When solidarity gives a family the strength to carry on

By Tim Carpentier, an Amnesty activist who lives in Toronto

Solidarity. I’ve long known that solidarity is a foundational principle of Amnesty’s work, but my conception of what it actually means changed while in Mexico for an activism conference. I, and my colleagues from Amnesty Canada (Alex Neve, Kathy Price, Crystal Giesbrecht, and Andrea Oakunsheyld), had the rare privilege of meeting someone on whose behalf we campaign, Brenda Rangel Ortíz, and she changed my outlook on activism.

Brenda Rangel Ortíz is up against seemingly insurmountable odds as she continues to search for her brother, Héctor Rangel Ortíz, who was disappeared after being stopped by the police on 10 November 2009 in the city of Monclova, Coahuila state.

Brenda told us how the official investigation is going nowhere, and conveyed the frustration that accompanies the process of trying to find answers in a broken system.

Brenda shared details of conversations she has had with government officials and police that instantly gave me goose bumps. She reported being threatened with attack and with imprisonment if she does not stop speaking out about the disappearance of her brother. She explained that it is not uncommon for the police to plant evidence in order to arrest innocent people—a finding well backed up in Amnesty’s latest report on torture and other types of misconduct by law enforcement in Mexico.

While sharing the harrowing experiences she has day to day in the search for Héctor, Brenda broke down in tears.

I expected to be moved by Brenda’s story, but I didn’t realise in what way and how strongly I would be affected. As she shared her struggle, I was overwhelmed at Brenda’s determination and strength while not hiding her emotion and fear at the thought of what has happened to her brother and what might happen to her. Seeing how much it meant to Brenda that we took the time to meet with her and to share what activists in Canada are doing to support the quest for answers about Hector gave me a new perspective on solidarity.

I’ve never been one to write solidarity messages that are sometimes requested at the bottom of urgent actions. I have always taken the approach that if I’m going to write two letters, I’d prefer to write on behalf of two different cases in order to have a greater impact. As we sat and shared with Brenda and her family, I saw that her determination was bolstered by our presence. We don’t do this work to get thanks from people directly affected, but my fortunate circumstances granted me this reward. What clicked with me was that by expressing solidarity with the people named in our actions, you are fuelling the struggle for human rights from below, which is just as important, if not more important in some cases, than simply writing to governments. Writing solidarity messages, in addition to letters to governments, boosts the effectiveness of your action because it applies pressure from outside the country, while simultaneously strengthening those seeking change inside the country. It’s important to remember that there are more people than just Amnesty working on a case, and expressing solidarity with them, whether they be families, or courageous young lawyers with local human rights organisations such as the amazing Centro Prodh in Mexico City, boosts their spirits and, consequently, their determination to carry on the important work they are doing.

During our conversation with Brenda in Mexico City, we were honoured to be introduced to members of her family  — all of whom are united in their courageous efforts to find Hector and their pain over his disappearance. Brenda’s mother spoke to us with strength, but her anguish was clear. Brenda’s husband told us how he had to quit his job as a lawyer with the government shortly after marrying Brenda. He was brought into a room, handed a resignation letter and told that due to his involvement with Brenda, unfortunately there was no future for him as a government employee. The trauma of Hector’s disappearance has clearly had far reaching implications on the whole family, including the children, and what is described here is only scratching the surface.

Please take action to support the family of Hector Rangel Ortiz as they seek truth and justice. And remember to also write a message of solidarity!

Learn more about Amnesty International’s Mission to Mexico 2014