There have been no developments in the case of a Protestant pastor and a co-worker who were forcibly disappeared on 3 August in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
Pastor Aarón Méndez Ruiz and Alfredo Castillo de Luna were kidnapped from the AMAR migrant shelter, in Nuevo Laredo on the US-Mexico border, after Pastor Méndez Ruiz blocked an attempt by an organised criminal group to kidnap Cuban asylum seekers from the shelter he runs in Mexico. Those close to them report that no communication has been received from either of the men and there has been no ransom demand.
On 4 October the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH) issued a call to the Mexican government to detail what measures it has taken “to determine the whereabouts or destination” of Méndez Ruiz and Castillo de Luna, to protect the families of the victims and report the progress of the investigations of the facts.
In 2018 at least ten religious leaders were killed in Mexico, making it the tenth consecutive year that the country has been ranked the most dangerous in the world for Catholic priests. The expansion of violent criminal groups in the country and the pervading climate of impunity surrounding such crimes have led to an increase in violence against religious leaders.
Many criminal groups view church leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, and their influence, as a threat to their power and lucrative targets for extortion. On 24 October Father Alberto Ruiz Pérez, a priest who runs a migrant shelter in the Mexican state of Jalisco, was assaulted, extorted and threatened at gunpoint for his work defending the rights of migrants.
According to the CIDH report, a warning attributed to the Northeast Cartel circulated on social media in the weeks following the two men’s disappearance: “Operation CATAS, sending priests to hell! Every immigrant will pay us here!!! It doesn’t matter if they come from or hide in a church. Priests, pastors. [non-Catholic] Priests. Bishops. You are warned.”
Migrants and asylum seekers passing through Mexico on their way to the US have been targeted by criminal groups for kidnap and ransom. Cuban asylum seekers are considered to be at particular risk as many criminal groups believe that most have family members in the US with access to funds to pay ransom. Cuban asylum seekers were kidnapped from the AMAR shelter earlier this year and were freed after ransom was paid, however, they had experienced severe physical mistreatment, including torture, during their captivity.
CSW’s Joint Head of Advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said:“Pastor Aaron Mendez Ruiz and Alfredo Castillo de Luna have now been in the hands of violent criminal groups for 93 days and we are deeply concerned for their wellbeing. We welcome calls made by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and continue to call on the government of Mexico to do everything in its power to ensure their return. We also call on the Mexican government to ensure that local authorities are sufficiently equipped to protect human rights defenders, including religious leaders, particularly in areas where there are high numbers of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers.”