OAXACA DE JUÁREZ, MEXICO — For award-winning journalist Soledad Jarquín, the fight for justice following her daughter’s death is all-consuming.
“Every day that goes by, it’s like I see a wall in front of me that grows and grows while I try to climb it, never reaching the top,” she says. “It’s the reflection of that feeling of impotence that comes from the mixture of impunity from my daughter’s femicide, combined with the intense pain of having lost her forever. It’s all so intense that it affects the day-to-day life of my entire family.”
María del Sol Cruz Jarquín, a photographer, was shot in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, on June 2, 2018. It took until October 2021 for her death to be classified as a femicide instead of a homicide. Still, Jarquín says she has heard nothing from authorities about her daughter’s case.
A quarter of the 4,002 homicides involving women in Mexico were classified as femicides in 2021. Femicide is defined as the murder of a girl or woman for gender-based reasons, which is determined by certain criteria, such as evidence of sexual violence prior to the person’s death or a trusting relationship with the perpetrator. Despite an alarming rise in femicides, campaigners say too many cases are not deemed femicide from the start, which means losing the opportunity for important investigation procedures. Many homicides of women are classified as culpable homicide, which can imply an accident, letting the state off the hook for forming public policies to prevent gender-based violence.
Like many relatives of those who have died by femicide, Jarquín says, she has had to push authorities to investigate her daughter’s death. Last summer, driven by the lack of action, she took her case to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, in Geneva. It was the committee’s first femicide case from Oaxaca.
This wasn’t the first time Jarquín had taken her case outside the Mexican justice system. In November 2021, she presented at a feminist tribunal in Oaxaca, headed by a panel of women judges. The experts looked at Jarquín’s case, as well as six other femicide cases, and chose to take it to the international courts. One of the organizers of the tribunal, the nongovernmental organization Consorcio Oaxaca, which champions women’s rights, accompanied Jarquín to Geneva.
On the fourth anniversary of her daughter’s death, Jarquín appeared before the Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental body within the United Nations. Jarquín says members were expecting a representative from Consorcio Oaxaca to speak, but instead, Jarquín took the floor.
“I had to keep my voice from cracking and crying because my time [was limited to a minute and a half], and I had to make the most of it,” Jarquín recalls. “I told myself, ‘Later you cry and do what you want, but here you hold on and say it.’”
Now all Jarquín can do is hope and wait for the international court to make recommendations to Mexico’s legal system on how to deal with the case. As a member of the U.N., Mexico is legally bound by resolutions passed by U.N. bodies.
On Jarquín’s return from Geneva, she was notified that the Mexican courts had dealt with the theft of her daughter’s belongings after her death. Following a two-day trial, the person, identified only by their initials, was found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in jail. Yet Jarquín moves no closer to justice for her daughter’s femicide.
María de la Luz Estrada Mendoza, coordinator of the National Citizens’ Observatory on Femicide, which monitors the lack of justice for those who have died by femicide, explains that in Mexico, there is a pattern of impunity.
“The conditions under which these patterns endure continue, and no one is able to prevent them or punish those responsible,” Estrada Mendoza says. “These are the main obstacles to justice. The problem currently with proving the crime of femicide is in the lack of both due diligence and a gendered perspective in the investigation of the crime. This contributes to total impunity for these types of incidents.”
Ena Aguilar Peláez, GPJ Mexico
Jarquín, who in 2006 won the National Prize in Journalism, says her fight for justice has meant gradually leaving her career behind. “As time goes on, I’ve dedicated myself less and less to journalism and more to the cause of justice for my daughter,” she says. “The indirect victims are the families. If we didn’t have to demand justice ourselves, if the system worked, we would be getting notifications about how the investigation is going or they would send us messages detailing when we have to present ourselves to the authorities. We wouldn’t have to keep showing up over and over again to check on the case. We wouldn’t have to go to protests organized because of the lack of progress [on femicide cases], and we mothers especially wouldn’t have to be the ones, as we so often are, to carry out our own investigations.”
Despite the rise in femicide cases, it’s thought that many more go unreported because many states classify these cases as homicides, says Irene Tello, former director of Impunidad Cero, a nongovernmental organization that monitors impunity in Mexico.
“When they’re not catalogued as femicides, then the proper investigative protocols aren’t followed,” Tello says. “Even worse, when they’re determined to be culpable homicides, it means that the person who committed the crime didn’t do it on purpose but rather by accident. This has a very large effect on how the case is then put together.”
In December 2022, on resigning from his position as head of the attorney general’s office in Oaxaca after almost two years, Arturo Peimbert said in a televised interview that his department was underpaid, with limited resources, leading to many justice challenges. On the high rate of femicides in the state, he said, “I would put it at the highest level of priority.”
The Oaxaca attorney general’s office, where José Bernardo Rodríguez Alamilla replaced Peimbert, did not respond to a request for comment.
María Fabiola Alanís Sámano, national commissioner for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women, working as part of the Ministry of the Interior, whom Jarquín turned to for help in 2020, says the number of open cases is an outstanding debt owed by public institutions.
“We are deeply hurt by this situation,” she adds.
This failure of the justice system extends beyond Oaxaca. In Chiapas, Nora Zenteno Juárez is still hoping that justice will be served for the death of her daughter, Lissette Paulina Gómez Zenteno, in December 2019.
Graphics By Matt Haney
“My doubts began when they did not investigate or detain my daughter’s partner, who was the last person to see her alive and who had already been violent with her and with me,” she says. “By the time the police summoned him for questioning, almost a month had passed. He’d already disappeared.”
Zenteno Juárez says the public prosecutor’s office ruled her daughter’s death a suicide in late 2020. Her daughter’s partner has since died, leaving the family with many unanswered questions.
The attorney general’s office of Chiapas refused to comment.
“Every time a woman is killed, we should all be out there demanding justice. People need to understand that this is a wound for all of us as a society,” Jarquín says. “As the years go by, our physical and emotional health continue to fracture. It’s been five years since I’ve slept through the night.”