Letter on Forced Disappearance of Human Rights Defenders Ricardo Lagunes Gasca and Antonio Diaz Valencia
(March 28 | Washington, D.C.) – Today, ICAR and 30+ other human rights organizations and advocates sent a letter to Secretary Blinken on the forced disappearances of human rights defenders Ricardo Arturo Lagunes Gasca and Antonio Díaz Valencia. Lagunes Gasca and Díaz disappeared on January 15, 2023 hours after participating in an anti-mining community meeting that addressed issues related to the operation of a mine in Aquila, owned by Ternium, a Luxembourg-based mining company with locations across the Americas, including the United States.
The disappearance of Lagunes and Díaz reflects ongoing violence against Indigenous defenders and lawyers protecting human rights and the environment in Mexico. Both individuals had reported threats from Ternium and requested governmental intervention. Their vehicle was found abandoned on the side of the highway, with multiple bullet holes. We call on the United States Government to act within its diplomatic capacity to urge the State of Mexico to effectively investigate their disappearances and help bring them back home safe and alive to their families.
Read full letter below and you can download it here.
Dear Secretary Blinken,
The undersigned human rights organizations and advocates write to express our deep concern regarding the forced disappearances of Mexican human rights defender and lawyer, Ricardo Arturo Lagunes Gasca and of Indigenous leader Antonio Díaz Valencia. Lagunes Gasca and Díaz Valencia disappeared on January 15, 2023 shortly after participating in a community meeting that addressed issues related to the operation of a mine in Aquila, owned by Ternium, a Luxembourg-based mining company with locations across the Americas, including in the United States. We call on the United States Government to act within its diplomatic capacity to urge the State of Mexico to fulfill their obligations to effectively investigate the disappearance of Mr.Lagunes and press Ternium to cooperate with all investigations.
At the time of the disappearance, Lagunes Gasca was a member of the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists1 and Díaz Valencia was the leading candidate for the presidency of the ejidal commissariat of Aquila Michoacán, a position that represents the communal land interests to third parties. Both individuals had reported threats from Ternium and requested government intervention. Their vehicle was found abandoned on the side of a highway close to the border between the state of Michoacan and Colima, with multiple bullet holes. Their families believe that their disappearance may be connected to the company and is a human rights consequence of unsustainable mining practices.
Ricardo and Antonio’s disappearance took place in a context of ongoing violence against Indigenous defenders and lawyers protecting human rights and the environment in Mexico. According to information from the local community, Ternium has not complied with the economic and social commitments it made to community members, and for approximately four years, Ricardo Lagunes has provided legal support to the community with the goal of pressing the company to comply with these commitments.
The UN Committee on Enforced Disappearance (CED), six UN Special Procedures Mandates, and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights demanded urgent action to search and find the human rights defenders. Specifically, the CED required Mexico to build a strategy for an exhaustive search and investigation, including the context analysis in which their disappearances occurred and to include in the investigations the hypothesis that the motivation for their disappearance is related to their human rights defense work. Furthermore, several UN Special Procedures insisted on the need for answers related to the role of Ternium, sending communications to Mexico, the Ternium Company, and the Governments of Argentina and Luxembourg.
The Biden administration has repeatedly expressed a commitment to promote human rights worldwide and protect the role of civil society. The United States has also stated its commitment to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and to “continue to engage, both bilaterally and in multilateral fora, to protect and promote fundamental freedoms and the role of human rights defenders.” This forced disappearance is a direct attack on human rights and environmental defenders working to protect their fundamental rights and freedoms. A threat against human rights and freedom of expression is a threat against justice and democracy everywhere, and in order to protect human rights and human rights defenders, State and non-State actors must be held accountable for their role in the suppression of these rights and freedoms.
Therefore, we as the undersigned human rights organizations and advocates, call on the United States government to:
- Recognize the work of Ricardo Lagunes Gasca and Antonio Díaz Valencia and amplify their voices through public and silent diplomacy with Mexico and other global allies, including Argentina and Luxembourg
- Document their case and include it in the annual U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
- Consider their names for the annual Human Rights Defender Award and its celebration of Human Rights Week each December
- Provide necessary support for humanitarian recovery
- Activate any additional relevant support mechanisms for human rights defenders at the Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
- Urge the Mexican government to find the human rights defenders Ricardo Lagunes Gasca and Antonio Díaz Valencia, and do everything in its power to return them to their families and communities alive
- Urge the Mexican government to effectively investigate the forced disappearances, including:
- Determine the possible involvement of the security forces of the two states (Michoacán and Colima);
- Determine the possible involvement of the federal security forces present in the area (National Guard and Army), by action, authorization, acquiescence or tolerance;
- Investigate and determine the role of all armed groups in the area; and
- Require the Company to, at minimum, activate its mechanisms for internal investigations and sanctions against members of the board of directors whose names may emerge in the investigations before Prosecutors and Search Commissions.
- Urge the company Ternium to use its influence in the region to search and find the whereabouts of Ricardo Lagunes Gasca and Antonio Díaz Valencia, in compliance with enhanced duty of due diligence (prevent, mitigate, remedy)
- Urge the company Ternium to cooperate in all investigations regarding the disappearance of the two human rights defenders, including through the disclosure of all relevant information, and to:
- Activate its internal mechanisms for investigation and sanction against members of the board of directors whose names emerged in the investigations before Prosecutors and Search Commissions; and
- Adopt strong, effective human rights due-diligence processes to identify, prevent, and mitigate the impact of business operations on human rights in the future, with special recognition of the need for enhanced measures when operating in conflict or where there are heightened risks
We ask the U.S. government to demonstrate its continued commitment to promoting human rights and democracy by supporting the ability of these human rights defenders to safely exercise their right to freedom of expression and ensuring that those responsible for their disappearance are held to account. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this issue further, please contact David McKean at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Center for Constitutional Rights
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America-CRLN
Colectivo Mujeres Trasnacionales
Colectivo Yopoi (Argentina)
Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF)
Durango Unido en Chicago
Environmental Defender Law Center
Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)
Global Rights Advocacy
Hawai’i Institute for Human Rights
Illinois workers in action & Center for Immigrant Progress
Inclusive Development International
Initiative Pour Un Devoir De Vigilance (Luxembourg)
Idheas Litigio Estratégico en Derechos Humanos
The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)
International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara Law
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
New Mexico Environmental Law Center
Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER).
Protection International Mesoamérica
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Seattle University International Human Rights Clinic
Individual Signatories Joining in Their Personal Capacity:
Andrew B. Reid, JD, LLM
Native Justice, LLC
Visiting Director/Distinguished Practitioner-in-Residence
Immigrant Justice Clinic
American University, Washington College of Law
Prof. Anita Ramasastry
University of Washington
Co-coordinateurs of Initiative pour un devoir de vigilance Luxembourg
Full Professor of Law, UQAM
University of Quebec
Senior Counsel, Québec Bar
International Human Rights Lawyer
Adjunct Lecturer at Hunter College and New York University
Prof. Dr. Ludovic Hennebel
Law Professor Aix-en-Provence France
UN expert member at the Committee on economic, social and cultural rights
Co-Director, Berkeley Law Clinical Program
Co-Director & Clinical Professor
International Human Rights Law Clinic
Nonresident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy