Norma Esther Andrade – Fighting against the brutal murder of young women in Ciudad Juárez

On Valentine's Day in 2000, 17-year-old Lilia Alejandra García Andrade was abducted while on her way home from work in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. She was later found after having been brutally raped, tortured and killed. The murderer was supposedly never found. Sadly, Lilia's fate has been shared by hundreds of girls and young women to date in and around Ciudad Juárez, a major city in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Lilia’s tragic death galvanized her mother into action. Norma Andrade, a primary school teacher in Ciudad Juárez, turned to her colleague and friend Marisela Ortiz, who had been Lilia’s teacher at school. Together they founded the organization “Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa” (NHRC), or “May Our Daughters Return Home”. The organization provides support to families whose daughters have gone missing or been killed and to protest the fact that those responsible for the crimes go unpunished. Norma’s other daughter, Malú García, who also joined NHRC, and the two little children Lilia left behind give her the strength to get up every day and continue the fight.

The NHRC believes it is no coincidence that only poor girls are the victims, and that they go missing while on their way back from school or from the factories. They accuse the authorities of making little or no effort to track down the missing girls and being unwilling to arrest the killers. Many victims are gang-raped, badly injured, tortured for days and then strangled to death. The dead bodies are dumped in the middle of nowhere. When you see a pink cross in one of these desolate areas, bearing the name of a young woman and decorated with flowers by her family, you will know that this is the place where they found her body.

The victims’ families and those who investigate the crimes often suspect financially powerful Mexicans with close ties to politicians and members of drug cartels to be the perpetrators. Their immense wealth makes them “untouchable” – above the law. Critics claim that the police ignore all accusations and are even involved in the murders. Local authorities supposedly pretend that the victims are prostitutes or drug addicts and sometimes arrest and jail innocent scapegoats. In some cases, the murderers are identified by witnesses or the victim’s relatives, but are never brought to justice.

Despite receiving death threats and suffering several attacks that she miraculously survived, Norma Andrade and her fellow activists at NHRC tirelessly lobby the Mexican authorities, the Inter American Human Rights Commission and the United Nations to report on the female homicides in Ciudad Juárez. It is their aim to bring international pressure to bear on the Mexican government and force it to take action.

As long as the women in Ciudad Juárez live in fear, and as long as mothers are not sure if they will see their daughters return home at the end of the day, strong and brave women like Norma Andrade will continue to raise awareness and stand up to the corrupt authorities.

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