GENEVA (28 July 2022) – A UN expert today sounded the alarm that a Baptist pastor working to provide the basic needs of migrants on the Mexico-USA border was at high risk of attack or kidnapping.
Pastor Lorenzo Ortiz was kidnapped for the first time, by a local people-smuggling cartel just over a month ago.
“Pastor Lorenzo Ortiz has been voluntarily providing food and shelter to migrants on the border for more than five years,” said UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor. “He has been threatened and intimidated by local cartels in the past, but now the risk of real harm has drastically escalated.”
On 2 June 2022, Pastor Ortiz was kidnapped by a local people smuggling cartel, along with 10 migrants he was sheltering. Ortiz runs a network of non-profit shelters on both sides of the US-Mexico border that provide for the basic necessities of migrants making the often-perilous journey through Mexico and the US.
The cartel accuses him of stealing their business and refuse to believe he aids migrants free of charge, the Special Rapporteur said. They had initially demanded 40,000 USD for Pastor Ortiz’s release.
“The swift and efficient mobilisation of national authorities, civil society and the local community pressured the cartels into releasing Pastor Ortiz, unharmed and without ransom,” Lawlor said.
However, she said the status quo on the ground remained the same; Pastor Ortiz was under constant surveillance from his kidnappers, who make unannounced visits to his shelter and have vowed to ‘keep a close eye” on him.
“While I am glad the authorities responded in time and with sufficient show of force to secure his release and that of the migrants, I am deeply troubled by the situation of human rights defenders and migrants more generally in border regions of Mexico,” said the Special Rapporteur. “Very little has changed – Ortiz’s case shows the extraordinary risk that human rights defenders run to provide basic support in the region. This is not an acceptable state of affairs.”
Lawlor urged the Government of Mexico to do more to tackle the influence of cartels in border communities, and to take urgent measures to prevent and reduce the immediate risk of abduction or physical attack against human rights defenders like Lorenzo Ortiz, and the migrants he protects.
The Special Rapporteur is in contact with Mexican authorities on the issue. Her call was endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales.