February 20, 2019
On February 12th, between 07:00 and 07:40 am, human rights defender Obtilia Eugenio Manuel and her companion Hilario Cornelio Castro disappeared. They were last seen in the town of Tierra Colorada in Guerrero, Mexico. Obtilia works for the Organization of Me Phaa Indigenous People and in years past has received accompaniment from PBI. She is a beneficiary of provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, but the measures were not being adequately implemented.
Both defenders were disappeared on the Mexico-Acapulco federal highway, while heading to Chilpancingo, the capital of the state of Guerrero. Based on public information, organized crime groups operate on this route and maintain roadblocks from Tierra Colorada to Chilpancingo.
PBI made calls to state and federal-level authorities to express concern and urgently requested a search effort by authorities. We also reported the disappearance to the USA, UK, and EU embassies.
The National Network of Women Defenders, the Decade Against Impunity Solidarity Network, the TdT All Rights for All Network, the National Citizen Observatory of Femicide, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Mexico, the National Human Rights Commission, and others made public announcements about the disappearance.
PBI activated our support network and asked allies to disseminate this alert widely and request actions of high-level key actors via public statements, social networks, etc. PBI-USA organized a letter sent Friday night to four Mexican government officials, including the governor of Guerrero, signed by Amnesty International, the Center for Justice and International Law, the Washington Office on Latin American, the Latin America Working Group, Open Society Justice Initiative, and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, as well as PBI-USA.
We raised the profile of this disappearance and pressured the government of Guerrero to implement urgent measures to locate Obtilia and Hilario.
Likely due to pressure from the international community, including PBI, Obtilia and Hilario were released, alive, on Saturday, February 16 at 5:00 a.m. They are with their families, and a brief message from Obtilia indicates she is well. It's the first time we know of in the state of Guerrero that a disappeared defender has returned alive; we're very happy to announce that the best case scenario has come true.
PBI is very grateful for all the immediate actions taken by our friends in the international community. More investigation and analysis is needed, but we have some indicators that pressure at the national and international levels contributed to the release of both defenders.
PBI continues to urge the Mexican state to conduct a thorough investigation, clarify the facts of the cases, and appropriately sanction any persons found to be involved. We further urge that Mexico guarantee the full and effective implementation of protective measures for human rights defenders.