Mining company Ternium has denied involvement in the disappearance of Antonio Díaz Valencia and Arturo Lagunes Gasca on 15 January this year Photo: Shutterstock

Mining company Ternium has denied involvement in the disappearance of Antonio Díaz Valencia and Arturo Lagunes Gasca on 15 January this year Photo: Shutterstock

The disappearance of human rights defenders Antonio Díaz Valencia and Ricardo Arturo Lagunes Gasca in Mexico in a case tied to Luxembourg shows the need for more stringent due diligence laws, activists said on Wednesday.

Díaz, a community activist, and Lagunes, a lawyer, have been missing for two months after their car was found abandoned and with signs of bullet holes in Colima, western Mexico, where they had been representing the interests of indigenous groups in dispute with the Las Encinas iron ore mine.

The open pit mine is one of the largest iron ore mines in Mexico and is operated by Ternium, which is headquartered in Luxembourg and controls steel businesses throughout the Americas.

“Sending a letter to a company cannot be the only means possible to a government” to exercise pressure, said Jean-Louis Zeien of Luxembourg human rights group ASTM during a press conference on Wednesday.

The Luxembourg government in response to the disappearance of the two men had written to Ternium. The company reportedly denied all implication in the matter, but their reply has not been made public despite demands from members of parliament to do so.

“It’s not enough, letter-sending. We need more tools. We need more answers,” said Alejandra Gonza, who represents the families of the disappeared men.

Lack of due diligence obligations

Both Zeien and Gonza acknowledged the work done by the Luxembourg government to help move the investigation along, also filing an appeal with the OECD contact point in Mexico, but said its hands are largely tied because of a lack of effective human rights due diligence laws.

“This is the heart of the problem,” said Antoniya Argirova from the ASTM, which has long campaigned for stringent laws that would hold companies based in Luxembourg to account along their entire value chains, meaning they cannot absolve themselves by claiming ignorance or blaming subsidiaries in case of human rights abuses.

The European Commission last year , which activist groups say isn’t far-reaching enough. Until it is passed into national law, Luxembourg largely relies on a voluntary charter that companies can sign in respect of human rights.

“We ask the company to perform fully their due diligence,” said Zeien, adding that it “should provide all the information they may have.” Ternium has denied any involvement in the case. The Luxembourg-based holding in turn forms part of Argentinian-Italian group Techint.

In January, activity at the mine was halted over protests by workers following the disappearance of Diaz and Lagunes on 15 January.

Local media report that the human rights activists had been meeting with local Nahua indigenous people, who have been receiving royalties by the mining company. Rival groups and a local cartel have been trying to extort the local community, a report said.

The same article said the mine had disrupted social ties in the area and created conflict.

A separate report said that Díaz and Lagunes had been in talks with Ternium over royalty payments but also claims that the company had been violating an agreement over the use of land on its site.

UN appeal to Mexico authorities

“The situation is painful. Every minute, second, hour, I cannot stop thinking about him,” said Ana Lucia Gasca, Lagunes’ mother, during the press conference. “It’s the worst pain you could feel,” she said, adding that she had not given up hope for her son to return alive.

Lagunes’ father, Arturo Lagunes Moreno, said Ternium must be held accountable while Díaz’s son, Keivan Díaz, accused the company of trying to shift blame towards the community instead of taking responsibility.

“We ask Luxembourg to strengthen its effort and engage in multilateral diplomacy,” said Lagunes’ brother, Antoine.

“We’re not even close,” said Gonza about finding a resolution in the case two months after the disappearance of the activists.

The UN in February called on Mexican authorities to investigate the case and bring perpetrators to justice.

“The government must ensure that businesses respect human rights across all their activities, including in the engagement with human rights defenders and affected communities,” a group of experts said. “Businesses should provide all the information they may have.”