Dante Almaraz – Human rights lawyer

Re: Dante Almaraz – Human rights lawyer

To: Lic. Jose Reyes Baeza Terrazas, Gobernador del Estado de Chihuahua

From: Monique Pongracic-Speier, LRWC Mexico Monitor

Date: 2006-01-26

I write to express LRWC’s sadness, horror and disappointment at the recent murder of lawyer Dante Almaraz.

LRWC is advised that Mr. Almaraz was driving in the centre of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, yesterday afternoon, when his car was blocked by another vehicle. A number of armed men emerged from the aggressor vehicle, approached Mr. Almaraz’s car, and shot Mr. Almaraz repeatedly. The passenger in Mr. Almaraz’s car, who we understand was likely Mr. Almaraz’s brother, was also shot and seriously wounded. We are unaware of the current condition of the passenger.

LRWC is deeply disturbed about the attack on Mr. Almaraz’s car and the brutal shooting of him and his passenger. We are concerned that the attack was related to Mr. Almaraz’s work as a defence lawyer in the high-profile case concerning the murder of eight women in Ciudad Juarez in 2001.

By way of review, Victor Javier Garcia Uribe and Gustavo Gonzalez Meza were charged with the murder of eight women in Ciudad Juarez in 2001. Mr. Almaraz represented Mr. Garcia. Another lawyer, Mario Escobedo Anaya, represented Mr. Gonzalez. Both accused confessed, but also said that their confessions were secured by torture. Despite questions about the validity of the confessions, a 50 year sentence was imposed. Throughout legal proceedings, both Mssrs. Almarez and Escobedo maintained that their clients’ confessions were secured by torture.

Our concern about the connection between the Garcia – Gonzalez case and the death of Mr. Almaraz is motivated by the following:

  • Mr. Escobedo was shot dead by judicial police on February 5, 2002 while he was driving and speaking on his cell phone to his father. We understand that the police officers implicated in the shooting claimed that Mr. Escobedo was mistaken for a fugitive and, in any event, shot at the police first. The police alleged that they were acting in self-defence. However, the former forensic chief of the Chihuahua state police, Oscar Maynez Griljava, concluded that the shooting was “an execution”. Oscar Maynez Griljava’s opinion was based on the facts that: (a) bullet holes in the police car were not visible in pictures taken immediately after the shooting of Mr. Escobedo; and (b) the bullet holes eventually observed in the police car were on the wrong side of the vehicle, relative to its position to Mr. Escobedo’s car at the time of the incident.
  • After Mr. Escobedo’s shooting, Mr. Almaraz reported that he received the following threat: “If you do not drop the case, we’ll kill you the same way we did Escobedo”: see Guardian Observer, March 11, 2003.
  • On September 10, 2002 the Inter American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures for the protection of Mr. Almaraz, Ms. Miriam Garcia and Ms. Blanca Guadalupe Lopez. Ms. Garcia and Ms. Lopez are the wife of Mr. Garcia and the widow of Mr. Escobedo, respectively. The precautionary measures were ordered due to death threats against the beneficiaries, in relation to their defence of Mssrs. Garcia and Gonzalez. The Commission renewed the order in 2003.
  • Mr. Gonzalez was found dead in his jail cell in the Maximum Security Prison in Chihuahua in early 2003. According to the initial official reports, Mr. Gonzalez died of a blood clot following a hernia operation. However, in a June 20, 2003 letter to LRWC, Lic. Sergio Martinez Garza, Secretary General, stated that the autopsy certificate from the Forensic Medical Service of the Attorney General of State Justice lists the causes of death as pulmonary thromboembolism, scattered intravascular coagulation and multiple hemangiomas.
  • In 2005, Mr. Almaraz secured Mr. Garcia’s release from prison in appellate proceedings.
  • Also in 2005, the Subprocuradoria General de Justicia del Estado de Chihuahua de la Zona Norte began to investigate Mr. Almaraz for car theft. Mr. Almaraz denied the charge of car theft and filed a complaint against representatives of the Subprocuradoria.
  • Finally, Mr. Almaraz publicly expressed concern in 2005 that some people within the local Public Prosecutor’s Office resented his legal defence work. In the weeks before his death, he specifically expressed concern about his personal safety. He stated that if anything happened to him, members of the Subprocuradoria General de Justicia del Estado de Chihuahua de la Zona Norte would be responsible. We understand that an internal investigation has commenced in Public Prosecutor’s office to examine these allegations.

The history of the Garcia-Gonzalez case is grisly. Two lawyers and one defendant are dead. Mr. Garcia and various other people connected to the case have been subject to death threats and intimidation.

The totality of the available evidence leads LRWC to suspect that Mr. Almaraz’s killing is not a random violent crime but an assassination of a lawyer for reasons related to his representation of a client. We also fear that the murder is but one link in the chain of violence associated with the Garcia-Gonzalez case. In short, we are ineluctably drawn to the conclusion that Mr. Almaraz’s murder is a case with human rights dimensions, specifically involving the violation of civil and political rights.

LRWC respectfully reminds the State of Chihuahua and the Government of Mexico of their legal obligations in the face of human rights abuses. National and international law places a duty on Mexican governmental actors to investigate suspected human rights violations and provide effective remedies where those violations are proven. These duties flow from Mexico’s treaty obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among other instruments.

LRWC is mindful that Article 133 of the Mexican Constitution provides that international treaties ratified by Mexico prevail as the supreme law of the country.
LRWC is also mindful of the international community’s expressions of commitment to protecting the integrity of the rule of law, justice and the role of lawyers in the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power (adopted by General Assembly Resolution 40/34, 29 November 1985) and the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (adopted at Havana, 27 August to 7 September 1990). Mexico is a valued member of the international community of nations. We therefore urge Chihuahua and Mexico to treat the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Almaraz’s murder in a manner consistent with the principles expressed in the above-named declarations.

Based on all of the foregoing, LRWC calls upon you to promptly initiate a full and impartial investigation into the murder of Mr. Almaraz and the shooting of his passenger. We also respectfully suggest that it is incumbent upon the addressees to ensure that a full and impartial investigation is carried out into the Subprocuradoria General de Justicia del Estado de Chihuahua de la Zona Norte to determine whether it or its agents played any role in the attack on Mr. Almaraz.

LRWC also expresses its grave concern for the safety of Mr. and Ms. Garcia, Ms. Lopez and the family of Mr. Almaraz. We urge you to take immediate steps to protect them from further attack.

In conclusion, we urge you to take prompt, effective, and considered action with respect to this case, over which we will assume a watching brief. Kindly advise LRWC of your response to Mr. Almaraz’s killing, in writing, at the earliest convenience.