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Acting as an advocate

M.C. Sungaila, a graduate of Corona del Mar High School, filed a legal brief for Amnesty International in regards to Mexican women who disappeared from Ciudad Juarez in 1990s.

December 08, 2010|By Tom Ragan, tom.ragan@latimes.com
(Scott Smeltzer )

CORONA DEL MAR — One person can make a difference. You just have to believe in yourself, be patient, put in many hours of work, and, sometimes — just sometimes — search far and wide for Spanish translators.

That was the message delivered to students at Corona del Mar High School on Tuesday by M.C. Sungaila, a graduate of the school and an appellate attorney.

Tuesday's visit was her first visit to her alma mater since Sungaila graduated from there 25 years ago. She joked to the students that the last time she was in the Little Theatre was when she performed a burlesque dance in the high school's production of "Cabaret."

"And you're not going to get me to dance again up here," she said. "The first time was hard enough."

In her profession as a lawyer, the 1985 CdM graduate has made a difference for the memories of more than 100 women who disappeared from the U.S.-Mexico border town of Ciudad Juarez in the 1990s.

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In July 2009, Sungaila filed a 100-page legal brief on behalf of Amnesty International, claiming that the Mexican government was responsible for more than 100 deaths of Ciudad Juarez women because it failed to investigate their disappearances.

Amnesty International won the case.

It was Sungaila's brief that paved the way to the decision by the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 2009, which ruled that the Mexican government had violated a pair of international treaties — the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention on Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women.

As a result, the Mexican government had to publish portions of the world court's decision in newspapers across the country, said Sungaila, adding that journalists in Mexico could not easily write about the decision because of possible repercussions due to Mexico's conditions.

The government was also supposed to establish a memorial to honor the deaths of the women in Ciudad Juarez, the border town across from El Paso, Texas, Sungaila said. In the 1990s, many women from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, disappeared while returning home from their work in the maquiladora industry. Later, many of their bodies were found in a remote area on the city's periphery, where they had been tortured, raped, then killed.

So far, the Mexican government has published the court's decisions in the newspapers, and Ciudad Juarez is poised to establish a memorial in their honor on Friday to honor the women.

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