The latest wave of killings in the state of Baja California has resulted in the shooting dead of the state’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Silvestre de la Toba Camacho, and his 20 year old son Fernando, as they were driving through the city centre on the evening of Monday 20 November.
As they passed an intersection in the city centre several gunmen opened fire on the Ombudsman’s car, causing it to swerve violently and crash into a building. The Ombudsman and his son were declared dead on the scene while his wife and daughter were seriously injured and taken to hospital.
In a prepared statement, national ombudsman Luis Raúl González Pérez condemned the attack on de la Toba and his family. “The CNDH [the National Human Rights Commission] reports that it has issued preventative measures in order to guarantee the safety of Mr. de la Toba’s family and that of all the staff of the state agency . . . ” said González.
Via the video link below you can access an interview with Silvestre de la Toba Camacho, from April 2017, during which he was asked about the level of violence in Baja California Sur and the killing of journalist Max Rodriguez.
The killing of De la Toba is the first assassination of a human rights ombudsman since the post was created more than 25 years ago in a bid to improve safeguards for Mexican citizens. Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, issued a statement on this latest killing. “I condemn the killing of Silvestre de la Toba Camacho in the strongest possible terms, and am equally outraged by the assault on his family.” “I call on the state and federal authorities to ensure that a thorough investigation is conducted and the perpetrators are brought to justice.”
In January 2017, following his first ever official visit to the country, during which he met more that 800 HRDs, the Special Rapporteur stated “The situation of human rights defenders in Mexico is conditioned by the criminalisation of their activities through the deliberate misuse of criminal law and the manipulation of the state’s punitive power by both State and non-State actors, to hinder and even prevent the legitimate activities of defenders to promote and protect human rights,”
Speaking from Dublin, Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders said, “The killing of Silvestre de la Toba Camacho did not come out of the blue. It is directly attributable to the culpable negligence of the government of Mexico and its failure over years to take effective action to protect HRDs or to bring the perpetrators of attacks against them to justice. Instead it has engaged in smear campaigns and covert surveillance to obstruct their work and undermine their credibility, thereby putting their lives directly at risk”.
In the last week alone 35 people have been killed in Baja California. Most of these killings took place in La Paz and Los Cabos. Interior Secretary Álvaro de la Peña Angulo acknowledged in a public statement that violence has indeed spiked in Baja California Sur, quoting data from the state Attorney General’s office that indicated that between May and November 2017 there were 376 homicides, 123 of which took place in October alone.
Experts cite various reasons for the rise in killings, including the chaos that has ensued as rivals battle for the turf formerly controlled by fallen drug cartel leaders such as Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Several factions are said to be engaged in bloody competition for the fractured empire of the former head of the Sinaloa cartel, now jailed in New York on various charges.