Case of González et al. (“Cotton Field”) v. Mexico (Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Judgment of November 16, 2009, Preliminary Objection, Merit, Reparations and Costs (2009))

This petition was filed on behalf of the family members of three women, two of them minors, who disappeared in apparent abductions and murders, whose bodies were found in a cotton field, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in 2001. Central to the allegations that these constituted human rights violations for which the state was responsible was the context of increased femicide since 1993, endemic gender discrimination and violence, including murders and abductions, in the region of Ciudad Juarez, for which the State had failed to take adequate measures to address and ensure adequate investigation and punishment. In the three instances in this case, the State had initially ignored reports by family members of the victims’ disappearances, delayed in and failed to adequately conduct searches, and, upon discovery of the victims’ bodies, failed to conduct an adequate investigation because of the existence gender stereotyping in state practice. It was alleged that such comprehensive and egregious failures violated the victims’ and family members’ rights to respect for and legal protection of life, personal liberty, humane treatment, judicial protection and due process under the American Convention on Human Rights (“American Convention”) and, given the nature and context of the crimes, violated the states’ obligation to exercise due diligence and adopt adequate legal measures to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of violence against women, under the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women, most known as “Convention of Belem do Para”.

The State partially acknowledged its failure to comply with the American Convention under Articles 8 (right to a fair trial), 25 (right to judicial protection) and 5 (right to humane treatment) due to acknowledged irregularities in its initial investigation of the disappearances, but claimed that it had not violated other treaty provisions, as it had taken adequate measures to prevent and address acts of gender-based violence. The State further noted that no state agents had participated in the violence and pointed to actions to promote the rights of women and children in the region (including, for example, measures to address domestic violence and alcoholism and to promote women in the workplace).

This decision is especially notable because it is the first case in the Inter-American human rights system that outlines the specific protocol to follow when investigating a death caused by sexual violence. This decision also states that the presence of gender stereotypes jeopardizes women’s rights to access to justice. The decision is also crucial for the Inter-American System of Human Rights, and for the protection of the rights of women, because it established a precedent whereby the Inter-American Court stated that it is competent to analyze violations of the Convention of Belem do Para.