Mexico: State protection measures were not enough to prevent the killing of environmental defender Julián Carrillo

The Mexican state failed in its obligation to ensure the effective protection of the environmental human rights defender Julián Carrillo, said Amnesty International in the report Caught between bullets and neglect: Lack of protection for defenders of the territory in the Sierra Tarahumara, published today, three months after his death.

“The Indigenous Rarámuri people of the community of Coloradas de la Virgen have for years faced a series of attacks and threats because of their work defending human rights and their ancestral territory,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

“The killing of Julián Carrillo is the most obvious and appalling evidence of the Mexican authorities’ failure to comply with their obligation to guarantee effective protection from all types of violence, threats or reprisals resulting from their work defending human rights.”

On 24 October 2018, armed men entered the community of Coloradas de la Virgen, in the northern state of Chihuahua, and killed Julián Carrillo, an Indigenous Rarámuri leader. He had previously been the victim of threats and harassment linked to his defence of ancestral territory in the Sierra Tarahumara. At least five other members of his family have been killed in recent years.

Three months after his death, the Mexican authorities have still not identified those responsible and brought them to justice. Amnesty International calls on the Mexican state to take urgent measures to end impunity for attacks against inhabitants of Coloradas de la Virgen, and to carry out thorough, independent and impartial investigations into the killing of Julián Carrillo and other members of his family.

Julián Carrillo Julián Carrillo
Amnesty International/David Paniagua

In 2014, following its assessment of the serious threats that Julián Carrillo faced, the Ministry of the Interior’s Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists granted him protection measures. However, the measures – which included satellite phones, panic buttons and police escorts when he travelled – were not enough to prevent him being killed.

The Mexican authorities cannot continue to limit the protection of human rights defenders to a mechanism that does not work
Tania Reneaum, executive director of Amnesty International Mexico

Amnesty International urges Mexico’s new federal government to develop, as a matter of urgency and in consultation with civil society and human rights defenders, a comprehensive public policy to ensure that defenders can carry out their work in the country in safety.

“The Mexican authorities cannot continue to limit the protection of human rights defenders to a mechanism that does not work,” said Tania Reneaum, executive director of Amnesty International Mexico.

“The government must adopt without delay a comprehensive public policy that addresses the structural causes that give rise to the dangers facing human rights defenders. Defending the territory and the environment should not be a death sentence.”

Additional information

Weeks before his murder, Julián Carrillo said in an interview with Amnesty International that his greatest concern was the high level of violence in Coloradas caused by the presence of organized crime and the divisions in the community created by the granting of ejido (communal land ownership) rights to people who do not belong to the community.

According to Julián Carrillo and other members of the community, organized criminal networks have appropriated Indigenous territory to sow illicit crops, especially cannabis and opium poppy. Many members of the community have been displaced to nearby cities and Indigenous leaders and their families have received numerous threats, including death threats.

According to Julián Carrillo and other members of the community, organized criminal networks have appropriated Indigenous territory to sow illicit crops, especially cannabis and opium poppy

In September 2018, Julián Carrillo told Amnesty International that he believed that his relatives were threatened and killed because of their work defending human rights and their territory. He also revealed that he had received threats for denouncing the effects of organized crime in the territory of Coloradas.

Sierra Tarahumara Sierra Tarahumara
Amnesty International/David Paniagua

Approximately two weeks before Julián Carrillo was killed, members of the community reported to various state and federal authorities that a mining concession on their territory had been granted to three individuals, and they requested urgent measures to guarantee the safety of members of the community in Coloradas given the situation of extreme violence generated by organized crime.

Days later, Amnesty International observed a community assembly in which Julián Carrillo expressed opposition to the mining concession because of its environmental and social impact and because it could lead to a rise in violence in the area.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Duncan Tucker: duncan.tucker@amnesty.org