Mexico: EVANGELINA ARCE – human rights defender

Evangelina Arce is a member of the Comité Independiente de Derechos Humanos de Chihuahua, Independent Committee of Human Rights in Chihuahua, Mexico, a nonprofit NGO.

On April 30, 2003 Evangelina was assaulted in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua state, Mexico. The three unidentified men who assaulted her took her purse and kicked her repeatedly. The week before the attack Evangelina noticed an unidentified car parked outside of her house and she began receiving numerous anonymous phone calls.

Evangelina has been working with the National Human Rights Commission in Mexico to put pressure on the authorities to carry out an investigation regarding the abduction of her daughter . [AMR 41/019/2003] She pounded on the doors of many a police office after 27-year-old Sylvia, who worked as a cosmetics saleswoman, vanished in 1998. Arce asserts that she encountered little help, snide insinuations, and unprofessional conduct. “Since Sylvia disappeared, the only information that’s known about her has come about because of the investigation I’ve continued to carry out,” says Arce. “I found out that another young woman who accompanied Sylvia disappeared with her too. Later on, the authorities were saying that Sylvia was a stripper, a drug addict, and a provocative dresser,” Arce adds. “She had a husband and three children, and all this is a lie.”

A 1998 report by the Mexican government’s National Human Rights Commission recommended that the Chihuahua state attorney general and mayor of Juárez be investigated for negligence. In response to the frequent criticisms leveled against her office, Special Prosecutor Ponce concedes that the investigations were in a state of disarray when she came aboard in November 1998. Compounding the problem was the lack of basic tools for collecting evidence, such as paper bags. Things were so bad that government personnel were socializing and smoking near recovered corpses.

But Ponce contends that significant advances have been made under her watch. Trainers from the U.S. FBI and El Paso Police Department were enlisted to assist local police in acquiring investigative skills. Computers and digital maps were obtained, and DNA testing equipment is scheduled to be added to Ponce’s inventory later this year. “We now have sufficient resources to move forward with these investigations,” she adds optimistically. Ponce claims that 38 out of the 52 reported women’s murder cases that occurred between 1998 and early February 2001 have been solved.