Human rights groups attack decision to close Juarez murders investigation

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The Independent US

Human rights organisations have denounced the decision by the Mexican authorities to close investigations into the country's most notorious murder cases in the border city of Juarez.

Fourteen unsolved cases involving the killings of young women, part of an inquiry into a 13-year spate of murders on the Mexican/US border, were dropped last month by federal prosecutors, leaving relatives of the victims with little hope the killers will ever be brought to justice.

The news, which comes just weeks after a disputed election in which the right-wing successor to the outgoing president, Felipe Calderon, is claiming a narrow victory over the leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was denounced by human rights groups. Steve Ballinger, a spokesman for Amnesty International said the decision demonstrated the failure of the authorities to ensure justice for the families of the victims.

He added: "State investigators have singularly failed to investigate the crimes in the first place. There have been allegations that they have not been taken seriously and suspects have been tortured. The killings have continued and the state office has failed to bring people to justice."

More than 400 women have been murdered in the shanty town of Juarez since 1993. The cases dropped last month by the Attorney General include investigations into the deaths of eight young women found dead in cotton fields in 2001, and six women whose bodies were found in Cristo Negro in 2002 and 2003. Many of the victims had been raped and strangled.

The Juarez murders are the subject of two Hollywood films, The Virgin of Juarez and Bordertown. The fact that many of the cases remain unsolved, critics say, is largely due to negligence and mishandling by the Mexican authorities.

Human rights groups are concerned that the killings are related to a wider problem of discrimination against women and entrenched attitudes across most of Latin America.

"Brutal violence against women is not confined to Mexico," said Mr Ballinger. "We have found a problem with a huge amount of violence against women in Latin America, which has not been taken seriously because many of the victims are poor and are themselves blamed for provoking rape. In Guatemala particularly, the authorities have failed to treat the families of murdered women with respect and killings have mounted."

Amnesty announced this month that the murder of women in Guatemala is on the rise for the fourth year running since 2001, with 299 killings reported between January and May 2006 alone. Of the 600 cases of reported murder of women in 2005, only two resulted in convictions.