Esther Chavez, a women's rights activist who first drew attention to the brutal slayings of women in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, has died, her nephew said Saturday. She was 73.
Hector Chavez Arbizu said his aunt died of cancer on Friday and will be buried in Ciudad Juarez, where more than 100 women were strangled and their bodies dumped in the desert or vacant lots in a string of killings that began in the 1990s.
Chavez founded Casa Amiga, a shelter for female victims of violence in this city of 1.5 million across the border from El Paso, Texas.
She worked tirelessly to denounce the decade-long string of killings and to demand that the deaths be properly investigated. Most of the victims were young and many worked at border assembly factories known as maquiladoras.
Authorities in Chihuahua state initially downplayed the problem, and many of the crimes remain unresolved.
To the end of her life, Chavez remained highly critical of police efforts and said the total death toll from the wave of violence against women in the city was in the hundreds.
"The death of activist Esther Chavez represents a loss for the fight for human rights and the rule of law in this country," the Mexican newspaper La Jornada wrote in an editorial Saturday. "She made the problems in Chihuahua visible on the international stage."
In 2008, Chavez won Mexico's National Human Rights Award. And a month before she died, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a ruling criticizing Mexico for a lack of diligence in investigating the slayings of 3 of the victims.
The court said it found irregularities in the probes, including the mishandling of evidence and the coercing of innocent people to confess.
The court said Mexico should pay a total of $800,000 in compensation to the victims' families, solve the killings and fix its procedures for investigating the slayings. Mexico has agreed to be bound by the court's rulings.
In 2005, the then-special prosecutor for the Ciudad Juarez killings, Claudia Velarde, said prosecutors had solved 80 percent of the killings, but many relatives doubt the real culprits have been caught.
While so-called "profile" killings involving young women strangled and left in desert dumping grounds tapered off around mid-decade, Ciudad Juarez is now in the grips of a wave of drug-cartel violence that has cost about 2,000 lives in 2009.
Chavez is survived by her nephew and her brother. A memorial service was held for her Saturday.