AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA. Ms. Lydia Cacho Ribeiro is one of Mexico’s leading defenders of children’s and women’s rights. An investigative journalist and a specialist on gender-based violence, Ms. Cacho founded and directs the Centro Integral de Atención a las Mujeres (CIAM) in Cancún, a crisis center and shelter for victims of sex crimes, gender-based violence, and trafficking. CIAM provides free services to anyone seeking assistance and protection. Many of these women and girls who seek shelter are often fleeing from violent criminals. Consequently, protecting them endangers Ms. Cacho’s own life on a daily basis. Throughout the course of her advocacy work, Ms. Cacho has received numerous death threats, and in 1999, was raped in an attempt to intimidate her. This particular incident emboldened her even further to protect and advance the rights of women and children in a country where impunity is widespread and commonly accepted as a part of daily life.
The U.S. Department of State cites Mexico as a source, transit, and destination country for trafficked persons for sexual exploitation and labor. A considerable number of these victims are children. Many of them, exploited by organized crimes, are forced to perform sexual and pornographic acts. The Mexican government’s estimate of child victims is as high as 20,000. Tourist destinations such as Cancún become popular destinations for child sex tourism. To expose these crimes against children, Ms. Cacho published a book in 2004 entitled Los Demonios del Eden: El poder detrás de la pornografía infantil (The Demons of Eden: The power behind child pornography). Her work has resulted in repeated threats against her life and judicial harassment to silence her effort to give voice to the victims. On December 16, 2005, Ms. Cacho was arrested and denied access to her lawyer and medicine. She spent the night in prison and was then released on bail of US $9900. In response to these intimidating tactics, Ms. Cacho filed a successful counter-suit for corruption and for violation of her human rights. In this regard, Ms. Cacho is the first woman in Mexico who has ever filed a federal suit against a Governor, a District Attorney, and a judge for corruption and attempted rape in prison. Furthermore, in May 2007, she will be the first woman in Mexican history to take a woman’s rights case to the Mexican Supreme Court.
Ms. Cacho believes in a holistic approach to addressing the violations against society’s most vulnerable population. In addition to advocacy work and direct service for victims, she also believes that educational endeavors are important for healing and building a more peaceful society. In this regard, Ms. Cacho also initiated an innovative educational project to help children deal with the emotional and psychological impacts of abuse. The Center for Women’s Assistance, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Oasis Foundation, and others established Escuelas para la Paz (Schools for Peace), which is a series of schools throughout Mexico dedicated to promoting non-violent conflict resolution methodologies to help stop the cycle of violence in society.
Ms. Cacho has put her life on the line on behalf of children and women in Mexico. As a consequence of her unwavering defense of human rights and journalistic freedom, her own life is repeatedly threatened. Despite these dangers, she continues to champion the advancement of human rights for all children and women because she believes that every single person deserves to live a life of dignity.