February 16, 2022
On 3 February, environmental lawyer Verónica Guerrero was murdered in the centre of Tonalá (Jalisco state). According to reports, the lawyer had received threats because of her fight against several companies that were using the illegal Matatlán landfill, causing environmental damage to neighbours in the area.
Environmental lawyer Verónica Guerrero represented the neighbourhood collective Urbi Quinta in its legal battle against several companies for the irregular operation of the Matatlán landfill. Since the end of 2021, the company Caabsa Eagle has been accused of irregularly using land to dispose of waste in the Matatlán landfill, which has been closed for over 10 years.
The lawyer and environmental human rights activist was at the forefront of the protests. Specifically, on 12 December, she publicly called on the authorities to address the problem, denouncing the conditions in which those affected by the irregular operation live (1). Prior to her murder, Veronica received several threats, some of them direct, from waste collectors opposed to the closure of the landfill, and these threats escalated in the two weeks before her death. Her murder is presumed to be directly related to her legitimate activities as an environmental lawyer.
On 9 February, the Jalisco State Prosecutor’s Office indicated that the investigation was focusing on Ms Guerrero’s activities as a lawyer, effectively ruling out her activities as a human rights and environmental activist as a possible cause of her murder
Based on the information gathered in this case, the prosecutor’s statement is insufficient and inadequate. Ms. Guerrero combined her work as a lawyer with her work as an environmental human rights defender, which was particularly related to her involvement in the Matatlán landfill issue, for which she had been threatened.
In this sense, the Observatory recalls the requirements of the recent condemnation of the Mexican State by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of the murder of the lawyer Digna Ochoa. Specifically, the obligation to develop “a specific and specialised protocol for the investigation of attacks against human rights defenders, taking into account the risks inherent to their work, which requires an exhaustive examination of the possibility that the attack was motivated by or related to the promotion of human rights by the victim, with a gender and ethnic perspective” (2).
The Observatory condemns the murder of Verónica Guerrero and expresses its solidarity with the family and friends of the victim.
The Observatory calls on the Mexican authorities to ensure an effective, diligent and thorough investigation into the situation of Ms. Guerrero.
The Observatory reminds the Mexican authorities that the independence of the legal profession is one of the essential elements of the rule of law. This is in line with the United Nations Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990):
“Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference;” (Principle 16).
“ Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities. “(Principle 17)