Mexican Indigenous man detained after unfair trial is freed

Amnesty International has welcomed the release of a Mexican Indigenous man detained for almost 10 years following an unfair trial for murder. Ricardo Ucán Ceca, from Yucatán, was released on 31 December. He had been imprisoned since June 2000. He understood and spoke little Spanish and could not read or write. During his trial, he was not given an interpreter and his state appointed lawyer did not provide him with adequate defence. Ricardo Ucán claimed he shot his neighbour in self defence, but a state court found him guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced him to 22 years.  “The Mexican government’s decision to resolve the case constitutes an implicit recognition of the injustice and discrimination suffered by Ricardo Ucán,” said Kerrie Howard, deputy director of Amnesty International’s America’s programme. Mexico’s Constitution guarantees the right for Indigenous peoples to an interpreter, but Ricardo Ucán’s status as an Indigenous person was not recognised. In 2008, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights accepted his case and in November 2009, the Commission held a hearing in which Mexican human rights organizations presented evidence of discrimination and denial of the right to fair trial suffered by Ricardo Ucán. The Mexican federal and state authorities contested this evidence but agreed to reach a friendly settlement to resolve the case which has resulted in Ricardo Ucán’s early release from prison. Since his conviction, Amnesty International and local human rights organizations have campaigned for Ricardo Ucán to be given a fair trial and for this injustice to be rectified. His case was included in Amnesty International’s 2007 report Laws without justice as an emblematic case of discrimination against Indigenous people in Mexico’s criminal justice system. “Ricardo Ucán’s conviction and sentence were the result of discrimination, which in Mexico often results in indigenous criminal suspects being subject to unfair trials and disproportionate sentences,” said Kerrie Howard. Amnesty International has called on the Mexican authorities to ensure that prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges uphold the right of Indigenous peoples to a fair trial and protection of the law.

The organization said that in particular, the authorities should ensure that proceedings are carried out or translated into a language Indigenous defendants understand and that they have access to an effective defence.