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Mexico: Upcoming court hearing regarding arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture of human rights defenders Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera
On 26 and 27 August 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will hold a public hearing regarding the case of Mr Rodolfo Montiel and Mr Teodoro Cabrera, two human rights defenders who were arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the Mexican authorities between 1999 and 2001.
Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera are environmental human rights defenders who worked with the Organización de Campesinos Ecologistas de la Sierra de Petatlán y Coyuca de Catalán – OCESP (Organization of Farmer Ecologists of Sierra de Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalan), a campesino organisation which opposes excessive logging and destruction of the forests in Guerrero State, Mexico.
On 2 May 1999, approximately 40 military personnel assigned to the 40th Infantry Battalion of the Mexican Army raided the community of Pizotla in Guerrero, and shot at a group of people gathered outside Teodoro Cabrera's house.
Both Teodoro Cabrera and Rodolfo Montiel were arbitrarily detained at the scene, and for almost five days were held incommunicado and ill-treated by the military. They were threatened with immediate execution during their arrest, and were then violently interrogated over the course of the following two nights, during which they were tortured. During the interrogations the soldiers again reportedly threatened to kill them and claimed to know the location of their families. They were questioned about the activities of OCESP and accused of membership of armed groups.
On 4 May 1999 they were transferred by helicopter to the 40th Battalion's facilities in Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero, where they were forced to sign statements confessing to purported crimes of planting marijuana and possession of firearms. On the night of the 6 May they were taken to the Federal Prosecutor's Office in Coyuca de Catalán before being transferred to Coyuca de Catalán Prison. The following day they were brought before a judge and charged. In June 1999 Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera were transferred to a prison in Iguala city.
Their trial in 2000 was marked by irregularities. Evidence was presented to show inconsistencies in the charges against them, as well as medical evidence of torture and ill-treatment. However, the court failed to exclude as invalid those confessions extracted under duress. They were found guilty and sentenced: Rodolfo Montiel to 6 years and 8 months in prison, and Teodoro Cabrera to 10 years in prison.
The case received widespread international attention and was condemned by various international human rights organisations. Both Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera received several prestigious human rights awards whilst in prison, and they were recognised by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience. In light of the publicity surrounding the case, the President of Mexico ordered their release in November 2001. Since then, their innocence has not been recognised, the perpetrators of their torture and mistreatment have not been held responsible, no civic or public investigation of the case has taken place, and they have not received compensation for damages. Both human rights defenders were forced to leave their communities due to risks to their safety; Rodolfo Montiel claimed political asylum in the United States after receiving death threats.
In 2008 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that the State of Mexico had violated the rights of Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera. However, the State has not followed the recommendations made in the Commission's report As a result, the case was submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for adjudication. A public hearing is scheduled to take place on 26-27 August 2010.
Front Line believes that this is an emblematic case in Mexico, and views the case as a major test of the Mexican Government’s will to take steps to stem violence against human rights defenders. Front Line has documented the torture, ill-treatment and judicial harassment of human rights defenders in the country and believes that the Mexican Government's willingness to comply with the outcome of Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera's case could send an important signal as to how seriously it takes its international obligations towards human rights defenders.