ochoa and her colleagues. Ochoa received police protection until she left the country last year to work in the United States, but the protection lapsed upon her return to Mexico in April.

"The past government's failure to investigate the threats against Ochoa helped create a climate in which human rights advocates were more vulnerable to this sort of crime." Vivanco said. "By conducting a serious investigation of this vicious assassination, the current government can begin to remedy this problem and to prove that it is serious about making Mexico safe for human rights defenders."

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