Sister Consuelo Morales has seen the number of people in Monterrey who are tortured, killed, or “disappeared” skyrocket in the four years since Mexico’s president unleashed the military to combat drug cartels.
Morales has taken the lead in demanding justice for the victims of this violence. Her human rights organization, Ciudadanos en Apoyo de Derechos Humanos (CADHAC), has been documenting human rights violations that would otherwise not be investigated, as the authorities often blame the victims, saying they must have been criminals themselves. Families ask her to help find their loved ones who have been “disappeared,” feeling they have nowhere else to turn.
Morales, a small nun with a resonant voice, visits dangerous prisons, overcrowded with gang members, and tracks down illegal detention centers where victims are held incommunicado. Although authorities tell her she’s entering at her own risk, she goes in anyway.
People are not dangerous, Morales says. Mostly, they’re afraid.
As a result of the role she has taken on, people rely on Morales to speak out about abuses by the military and to say what they would be afraid to say themselves.
Morales took her final vows to become a nun in 1992, and initially sought to work with indigenous communities. But soon she decided that the place she could have the greatest impact was her native Monterrey, which at the time had serious human rights problems but no local organization to help the victims.
She’s been running CADHAC there for 18 years, and has addressed a wide range of serious issues, from abuse in state-run orphanages to the forced displacement of people from their lands.
Since the military entered Monterrey’s drug wars, human rights violations have risen dramatically – yet almost no soldiers or police officers have been held accountable for their crimes. The failure to investigate these crimes has dire consequences for communities, and people learn to not trust the justice system.
But Morales and her organization are documenting these violations, litigating key cases, and spearheading public campaigns to demand justice. The organization has also provided critical assistance for victims – both of the security forces and the cartels – such as psychological treatment and support groups. And every two weeks, she and other advocates walk down to the prosecutor’s office and demand justice.She wants people to be able to live with dignity and without fear, she says.
Morales has assumed her leadership role at considerable risk, persevering in her efforts despite repeated harassment and threats.
Human Rights Watch honors her courageous efforts to end impunity for security forces and aid victims of abuses in Mexico’s “war on drugs.”