Human Rights in Mexico – Who Cares? Not U....N.
Monday in Mexico dawned as usual - while Felipe Calderón fiddled (with a guitar), and Andrés Manuel López Obrador
celebrated his birthday by charming the ladies and kissing babies, paramilitary groups in Chiapas were doing what they
do so well - massacring yet another indigenous community, this time Viejo Velasco Suárez, in the north-eastern zone of
the Lacandona, where six women and two newborns were among the eleven indigenous Tseltales and Ch’oles murdered in their
beds that morning.
Despite the Mexican Federal government recognising this community and their agrarian rights, along with those of another
27 similar communities in agreements between 1984 and November 2005, four of them - Viejo Velasco Suárez, Ojo de Agua
Tsotsil, Flor de Cacao and San Jacinto Lacanjá - have been under pressure to ‘relocate’ for the past several months, or
if they refuse, to suffer violent eviction.
The motive, as usual, is greed – for the natural resources in the Monte Azules Biosphere Reserve, in this case, valuable
wood. The culprits, as usual, are government-backed business interests using locals as their hitmen – in this case
people from neighbouring communities.
And in a manner only too familiar in Mexico, several months of warnings by human rights and international observer
groups went unheeded, directly resulting in Monday’s massacre.
Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Centre for Human Rights issued urgent communications about the threats to these communities
on 13 June and 19 July, an urgent letter was sent to Federal and State authorities by Maderas del Pueblo del Sureste on
21 July, and Global Exchange’s Observation Mission released the document Harassment, Threats, And Illegal, Forcible Relocation In The Lacandon Jungle: First-Hand Observations Of A U.S.
Delegation on 11 August 2006.
Not only did Mexican authorities ignore these warnings, but it was reported on Monday that several contingents of
sectoral police had already arrived to evict anyone who survived in Viejo Velasco Suárez, as well as the inhabitants of
the other three communities, all members of the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Chiapas Jungle (UCISECh).
It is outrageous that in the same year as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is being launched, the
country holding the presidency of the United Nations Human Rights Council is conducting ‘ethnic cleansing’ of its own
indigenous population – as well as the abuses of Atenco and Oaxaca - and getting clean away with it. We are not dealing
with an invading army committing abuses against the population, we are not dealing with a Government committing abuses
against immigrants such as refugees, terrible as both of these situations are – we are dealing with a government
committing these abuses against its own citizens.
Gross and Systematic Abuse of the National Human Rights Commission
What hope, then? Appeal to human rights bodies? Recent examples suggest, not. On 5 July the Mexican Office of the Public
Prosecutor (PGR) rejected the findings of the National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) into a case of torture, and
stated they would take no criminal action, despite unequivocal medical records detailing it. Not satisfied with merely
ignoring the Ombudsman’s findings and recommendations, the PGR then began a campaign of intimidation and persecution of
the national Ombudsman, Dr José Luis Sobranes, and senior investigator Raúl Plascencia Villaneuva, leading to an
unprecedented move by the United Nations Committee Against Torture last week, who on Thursday challenged Mexican
Government representatives appearing before that Committee regarding the PGR’s disputing of the CNDH findings into the
torture of José Luis Zúñiga. On the same day, Rosario Ibarra, President of the Human Rights Committee of the Mexican
Senate, moved that the Senate demand that President Fox and Attorney-General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca cease their campaign
of revenge and intimidation against the CNDH. Did they listen?
I think not - four days later, Secretary of Federal Public Security (SSP) Eduardo Medina Mora released a communiqué
rejecting the findings of the CNDH into both the events at Texcoco/San Salvador Atenco, as well as the miners’ conflict
of Siderúrgica Lázaro Cárdenas-Las Truchas (Sicartsa) in Michoacán. Medina Mora stated that he rejects many of the CNDH
recommendations, among them those of sexual assault and torture at Atenco, maintaining that they “...sustain false facts and imputations of conduct that the Federal SSP and the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) had
nothing to do with” – this despite the overwhelming evidence, including video and photographic evidence.
These blatant attempts by Mexican Federal authorities to undermine the credibility of the CNDH also ignore the fact that
millions of people saw with their own eyes television footage of members of the PFP carrying out sustained and vicious
attacks on defenceless people, and that State Governments entities of both Mexico and Michoacan have accepted the CNDH
recommendations in their totality, and referred cases for investigation, eg the National Institute of Migration.
Thus at its meeting in Geneva last week, in light of the substantial body of evidence of Mexico’s failure to meet its
obligations under the Convention Against Torture in relation not only to Atenco but also to numerous other matters, that
Committee had no option but to confirm the persistence of torture and maltreatment in Mexico, and to criticise the total
impunity of perpetrators.
Meanwhile in D.F., Amerigo Incalcaterra, the Representative in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights, told a forum In Defence of Human Rights that during the six years of the Fox administration, human rights
violations have persisted, particularly in relation to indigenous peoples and violence against women, and the repression
in Atenco and Oaxaca came in for special mention. He identified three principal causes – poverty, discrimination, and
impunity. Well, that’s news!
About as newsworthy as the new Human Rights Council’s promises of accountability, responsiveness, and peer review,
including a “General Assembly with the right to suspend the rights and privileges of any Council Member that it decides has
persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership.” As worthy as the promise to begin the review of all member countries’ human rights records with the Council members
themselves. In the interests of credibility, and given the responsibility of the position, surely the country holding
the presidency should have been the first to be reviewed – and that before even taking up the role!
So while the Human Rights bodies pontificate endlessly, the body count of Mexicans - the dead, disappeared, and
illegally detained - continues to rise. The day after Monday’s Chiapas massacre (second only to Acteal in 1997 when
police stood by and watched as paramilitaries murdered 45 indigenous people, mostly women and children) it was reported
that in Oaxaca a pile of 10 - 15 dead bodies had been ‘dumped’ at the Red Cross, but that Red Cross personnel were
refusing to identify or investigate them due to lack of time and resources. They will add to the ~30 killed in Oaxaca
since June by order of Oaxaca Governor Ruiz and President Fox. As ‘Rochelle’ reported: “There is a video that was taken yesterday without permission showing a stack of dead bodies, a few days old, in a small
ampitheater (sic) that is part of the Red Cross complex. They seem to be middle aged, mostly men and at least one woman.
There is a call out for forensics experts to come and properly identify the bodies. Today I heard a doctor and
photographer were going to speak to the director of Red Cross and that papers were being filed by a local human rights
group to get a proper response.” Let’s hope they have more luck than Soberanes, Fray Ba, Global Exchange et al – even if it is a little late to be of
much use to them.
Human Rights Council – Impunity Without End
So when is anyone going to DO something about Mexico’s appalling, and escalating, human rights abuses? Within the last
week we have the UN Committee Against Torture finding persistent abuses and apparent total impunity, the Representative
of the Office of the High Commissioner noting continuing human rights abuses and repression over the past six years, the
Mexican Federal authorities conducting a campaign of intimidation and persecution against the national Mexican human
rights body, and another 25 or so dead - not to mention the hundreds of dead, disappeared, and illegally detained this
year alone, or the thousands over the last ten years, a significant proportion of whom have been human rights defenders.
The victims of Atenco, largely supporters of the EZLN and the Front of Peoples in Defense of the Land (FPDT) resisting
construction projects threatening their livelihoods, signified the Federal toe testing the waters. In Oaxaca they went
in up to their waist, against supporters of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), in peaceful resistance
against the fraudulent and corrupt state government since May to improve their lives and livelihoods. Monday’s massacre
of Viejo Velasco Suárez resisting forced relocation and exploitation of their natural resources sees the water reaching
With the rapidly-spreading determination nationwide to peacefully resist the imposition of the fraudulently-elected
Calderón administration and its neo-liberal policies, clearly demonstrated by the existence and activities of a myriad
of grassroots organisations such as La Otra Campaña of the EZLN, the movement of civil resistance against the electoral
fraud of Felipe Calderón known as the National Democratic Convention, and the springing up of new popular assemblies
throughout the country including the convocation of a national Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Mexico (APPM) next
weekend, there is every indication that the people of Mexico will continue to resist, and in increasing numbers,
threatening the December 1 inauguration of the putative President-Elect. Left to their own devices, the Federal
Government may well plunge in over their heads, drowning in the blood of the Mexican people.
As the various UN organs have already attested, the repressions in Atenco, Oaxaca, and Chiapas are not aberrations, but
persistent and systematic patterns of practice. They are a political strategy of savage repression by a government
clearly without mandate, and desperate to control resources and hold onto power.
On 19 June Kofi Annan told the first session of the new Human Rights Council that there had to be willingness to
confront the hard issues to prevent human rights violations, and to take note of early warnings. As with these last warnings from Chiapas, is anyone out
there listening, or are they just going to count the corpses, wipe the blood from their hands, and have another Council
But perhaps that is one of the perks of the job of President of the Human Rights Council – they get to enjoy the very
same impunity internationally as they clearly enjoy at home.
As Ms Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in her address to the first session of the
Council on 19 June, “Too many times the promise of protection has gone unmet. When lives and livelihoods are lost or imperilled, the
emptiness of paper guarantees, not backed by the genuine resolve to act, is nothing short of betrayal.”
Et tu, Judas.
Julie Webb-Pullman is a New Zealander reporting for Scoop.co.nz from Mexico.