ELLA Policy Brief: The Cotton Field Case in Mexico: Setting Legal Precedents for Fighting Gender-Based Violence


The Cotton Field case in Ciudad Juarez, northern Mexico, is illustrative of the structural causes of discrimination and violence against women in Latin America. After the violent abuse and murder of three women, investigative processes were marred by institutional prejudices and inconsistencies, representing a grave failure by the Mexican government to protect women’s rights and provide adequate access to justice for the victims’ families. The case made its way up to the Inter American Court on Human Rights, which ultimately delivered a ruling ordering the government to implement actions aimed at preventing the future reoccurrence of these events, including changes to search and investigation protocols. Civil society groups have played a vital role in calling for justice and overseeing the implementation of the ruling, which is helping to set standards beyond Mexico, particularly in Central American countries with comparable socio-cultural contexts.

Key Lessons:

Strategic litigation can be used as a tool for achieving changes with a country-level and regional impact.

The Cotton Field case has set regional standards when it comes to the obligation of states concerning the prevention, punishment and eradication of violence against women.

The regional adoption of a protocol for the search for or investigation of disappeared or murdered women can help governments confront the problem in a more coordinated way.

In order to eradicate violence against women, governments must implement public policies to change the prevailing culture of discrimination, and also educate civil servants with a gender perspective.


Sáenz Andujo, J. ELLA Policy Brief: The Cotton Field Case in Mexico: Setting Legal Precedents for Fighting Gender-Based Violence. ELLA, Practical Action Consulting, Lima, Peru (2013) 5 pp.

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