For their activism in defense of the forests of Guerrero state, the environmental defenders Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera were victims of arbitrary detention and torture by members of the military in 1999. They were imprisoned and sentenced for crimes they did not commit. Center Prodh took on their legal defense, and on November 7, 2001, the President ordered their release on humanitarian grounds. However, this decision did not recognize the men’s innocence or the existence of human rights violations against them.
Days before their release, their case had been submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission admitted the case in February 2004 and, given the repeated lack of compliance by the Mexican State with the Commission’s eventual recommendations on the merits of the case, the Commission submitted the case to the Inter-American Court on June 24, 2009, where it was litigated by Center Prodh and CEJIL (Center for Justice and International Law).
On August 26, 2010, Rodolfo Montiel testified before the Inter-American Court. During his testimony he asked the Court to order the Mexican State to protect environmental defenders and end military abuses. In November 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued its judgment, finding the Mexican State responsible for human rights violations committed in 1999 against the two community ecologists. These included violations of the rights to liberty, personal integrity, due process and judicial protection. In its ruling, the Court ordered the State to carry out, within time periods set by the Court, specific reparation measures for the victims. It also ordered the State to reverse the conditions that to date permit the commission of grave human rights violations.
Among other reparations measured ordered, the Court instructed the Mexican governmen to carry out an investigation in civilian jurisdiction for torture, improve the governmental Register of Detained Persons to avoid abuses against this population, and reform the Code of Military Justice to exclude all human rights crimes from military jurisdiction.
In relation to the Mexican criminal justice system, the Court declared, among other things, “the internal courts involved in the criminal trial of Mr. Cabrera and Mr. Montiel should have excluded completely from evidence, at all stages, the confessions made by the defendants, given that the cruel and inhuman treatment to which they were subjected made these confessions illegitimate as evidence.” This point is especially relevant to the current Mexican context, in which the public prosecutors coerce confessions and these are accepted by judicial authorities as the main piece of evidence in criminal trials.
More than seventeen years after the human rights violations committed by soldiers and other government officials against Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, the authorities have the opportunity to put an end to the injustice that has affected the ecologists and their families. The full implementation of this sentence would unmistakably be a sign of the Mexican government’s commitment to human rights. However, as of today, no one has been charged or punished in the case, and the Code of Military Justice still does not comply with the American Convention on Human Rights. Center Prodh and CEJIL continue to advocate for full compliance with the judgment of the Inter-American Court.