Mexico: Gay Leader and His Partner Murdered

SUMMARY

Jorge Armenta Peñuelas (27) was the president of Lesbian and Gay Collective, in Nogales, Sonora, México. He was also running for a seat at the local Legislature on behalf of Convergencia Party. On June 1, 2003, Mr. Armenta and his partner, Ramón Armando Gutiérrez Enríquez (33) were found murdered in their apartment. Their bodies showed signs of having been tortured as well. The Sonora Prosecutor Office called the murders “crimes of passion,” and in an attempt to stop further investigation, added that gay couples tend to be promiscuous and to have “many lovers.” Activists and the local State Human Rights Commission demand that proper investigations be conducted, without misconceptions and prejudice. As time passes, the inaction of the Prosecutor Office makes these cases harder to solve. Most crimes involving gay people remain unsolved and uninvestigated in Mexico, and activists are afraid Armenta and Gutierrez’s murders will join the list.

ACTION

IGLHRC joins local activists in demanding letters be sent to the authorities in Sonora calling for a fair and prompt investigation of the Armenta-Gutierrez murders.

Please write TODAY to:

Miguel Angel Cortés Ibarra
Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Sonora (Sonora State Prosecutor Office)
Blvd. Rosales y Paseo del Canal, Colonia Centro, Edificio Sur
C.P. 83000, Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
Phone (52 66) 2259 4800
Fax (52 66) 2289 7098
Emails can be sent through enter www.pgjeson.gob.mx.
Sr. Miguel Angel Bustamante
Comision Estadual de DDHH (Sonora State Human Rights Commission)
Blvd. Luis Encina y Solidaridad, Col. Choyal,
C.P. 83130, Hermosillo Sonora, Mexico
Phone/Fax: (52 66) 2216 3032
Email: cedhson@rtn.uson.mx

And please send a copy to:

Guillermo Núñez Noriega
Comisión Ciudadana Contra Crímenes de Odio por Homofobia, Sonora (Citizens Commission Against Homophobic Crimes, Sonora)
gnunez@cascabel.ciad.mx

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Sir,

We write to you in deep concern over the murders of Mr. Jorge Armenta Peñuelas and his partner, Mr. Ramón Armando Gutiérrez Enríquez, which took place in Nogales, Sonora, on May 31, 2003.

But first, we want to commend you for your willingness to meet with non-governmental organizations active in Sonora and to hear their concerns about the murders and their investigation. We want to encourage you to keep this same attitude of openness and collaboration as the investigation proceeds.

We also want to urge you to make sure that these murders are duly and promptly investigated. We are concerned by the high number of murders of gay people that remain uninvestigated in different Mexican states, and it is precisely because we are aware of Sonora’s good record in this area that we appeal to you to make these cases yet another success. We urge you to devote all the resources at your disposal to a prompt and exhaustive investigation of the murders of Sr. Armenta and Sr. Gutierrez.

But solving these murders is not enough. When a member of a stigmatized group is killed, society must close ranks to state, in a clear and unquestionable manner, that the life that was taken mattered, that no impunity will be granted to the murderer because of who his victim was. Any discriminatory or demeaning message coming from the authorities will be taken as a statement of the lesser value of the victim’s life, and this becomes subtle permission to commit more violence against him. Thus, we appeal to you to make sure that those under your command will be respectful of the dead, and their lifestyles, in all circumstances.

We will be paying close attention to the progress of this case. We look forwards to having the opportunity to congratulate you in your success at solving it.

Sincerely,

(Your name, organization and address)

BACKGROUND

According to police reports, Jorge Armenta and Ramón Gutiérrez visited a few bars around town on the night of May 31, 2003. Apparently, they were seen at La Chiquita, La Bahia and El Cordobes. And the authorities think that the couple left one of the bars with another man, who has become the prime suspect for the murders.

In the afternoon of Sunday, June 1, Armenta’s brother went to visit the couple, and found the bodies. They were lying naked, and had been beaten to death with a hammer. Police confirm that they found alcoholic beverages and “suspicious substances” (sic) in the room, which gives them the idea that the victims shared in a sort of party with their murder.

Jorge Cano Aguirre, regional officer from the Sonora Prosecutor Office based in the city of Nogales, was quoted in the local media as saying that the first investigative line will be “the crime of passion”, as Mr. Armenta “had trouble with several of his lovers”. The rationale behind these assumptions is that Jorge Armenta and Ramón Gutiérrez were somehow responsible for their own murders because they were gay and visited bars that night.

In the wake of statements like the one quoted above, Ms. Guadalupe Beatriz Aldaco, president of Convergencia Party in Sonora, joined forces with gay, lesbian and human rights activists in town to form a Commission that will demand proper investigation of the murders and an end to the homophobic statements by officers in charge of solving the cases.

On June 13, 2003, the Sonora Prosecutor, Mr. Miguel Angel Cortes Ibarra met with several organizations on the issue of the Armenta-Gutierrez murders. Those attending the meeting included Sonora Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights; Daughters of Lillyt (feminists); Network for Health and Environment at the Border; Convergencia Party and the local chapter of the national Citizens Commission Against Homophobic Crimes. During the meeting, Mr. Cortes Ibarra committed himself and his office to investigating the murders “without prejudices and regardless of their sexual orientation”.

Guillermo Nuñez Noriega, delegate from the Citizens Commission, expressed his concern over the media treatment of the cases, which he considered to be “prejudiced, homophobic and influencing how the public is perceiving the case”. Mr. Nuñez Noriega explained to the Prosecutor that calling the murders “crimes of passion” was a way to discredit the lives of certain people and the way in which they died. According to Mr. Nuñez Noriega, the Prosecutor agreed and added that officers at the Prosecutor Office had precise instructions to “avoid any discriminatory comments” when referring to cases they were investigating. He also promised to contact officer Cano Aguirre and reprimand him, as “officers should not circulate version about the nature of a particular crime if the motivations had not yet been properly investigated”. Later on, activists contacted Mr. Cano Aguirre to confirm that he had been indeed reprimanded, but the officer denied having ever heard from the Prosecutor about the Armenta-Gutierrez cases.

The murders of Jorge Armenta and Ramón Gutiérrez are part of a pattern of violence against LGBT people in Mexico. According to lawyer Rodolfo Millan Dena, who also works with the Citizens’ Commission Against Homophobic Crimes, three crimes that could be labeled as “homophobic” took place in Mexico City during the month of May 03 alone. Investigation of the three crimes is moving ahead, thanks to the many years of hard work by the Commission and their ability to develop a good working relationship with the city’s Prosecutor Office. However, homophobic prejudice is still pervasive among those who deal with the families of victims. When the sister of Arturo Arellano –one of the three gay men murdered in Mexico City during May 2003- asked how the investigation was progressing, officers at the Prosecutor Office told her “Do you know your brother was gay? Well, he died the way people do in those circles”. As in the case with Armenta and Gutiérrez, the victim – rather than the perpetrator – was blamed for the crime.

In an excellent report published by the local newspaper “La Jornada”, journalist Jenaro Villamil attributes the recent homophobic murders, and the deaths of 22 women who had been murdered in the last 2 years in Sonora, to what constitutes a climate of “machismo” and intolerance in the state. In both cases, authorities minimize the murders as “crimes of passion” or as “homicides against women and men leading dissipate lives”.

In the same city where Jorge Armenta and Ramon Gutierrez were killed a teenage girl was tortured and mutilated (August 2002), and two women’s bodies were found in wastelands (September 02 and March 03). Most of the women’s victims were migrants, presumably in transit to the USA.

The Commission on Equity and Gender, at the Sonora State Legislature, has stated that “impunity and lack of progress in investigating the more than 300 women’s murders in Ciudad Juarez (neighbor state of Chihuahua) seemed to have encouraged criminal gangs to spread their action to Sonora’s border cities” –among which is Nogales. For the moment, there has been no action on this issue from the Sonora Prosecutor Office.

The first homophobic crime documented in the Sonora State was that of Dario Galaviz Quesada, a local professor who was stabbed 27 times in the city of Guaymas, in 1993. Galaviz Quesada was a well-known art and literary critic and, according to Mr. Nuñez Noriega, a pioneer on gay visibility in Sonora.

On January 2003, in Hermosillo, Sonora, a gay man, Alfonso Fierro Lopez (29) was murdered by Cesar Espinoza Andrade (21) who was caught by police officers and almost lynched by Fierro Lopez’ neighbors while reconstructing the scene. Espinoza Andrade used a rock to kill Fierro Lopez. After the incident, gays, transvestites and neighbors stated a demonstration against homophobic crimes

Recently, a local actor, famous for his “acid and irreverent critics against local Church and authorities” (according to Mr. Villamil), named Alfredo García Márquez, was also murdered. His confessed murderer was a soldier who accused García Márquez of “having (sexually) abused him.”

According to Guillermo Núñez Noriega, crimes against gay men and also those against women in Sonora can be classified as “hate or executionary crimes, because in both cases there is a clear attempt to humiliate and punish people because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity”.

IN THE LAW

Right to life is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its Article 3, by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Article 6.1 and by the InterAmerican Convention on Human Rights (IACHR) in its Article 4.1.

Right to be free from discrimination and right to equality before the law:
Protected by UDHR in its Articles 2 and 7, by the ICCPR in its Articles 2 and 26, and by the IACHR in its Articles 1 and 24.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee affirmed in its decision in Toonen v Australia (1994) that existing protections against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) should be understood to include sexual orientation as a protected status. Numerous other human rights mechanisms of the United Nations have subsequently condemned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Three States--South Africa, Ecuador, and Fiji--have adopted Constitutions that expressly include sexual orientation in anti-discrimination provisions.

Mexico ratified the ICCPR in 1981 and the IACHR in 1982. The UDHR is considered part of customary international law, and binding on all member States of the United Nations, like Mexico.

Article 1 of the Mexican Constitution forbids all discrimination based on "ethnic or national origin, gender, age, different-ableness, social condition, health condition, religion, opinions, preferences, legal status or any other that damages human dignity …". Following the UN Human Rights Committee, sexual orientation would be protected under "sex" - and the reference to "preferences" can be of particular use in this case.

In June 2003, the Mexican Government ratified the “Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination” that had been unanimously passed by the National Parliament in April of the same year. “Sexual preferences” is one of the categories protected against discrimination under this law. “Discriminatory behaviors” forbidden by this law include “… to offend, ridicule or promote violence through messages and images displayed in communications media … incitement to hatred, violence, rejection, ridicule, defamation, slander, persecution or exclusion …” (Article 9). Public officers as well as non-state actors are rendering accountable when engaging in acts of discrimination.

ABOUT IGLHRC

The mission of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is to secure the full enjoyment of the human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation or expression, gender identity or expression, and/or HIV status. A US-based non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), IGLHRC effects this mission through advocacy, documentation, coalition building, public education, and technical assistance.

IGLHRC
1375 Sutter Street, Suite 222
San Francisco, CA 94109
USA
Telephone: +1-415-561-0633
Fax: +1-415-561-0619
Email: iglhrc@iglhrc.org
http://www.iglhrc.org


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