6th Visit of the CCIODH. Mexico, February 2008: Conclusions and Provisional Recommendations
After its 6th visit and based on 286 interviews of 607 people, the CCIODH considers the human rights situation in Mexico to be extremely critical. The government of Felipe Calderón has not provided enough concrete answers andbecause of this is entirely responsible for the magnitude of the violations.
The CCIODH can confirm that during the current government’s term of office no substantial advances have been made with respect to the recommendations which we made in previous visits. As much in the case of Chiapas as in those of Oaxaca and Atenco, human rights violations which have already been noted continue to be made without serious action being taken either against the main perpetrators or with respect to the reasons for their actions. Because of this the CCIODH feels obliged to reaffirm the conclusions and recommendations forwarded in previous reports.
Having been practically overwhelmed by evidence and complaints of violations which occurred in 2007, theCCIODH has not been able to limit itself to cases analysed in previous reports. During this period the harassment of social organisations has continued, and new political prisoners and prisoners of conscience have been incarcerated. The arbitrary arrest of Ariadna Nieto, Núria Morelló, Ramón Sesén and Laia Serra, last August, with the intervention of state and federal authorities should also be mentioned. Moreover, the case of Laia Serra concerns an integral part of the 5th visit of the CCIODH.
The CCIODH has not detected a real interest on the part of the federal government in making the basic respect of human rights a priority in its governmental action beyond mere declarations of its intentions and certain diplomatic gestures. The case of the journalist Lydia Cacho, whom the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN recently advised to leave the country in the interests of her security, speaks volumes about the situation. It is also worth mentioning the situation of the widows of the miners of Pasta de Conchos.
The CCIODH has not always encountered the attitude which it would hope for in federal government entities. It was impossible to gain access to the maximum security prison of La Palma when the visit had already been arranged by telephone; at the time of writing the Attorney General has still not provided us with the minimum and most essential information about its part in the cases analysed, despite us having given sufficient notice when asking for it; and we have not been received by the most relevant members of the entities which we have interviewed.
The CCIODH holds that the cases of Atenco, Oaxaca and Chiapas exemplify a more widespread situation characterised by a pattern of continued and commonplace behaviour on the part of differentfederal, state and, in some cases, local authorities. This model of behaviour can clearly be understood as the politics of the State. We make this assertion based on the consistency and the plausibility of the great number of statements we have received, as much in this visit as in previous ones.
In matters of social action, constructing models of alternative ways of living and satisfying the most basic needs, the authorities are trying to ensure the social environment which is most conducive to the implementation of a neoliberal model of development based on dispossession, privatisation and commercial exploitation of basic resources such as land, water and biodiversity.
To this end policies have been implemented to weaken social networks through harassment and the division of indigenous and rural communities especially in the cases of the social organisations which have protested the most.
Moreover there have been widespread arbitrary arrests of members of social movements and, on occasion, of members of their families merely for being related to them. It is normal for those who are arrested to be submitted to torture and physical abuse. To justify the arrests false evidence is used: the tendency has been to use premeditated crimes to repress forms of social protest (crimes of sedition, attacks on modes of communication, criminal association, kidnapping etc.) as in the case of Ignacio del Valle, Felipe Álvarez and Héctor Galindo, sentenced for the events in Atenco, or that of David Venegas and Flavio Sosa, accused and imprisoned for the events in Oaxaca; or even false accusations of possession of drugs or of arms, and on occasion other crimes like robbery, sexual aggression and possibly homicide. The logic behind all of this is to criminalise the members of social movements without allowing them to be considered political prisoners.
With the use of this logic, prison as a preventative measure becomes the most effective instrument. The CCIODH has confirmed this situation through interviews carried out in the prisons of Chiapas and Oaxaca with a total of 70 prisoners. This has not been the case in the prison of Molino de Flores y La Palma in the State of Mexico since, despite having requested it with sufficient notice, the CCIODH’s entry has not been made possible. Some cases concern maximum-security prisons in isolated locations where the rights of the prisoner are reducedto a minimum. This is exemplified by the situation lived out by the Sosa Villavicencio brothers, because of the events in Oaxaca, and also by that of Ignacio del Valle, Felipe Álvarez and Héctor Galindo, whose isolation continues even after they have been sentenced to 67 years in prison.
The CCIODH has repeatedly warned that the pattern of repression and harassment in matters regarding society’s demands does not only refer to the behaviour of different police, local, and federal bodies. The more and more active role of the Mexican army should also be listed. The current government clearly believes in reinforcing the prominence of the Army in persecuting drug trafficking and arms trafficking, as well as in border control.
In the case of Chiapas such reasons have been used to justify the military’s continued excessive presence although the armed rebellion led by the EZLN no longer provides enough reason for said presence. The CCIODH has collected, as in its previous visits, numerous complaints about how much this military presence affects everyday life in rural and indigenous communities. In other cases, such as those of Atenco and Oaxaca, the Army has also been present through its collaboration in operations coordinated with different security bodies.
On the other hand, the CCIODH regretfully verifies the continued existence of and the impunity of parapolice and paramilitary groups. In the case of Oaxaca, as noted in our previous report, numerous proofs show the existence of armed groups who, working with the police, participated in repressing social protest. Despite this and the force they used on the participants of the protests, the members of these groups have not even been either identified or sanctioned.
During its 6th visit the CCIODH also received formal complaints about similar groups – as much in urban areas as in rural municipalities and communities – linked to groups which have power on a local level, who wish to impose their tyranny, and whose activity favours governmental plans to divide and weaken communities. This goes on as much in Oaxaca as in Chiapas, where in certain zones its resurgence can be clearly detected. It is also worrying that attempts are still made to present these situations as conflicts between communities, as happened with the massacre of Acteal when that took place. In the case of Chiapas the CCIODH has received various statements which consistently point to the OPDDIC organisation as an active party in this paramilitary and parapolice logic.
The continuing impunity of public servants lies behind the spread of the above behaviour. In relation to the serious human rights violations in Atenco and Oaxaca during 2006, until the time of writing sanctions for the abuse of authority have been limited and have been fundamentally administrative in nature. Thus, at the moment, impunity is protecting those responsible for serious accusations of torture and sexual abuse related to the detentions in the case of Atenco. The cruelty and brutality towards the women who were detained should be remembered in particular. Remaining with this topic, it is unacceptable that the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic has declared the archive of investigations of deaths in the conflict of Oaxaca closed, meaning that the victims themselves are obliged to present their own evidence.
In 2007 there were new cases of extreme force used in police intervention in the repression of civil society’s freedom to hold meetings and to protest. A suitable example of this is the brutality with which the Guelaguetza protest of July 16 was broken up, almost resulting in the lives of Emeterio Marino Cruz and Raymundo Velasco being lost. The CCIODH feels that any preventative arrest and imprisonment of police agents has only been symbolic and has not shown any real change given the widespread breach of human rights which has been detected.
Another example of impunity can be found in the case of San Pedro Yosotatu, in the Mixteca mountains, whose inhabitants have reported, even pointing out the guilty parties, the deaths of 7 of their members – the last of whom died on December 24, 2007 – and the disappearance of another 3. The authorities have taken no action despite receiving formal complaints as well as evidence.
The CCIODH holds that providing help to victims of human rights violations by public servants can under no circumstances act as a substitute for legal action which must bring about justice and indicate the appropriate responsibilities of the law. Thus, as well as others who have acted similarly, the family of Alexis Benhumea, who died because of police intervention in Atenco, have refused to accept the money allocated to them. In the case of Acteal we also find the refusal of survivors and the board of directors of the community of Las Abejas to accept government proposals for economic reparation.
The penal system reforms introduced by the federal government make matters worse in that they facilitate the permanence of exceptional legislation and the legalisation of police practice which contravenes human rights. Thus it will be possible to carry out searches without a court order, to extend periods of no communication excessively, and to increase facilities for interfering with communication. In the case of the State of Chiapas the CCIODH is concerned by the introduction of ‘instigating violence’ as a new crime in that it could be applied to all social activities in protest situations.
The belief that public servants have in the extent of their impunity allows the dynamic of repression to spread, reaching beyond the fight against social mobilisation to possibly affect any citizen. This is exemplified by the cases of child abuse reported in Oaxaca which have until now not been dealt with sufficiently on the part of the authorities.
In the case of the massacre of Acteal, we can confirm that 10 years later impunity continues. The new state government’s creation of a specialised prosecution office for the case of Acteal has not made any significant progress in relation to impunity. The detention of those who are already sentenced for these events, the revision of already imposed administrative sanctions, or the signing of agreements with the community without recognition of the truth about the facts are simply political acts of a symbolic nature which are useless in the pursuit of justice.
The cases of relocation or of forced disappearances are also an expression of impunity, the responsibility for which cannot be ignored by any authority. The infrastructural and environmental projects which have been announced, and are common in the cases of Atenco, Oaxaca and Chiapas, will surely generate more cases of relocation. With respect to forced disappearances, 5 cases were reported in the State of Oaxaca in 2007 (the Triqui sisters Daniela and Virginia Ortiz Ramírez, as well as Lauro Juárez, Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Gabriel Alberto Cruz). Three more should be added to that list, the brothers Fabián and Omar López Díaz and Raymundo Jiménez Hernández disappearing in 2003 in the midst of the San Pedro Yosotatu conflict. In the case of Lauro Juárez, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has requested that the government of Mexico take urgent action to establish his whereabouts.
The CCIODH considers the disappearances as well as the lack of response on the part of the authorities to be extremely serious. If this continues we will find ourselves in an environment not far from that of the Dirty War of the 70s.
Impunity is supported by the existence of a judicial system which shows clear signs of incompetence and inefficiency as well as an obvious lack of willingness to put an end to it. In many cases, collusion with governing authorities has been obvious to say the least. Among other things there are examples of unjustified formal prison orders, penal procedures being opened without sufficient evidence, unnecessary delays, and cases being assigned to judges who are not predetermined by law.
The independence of judicial power, one of the essential pillars of democracy, is highly questionable. Dependence on governmental power can be explained in part by the system by which judges are appointed, especially when appointments are made directly. It can also be explained by other aspects such as the inexistence of a law of incompatibility with public positions which would prohibit, for example, the Government Secretary from having had the maximum judicial authority in Oaxaca for the last two terms of office. But aside from this, the lack of judicial independence is caused by a deeply-rooted culture of political favouritism which prevails in the appointment of public positions. Although said situation is especially relevant in state entities, it concerns the Judicial Power of the Federation to some extent too.
We are especially worried by the attitude of the law towards preventative imprisonment, which, as we have indicated, forms part of the pattern of repression in trials regarding social protest and organisation. In the three regions visited by the CCIODH there have been numerous cases in which people have been imprisoned for more than a year before being found not guilty without any responsibility being placed on the judges or any reparations being offered to the people affected.
The lack of independence of Judicial Power forms part of a widespread climate of distrust in institutions. Often the people see these institutions as a threat to their rights and interests rather than a guarantee of them. A lack of legitimacy affects the institutional system as a whole. The refusal of victims to denounce infringements or the avalanche of statements received by the CCIODH in its 6th visit provide clear testament to this.
In this context, the work of human rights defenders and defenders of means of communication is shown to be even more essential, if that is possible. Precisely because of this, both groups have suffered aggression and harassment in recent times. The case of Lydia Cacho again exemplifies this.
10 years after its first visit the CCIODH regretfully confirms that the structural causes behind the serious human rights infringements which have been acknowledged are still intact. All of the regions visited have a social situation which contains a profound dynamic of exclusion and inequality. Such a dynamic is especially prevalent in the case of women and of the rural and indigenous population, whose situation of social, economic, political and cultural marginalisation illustrates the context in which the aforementioned rights violations take place.
The alarming rates of poverty and marginalisation in the States of Chiapas and Oaxaca contrast greatly with the enormous cultural and ecological richness which can be found there. Thus the root of the problem is in the distribution and the control of resources which are basic for survival and the free development of the individual and of society. The situation has always been like this but in recent times it has been reinforced by the advance of neoliberal politics implemented by successive state and federal governments. In Chiapas cases like that of Bolom Ajaw in the region of Agua Azul, among many others, exemplify the logic of development projects which turn out to be counterproductive. Atenco also offers a clear example of the conflict between the model of development of the most directly affected communities on the one hand and that of the government and business groups on the other. In the case of Oaxaca, it is necessary to discuss conflicts like those which have come to pass and may come to pass in the region of Istmo. The CCIODH wishes to emphasise the responsibility of transnational economic groups (especially the European, American and Canadian presence) whose interests lead to appropriation and dispossession, both of which affect the people as a whole very negatively.
In this context it is worrying that communities who for centuries have kept watch over the preservation of natural resources are now being branded as the main ones responsible for environmental devastation. Such is the case of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, where indigenous communities are being threatened with mass relocation. Also the CCIODH has noted political use of access demands for access to land to implement programmes which not only guarantee said access and certainty of possession, but even promotes privatisation and rural emigration.
The CCIODH warns of the contradiction between governmental models of development and the construction of indigenous autonomies, especially Zapatista communities and their experience of the Good Government Committees. There are also other cases, like that of San Juan Copala in Oaxaca and the trial of the inhabitants of Atenco, which illustrate the same point. Rather than imposing politics which neglect the participation of those who would be affected and seek to divide the framework of the community, regional indigenous trials create their own room for social, economic and political participation, the strength of which overcomes institutional bureaucracy and challenges a profound dynamic of cultural domination currently still in force.
The CCIODH can verify the absence of institutional activity with respect to the minimal measures necessary for comprehensive reparation for harm done individually and collectively in the cases of serious infringements of human rights, as in the events of Acteal, Atenco and Oaxaca.
The CCIODH understands that the absence of mechanisms for reparation on the part of institutions prolongs their neglect and their inability to provide help. The CCIODH is also concerned to observe the harassment and the threats – against the members and social activists which form part of organised civil society – which stop trials from being channelled and wounds from healing.
Exile and secrecy, which has been repeated in Mexico in the framework of the context described, worsen such situations, not only for the person affected but in the context of the family and the community.
In this respect, the importance of the collective responses to harassment should be noted. Thus, it is worth mentioning experiences inside prisons (‘La Voz de los Llanos’ and ‘La Voz del Amate’) and the sit-in protesters who from the first moment demanded liberty for political prisoners in the case of Atenco and who serve as examples of community strength and solidarity.
It remains essential to address the deepest causes of the conflict. These are structural problems which cause poverty, political tyranny, inequality of access to resources, subordination of women, lack of provision for education, health and housing, absence of channels for democratic participation, and lack of understanding of cultural diversity as a basis for social coexistence.
Respecting the people’s own forms of development – formswhich are especially strong in territories where indigenous communities are present – and abandoning projects which are not approved by the people affected constitutes the first step in resolving some of the most serious current conflicts. The project of the international airport in Atenco, as with any other project, should only be undertaken if based on dialogue with, the full participation of and the consent of the area’s inhabitants. Without meeting such conditions, which at the moment remain totally unmet, the circumstances in which the conflict has its origins will be repeated.
The only way of avoiding the regeneration of an environment in which human rights infringements occur is by addressing the original causes of the conflict. Responding to protests in a just and appropriate manner and respecting organisational processes themselves must be the starting point for any action taken by public authorities.
The total dismantling of the model of repression against expressions of social, cultural and political dissent cannot be postponed.
The action of different bodies and forces of State security must yield in practice, and not just officially, to constitutional and international regulations in matters of human rights. Based on this is the demand for the relevant aspects of the penal reform presented by the federal government to be comprehensively reconsidered.
This constitutes an urgent need to reduce and control the role of the Army so that it is strictly limited to its constitutional functions, avoiding at all costs any impact on life in the community and any participation in the repression of social mobilisation.
Immediate proceedings must be undertaken to disarm paramilitary and parapolice groups as well as to demand the bringing to justice of their members and the political, police and military authorities which have promoted, helped and tolerated them.
It is essential to assure that the public servants who have carried out any practice infringing on human rights are brought to justice. Maintained impunity – commonplace and uncorrected in the cases of Atenco, Oaxaca and Chiapas at the time of writing – not only calls into question the legitimacy of the authorities, not only increases the distrust that citizens have for institutions, but is the main cause for abuses of power continuing to spread.
The State’s recognition of, correction of, and reparation for the abuses committed cannot be postponed. To this end, acceptance of political responsibility is requested. Until now the situation is still very different: Mr. Eduardo Medina Mora, who was Federal Secretary of Public Security when the events of Atenco took place, has been Attorney General of the Republic since December 2006.
It is equally urgent for the State Attorney’s Offices and the General of the Republic to file all the procedures in which accusations are based on the aforementioned patterns of repression, as well as to review the situation of deprivation of liberty of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in the prisons of Chiapas, Oaxaca and in the State of Mexico, and in all cases immediately grant them the rights they are entitled to as prisoners. Aside from the need to revise the sentences given to prisoners linked to political conflicts, the CCIODH considers it absolutely unjustifiable that Ignacio del Valle, Felipe Álvarez and Héctor Galindo remain in isolation in a maximum security prison, especially bearing in mind the irregularities of their trial.
The CCIODH considers it vitally important for the investigations – which are currently open and could lead to public servants being brought to justice –to be carried out with total impartiality, transparency and rigour. This regards the special trials which the Supreme Court of Justice knows about in the cases of Atenco and Oaxaca, and the lawsuit for crimes against humanity which is being conducted by the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic in the case of Oaxaca.
An immediate and deep-rooted reform of the State of the Mexican Republic’s institutions must be undertaken starting with its constitutional formation. The reform must extend to electoral processes as well as ensuring an effective division of powers. In the case of Oaxaca the full respect of systems based on old customs – the neglect of which on the part of state authorities causes serious conflicts – is urgent.
One of the main priorities is to ensure a real and effective division between judicial and governmental power. With this in mind there is an urgent need for a revision of the system by which judges are appointed in order to ensure independence, impartiality and robustness, as well as the establishment, where it does not yet exist, of a system of public support which ensures access based on merit and ability. A law of incompatibility of positions to avoid interference between powers is also necessary. Equally, its true accessibility must be ensured, as well as a quality court-appointed defence department and the presence of reliable translators who can guarantee the linguistic rights of indigenous people. Finally, the victims must be allowed partake in judicial trials in order to overcome the monopoly of the public ministry.
Said reform of institutions also contributes, as a condition for the construction of a truly inclusive democracy, to the full recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and especially to their right to self-determination. The San Andrés agreements, ignored by the constitutional reform of 2001, must be seen as a starting point, as well as the proposals presented in the Universal declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Communities, approved by the United Nations in 2007. Mexico must incorporate in its regulations the rights recognised in this Declaration in accordance with its political obligation. To this end, there is an urgent need to give regulatory force to provisions like that of article 32.2, with respect to the obligation which States have to consult indigenous communities ‘in order to obtain their free and informed consent before approving any project which may affect their land or territory and other resources, particularly in relation to development, the use or the exploitation of mineral resources, water resources, or resources of other kinds.’
While Judicial Powers remain unable to ensure their full independence of Political Powers, the CCIODH urges civil society to continue with organisational processes in defence of rights and freedoms and to put into action all mechanisms of international protection of human rights, especially those of the Inter-American system and the UN system. The Government of Mexico must respect and promote said instruments, as well as facilitate the conditionsnecessary for human rights organisations to continue to contribute their assessments in these matters.
The CCIODH considers it a priority for the institutions of the European Union to implement as quickly as possible the mechanisms which allow the meeting of the requirements of the democratic clause included in the Global Agreement with the Republic of Mexico to be monitored.
The CCIODH, as it did in its last visit, again asks the federal and state government to insist on the presence of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Oaxaca.
Equally the system of appointment and the type of functions which state and national human rights commissions carry out must be revised in order to increase confidence in their work.
Whilst impunity remains the rule rather than the exception, as we continue to be reminded 10 years after the Acteal massacre, the CCIODH considers it necessary and appropriate to turn to the mechanisms for imparting justice outside the Mexican State in order to move forward in the fight against impunity in cases of serious breaches of human rights. With this in mind, the CCIODH considers the lawsuit of Cristina Valls to be of enormous relevance. Presented in Spain before the high court against 40 officers of the Federal Preventative police of the State of Mexico and the municipality of Texcoco, the case concerns psychological, physical and sexual tortures suffered during the events of Atenco in 2006.
The CCIODH considers it essential to provide reparation for individual and collective harm caused in cases of mass and serious infringements of human rights such as those of Acteal, Atenco and Oaxaca. This means moving forward in bringing about justice, which as we have already indicated in previous reports can be done through the adoption of reparation measures agreed to by the people who are affected and must include as a minimum:
Moral reparation. Restitution of the honour of the victims through official recognition of the unjust and degrading treatment they have suffered and of the harm that being considered criminals has done to their private and public image.
Emotional reparation for the people affected. Provide every means possible so that the community as a whole and the people and families affected in particular receive the appropriate medical and psychological attention where necessary from professionals they can trust. The CCIODH again recommends the creation of emotional and psychological support networks for the people affected in different conflicts. For this reason the CCIODH insists on creating places where the grief of the people affected can be resolved.
Reparation for harm done to the community through programmes for the reconstruction of social networks. These must not under any circumstances be turned into tools of division and confrontation through programmes or systems of conditional help or pressure through false agreements. To guard against this the CCIODH recommends the monitoring of the programmes by independent national or international entities. The CCIODH understands the political agreement on human rights and because of this invites the institutions of the country which work in this line of defence of fundamental rights to seek transparency and to create safe areas where offended parties can feel secure so that various psycho emotional traumas can be overcome. The CCIODH encourages the citizens of Mexico to continue participating in community life, with a constructive attitude and one of social transformation, as a way of working towards the recovery of a collective conscience. We understand that participation in the social movements of the country contributes to creating a climate of trust in the midst of open conflicts.
Economic reparation. Reparation for damages suffered (economic, in education and in health, and others) as a consequence of the violence and especially those derived from the loss of jobs as a consequence of acts of violence and of subsequent harassment.
Legal reparation. Trials for justice with the punishment of acts which have been legally established as criminal. Without real and effective justice, any reparative measure is incomplete.
Social reparation. Identify the mechanisms which guarantee that there are no limits to individual or collective use of civic responsibility, social participation and politics. Social reconstruction invariably comes about through active and committed participation of citizens in community life.
Historic reparation. Recognition of the truth in order to create a sense of collective memory which will prevent the occurrence of similar situations in the future.
Mexico City, February 19, 2008.