Since 2003, PBI has accompanied Tita Radilla, vice-president of AFADEM (Mexican Association of Relatives of the Detained, Disappeared and Victims of Human Rights Violations) because of the risks she faces. Radilla has unceasingly sought justice in the case of the forced disappearance of her father, Rosendo Radilla Pacheco, in Atoyac de Álvarez in 1974, and she and her AFADEM colleagues have provided accompaniment to dozens of people searching for their disappeared family members. This has made them the target of attacks and human rights violations over the course of many years.
In Mexico during the 1970s and the start of the 1980s, numerous human rights violations were committed by State agents. These were part of a State policy that involved wide-scale acts of repression; the perpetrators have still yet to be brought to justice. One element of this policy was the persecution and arbitrary detention of political opponents, primarily activists and social leaders—the period is since known as “The Dirty War.” In the state of Guerrero alone, some 650 people were detained and forcibly disappeared by the Mexican army and the White Brigade. Four hundred and seventy of these people came from the municipality of Atoyac de Álvarez, on Guerrero’s Costa Grande, as is the case of Rosendo Radilla Pacheco.
Rosendo Radilla Pachedo was born in Atoyac on March 1, 1914. He was a community leader, father of 12 children, municipal president between 1955 and 1956, singer-songwriter of political corridos, cofounder of social and peasant organizations, social development promoter, and human rights defender (HRD). He was detained and forcibly disappeared by the Mexican army at a military checkpoint on August 25, 1974. Rosendo was taken to the military barracks in Atoyac, where he was tortured and forced to sing his own corridos. Since then, the Mexican army has not revealed his whereabouts, investigated the incident nor brought those responsible to justice.
From the earliest moments, Radilla’s family denounced the forced disappearance, together with other people seeking their disappeared family members. AFADEM was founded in 1978 as a national nongovernment organization (NGO), a non-profit with no religious affiliation that was based in Mexico City. Branches are also found in Baja California Norte, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Puebla and Guerrero. Since 1988, the organization belongs to the Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (FEDEFAM). FEDEFAM is a regional group which unites 15 organizations in 11 Latin American countries.
In 2001, given the Mexican authorities´ continued failure to respond, the Radilla family, AFADEM and the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) submitted the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and had it accepted. After several years of persistence, the IACHR issued recommendations to the Mexican State. These recommendations were not complied with, so the case was taken before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and a judgment was handed down against Mexico.
This was the first time that the Mexican State was found guilty of the crime of Forced Disappearance of Persons, and sentenced on November 23, 2009. In its ruling, the Court demanded that Mexico investigate the disappearance, bring those responsible to justice, pay compensation to the family, and ensure that there is no repetition of the crime. As a result of this historic judgment, Mexican legal structures have been modified—for example, military personnel who violate human rights must now be judged in civil courts (not military ones).
However, the judgment has yet to be fully complied with. The whereabouts of Rosendo Radilla Pachecho has not been revealed, nor has he been returned to his family. In addition, those responsible for his disappearance have not been brought to justice.
The work of Tita Radilla and other AFADEM members aims to provide access to justice for people whose relatives have been forcibly disappeared. The organization is dealing with 160 cases, of which 110 are forced disappearances. The first demand of AFADEM’s members is to know the whereabouts of their relatives. In the Rosendo Radilla judgment, the Interamerican Court held that the Mexican State “shall continue with the effective search for and the immediate location of Mr. Rosendo Radilla-Pacheco or, in its case [sic], of his remains.”
Nine years after the judgment, it has still not been carried out in full. Excavation of potential burial sites have been delayed several times. These excavations represent an important step forward in victims’ and relatives’ search for truth and justice; slow progress often has psychological impacts on families and victims. To date, only a minimal area of Atoyac’s former military barracks has been explored. This contradicts the recommendations of experts who continue to monitor the case.
As far as PBI has seen from its years of accompanying AFADEM, the monitoring meetings designed to assess Mexico’s degree of compliance with the judgment have not been held continuously. Often, long periods elapse between agreements made at these meetings and their completion.
After more than 40 years, it is especially important for AFADEM and Tita Radilla that compensation be granted. This comprehensive compensation for damages should take into account the whole community, since in Atoyac – where there was a high number of forced disappearances – the whole population was a direct or indirect victim of human rights abuses.
Finally, the Court stipulated that Mexico “shall effectively carry out, with the [sic] due diligence and within a reasonable period of time, the investigation and, if it were [sic] the case, the criminal proceedings established with regard to the arrest and subsequent forced disappearance of Mr. Rosendo Radilla-Pacheco, in order to determine the corresponding criminal responsibilities and effectively apply the punishments and consequences established by law.” AFADEM has used the available legal instruments to call to account the alleged perpetrators of these grave human rights violations, and to force the State to establish responsibility up to the highest levels.
Until today, forced disappearance by Mexican security forces continues to be widespread. As the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment pointed out, "the dearth of thorough and effective investigations is astonishing and the ipunity on this issue is alarming". For this reason, AFADEM has been increasing its coordination with collectives focussed on recently disappeared people, both in Guerrero and nation-wide. For AFADEM, there must be an end to the prevailing impunity in countless cases of forcible disappearance to avoid these violations happening again.
Tita Radilla and other AFADEM members have experienced threats, harassment, intimidation and attacks as a result of their work defending human rights. We highlight some particularly serious threats experienced in recent years.
Excavations to find the bodies of Dirty War victims on the site of the former barracks of Atoyac de Álvarez, Guerrero, were due to begin on May 31, 2008. Six days prior, on May 25, a military vehicle with 10 rifle-bearing soldiers parked opposite AFADEM’s office. That day, AFADEM’s members were holding an event in the town square as part of the International Week of the Detained-Disappeared. After the incident, various human rights organizations issued an urgent action requesting the intervention of local and federal authorities in response to this harassment from Mexican army personnel.
Incidents of harassment by the army have been repeated over the years. In another incident, on Friday November 8, 2013, a group of military personnel went to Tita Radilla’s house. They searched some young people who were outside, including Tita’s granddaughter. According to the granddaughter’s testimony, the soldiers’ behaviour made her believe their aim was to fabricate a criminal accusation against her. Mexican authorities have repeatedly used this technique as a way of incriminating and criminalizing human rights defenders.
As the most visible person in AFADEM, Tita Radilla is particularly vulnerable. However, other AFADEM members have been the targets of serious acts of aggression. On January 6, 2016, Alfonso Argüello Vázquez and his family were victim to attacks, insults and death threats from relatives of a municipal police officer in Atoyac. On December 23, 2005, the same officer had entered Mr Argüello Vázquez’s family home and attempted to sexually assault his 14-year-old daughter. Mr Argüello Vázquez reported the crime, and since then his family has suffered death and kidnapping threats, insults, harassment and even forced entry into their home.