From Mexican human rights practice to PhD

Written by Rosie on . Posted in Profiles

Dorothy Estrada-TanckAfter years working on human rights in Mexico, for the government and UN, Dorothy Estrada-Tanck decided to relocate to the EUI to pen a law thesis which would inform both practitioners and academics.

Estrada-Tanck’s work examines human security and human rights under international law, focusing on violence against women and the rights of undocumented migrants. “The idea is to study risks and threats that affect people; not only violations of their rights, but structural situations that make people live in a constant situation of risk,” she explains.

“Since undocumented migrants have an irregular status, they live in legal limbo – an empty space where neither their state of origin, nor the state in which they are living, is adequate to protect them,” Estrada-Tanck added. Female migrants are more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation, which Estrada-Tanck describes as “a threat that is constantly haunting them in their everyday lives”.

Before joining the EUI, Estrada-Tanck worked at Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission, giving her first-hand experience of the limitations of national and international law. Over the past decade Estrada-Tanck has seen the situation for migrants in Mexico deteriorate significantly, exasperated by the country’s drugs war which has left an estimated 60,000 people dead since 2006: “Mexico was the promoter of the UN convention of the rights of migrant workers, but now we have the double situation of violence against [Mexican] migrants in the US, and the violations suffered by migrants from Central America in Mexico.”

In her thesis Estrada-Tanck looks at legal frameworks within the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Council of Europe and the EU, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the UN. While she found positive rulings in the various courts, it was the Inter-American Court which stood apart: “It has been more progressive in granting reparations which try to fix the structural situation. Not only ordering the responsible to pay the victim, but there’s a whole set of collective measures which try to address the structural situation to prevent further violations.”

She points to the ‘González et al. (‘Cotton Field’) v. Mexico’ case, in which the state was held responsible for the disappearances and deaths of one woman and two girls in the northern city of Ciudad Juárez, as a key example. In its November 2009 judgement, the court ordered the state to take specific actions on the Cotton Field case while also taking numerous steps to prevent future instances of gender-based violence. These included erecting a monument to victims in Ciudad Juárez, creating a national database of disappeared girls and women, and implementing a permanent education and training programme on human rights and gender.

“These are exemplary cases which go to the heart of the problem,” says Estrada-Tanck. “Human rights are individual and legal architecture is made for the individual. All that is necessary but because these problems are so widespread, you really need public policy to be informed by human rights and broad approaches.”

Migration, and violence and insecurity are two of the six priorities set out by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for 2012 to 2013. Estrada-Tanck hopes the proposals put forward in her thesis will contribute to this ongoing debate, moving towards structural changes in the legal system: “We have a great responsibility to do much more; I think the law has to serve the people and not the other way round, the legal structures are there for the people.”

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