Two months after the disappearance of two human rights defenders in Mexico, Ricardo Lagunes and Antonio Diaz, the Initiative for a duty of vigilance in Luxembourg organized a press conference with the participation of Alejandra Gonza, director of Global Rights Advocacy and legal advisor of the families, and relatives of the two missing persons.
Despite the strong calls from the international community to the Mexican authorities and the company Ternium to do everything in their power to find the two defenders, no information has been given until now to the families regarding their whereabouts.
Thus, during the press conference, the representatives of the families reiterated their calls to reinforce the efforts at all levels to find Ricardo and Antonio. It was also the occasion for the Initiative for a duty of vigilance to remind the authorities of the importance and urgency of adopting human rights due diligence legislation in Luxembourg.
On the 15th of January 2023, the vehicle of Antonio Diaz and Ricardo Lagunas was found abandoned on the side of a highway, riddled with bullets. Antonio Díaz Valencia and Ricardo Lagunes disappeared after participating in a community assembly during which they addressed issues related to the operation of the iron mine Las Encinas, owned by Ternium, a holding company headquartered in Luxembourg.
For about four years, Ricardo Lagunes has provided legal support to the community to make the company comply with an agreement they made with the local population. Antonio Díaz Valencia, as a community leader, accompanied Ricardo in the documentation process and in establishing a dialogue with the community.
During the press conference Ana Lucia Gasca Boyer, mother of Ricardo Lagunes, declared : « My son must be returned to me. Those who have the power in the area should do everything they can to give me an immediate response. The international community must not allow companies to let defenders from the communities affected by their activities disappear in the areas where they operate and continue business as usual. »
« With the hope of the humanitarian rescue of Ricardo Lagunes and Antonio Díaz , we want to ask the Ternium Company, as strongly and loudly as our hearts and souls could scream, to immediately adopt all the measures at your disposal to find my brother and Antonio. Please use your influence in commercial, political, social and security relations to guarantee the return alive of the missing human rights defenders, » stated Antoine Lagunes, brother of Ricardo.
« An enforced disappearance of human rights defenders not only affects the families and the communities, it is a matter that affects peace and security and the UN, like-minded governments with companies operating in conflictive regions must do much more to prevent, mitigate and eradicate attacks to human rights defenders, » concluded Alejandra Gonza, legal advisor of the families.
Efforts of Luxembourg and international authorities
The Initiative for duty of vigilance gave an overlook of the different steps taken by Luxembourg authorities since the disappearance of the two defenders.
The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Economy have sent a letter to the company asking for clarifications about the disappearance to which the company replied. The Ministry of Economy has also contacted the National Contact Point for OECD in Mexico to inquire about the case, raising concerns and asking for a follow-up.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has committed to help further to find the two defenders. Currently, Luxembourg has a seat at the Human Rights Council of the United Nations and the protection of human rights defenders is one of their priorities.
Last week, there was also a parliamentary question by two members of the parliament in Luxembourg asking the Ministry of Economy to disclose the reply they received from Ternium.
While all these actions are positive, they also show the limits of the tools available to governments regarding the respect of human rights in the context of economic activities. There is nothing that obliges the company to collaborate and work with human rights defenders on the ground. There is no obligation for human rights due diligence along the value chain. And this is the heart of the problem.
The European parent company, which to date has a turnover of $16.41 billion, could not absolve itself of all responsibility and duty to react because it is "only" its subsidiary company in Mexico that is involved.
The UN Group on Business and Human rights also published a statement in February asking the company Ternium to provide all the information they may have in connection to the disappearance of Ricardo and Antonio and to collaborate to find them. The experts also sent communications to Argentina and Mexico’s authorities, as well as to the company's controlling shareholder Techint y San Faustin SA.
Demands of civil society in Luxembourg
Towards the Mexican authorities
The Government of Mexico and the local authorities must find them and seriously investigate the disappearance of Ricardo Lagunes and Antonio Díaz, whose whereabouts are still unknown. The Mexican authorities must bring the responsible for the crime to justice, provide redress to victims and their families and guarantee fully their safety. The Mexican government must ensure that human rights are respected across all business activities and institute public policies and laws requiring due dligence.
The company should provide all the information they may have in connection to the disappearance of Ricardo Lagunes and Antionio Díaz and engage in dialogue with the families. We ask the company to perform fully their due diligence in this case.
We have written on January the 25th to the Chairman of the company without receiving any answer. It is not sufficient to publish a press release on February 20th encouraging “third parties to use its Compliance Line” and never giving any answer to the request of civil society in Luxembourg.
The situation in the region is dramatic, there are a lot of conflicts and violence related to the operations of the mine and the company should start acting on the negative impacts.
Towards the Luxembourg government
While civil society supports all the steps that the Luxembourg government has taken in this case, it must also recall that sending a letter to a company cannot be the only means available to a government. We reiterate that legislation should finally be introduced as it exists in our neighboring countries and that holdings (called Soparfis in Luxembourg) like Ternium SA should also be included in such legislation, whether in Luxembourg or elsewhere in the European Union. The Luxembourg government shoul also use their position in the human rights council to address violence against human rights defenders seriously.
Towards the EU
In light of the large and growing number of threats and attacks faced by HRDs who raise concerns about the adverse human rights impacts of some business operations, the EU should coherently integrate the promotion and protection of the rights of HRDs, particularly trade union representatives and defenders of land, indigenous peoples’ rights and the environment, into its corporate sustainability due diligence directive.