UNITED NATIONS
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Fifty-fifth session
Agenda item 15

Rights of Indigenous Peoples: The Situation in Chiapas

Oral Presentation by Randy Vasquez,
Monday, April 19, 1999.

International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project has been exceptionally concerned about the war in Chiapas, Mexico - a war against the Indigenous peoples of the Tojolabal, Tzotzil, Tzeltzal, Chole and Zoque communities. Since the end of the main military actions by the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (the EZLN) and the Mexican Federal Army in 1994, a dirty war has been carried out against these Indigenous peoples.

The EZLN has called for a political solution to the situation, yet the government has stormed the area with tens of thousands of soldiers and has occupied Indigenous schools and villages. Roads and highways are cut off. Many Indigenous peoples accused of being sympathizers of the EZLN are arrested, tortured and even killed. These Indigenous people are in a crisis situation, with harvests destroyed and hunger plaguing them.

There are now 70,000 military forces in Chiapas - almost one third of the Mexican Army. In addition, the State Public Security Forces, the Judicial State and Federal Police and the Migration Police, combined with the military, have a total of more than 239 bases in Chiapas alone. The purpose of this overwhelming presence is to intimidate the Indigenous population in Chiapas, and to disperse them from their traditional areas. The trigger-happy army, and the paramilitary forces that function with the acquiescence of the military forces, have been responsible for some of the worst massacres of Indigenous peoples in this century: Acteal; Chavajebal; Union Progreso; San Juan de la Libertad will ring in our ears far into the next millenium. The more than 20,000 Indigenous peoples forced to leave their traditional homes for camps leave behind them unspeakable humanitarian and human rights law violations.

In spite of the oppression, the Indigenous peoples in the area have organized themselves into 32 Autonomous Municipalities, basing their authority on International Labour Organization Convention 169, signed by Mexico, which recognizes the right of Indigenous communities to live according to their traditional ways. This right is also a fundamental part of the San Andres Accords, signed by the EZLN and the government of Mexico on February 16, 1996. However, the government of Mexico began to undertake military and other actions against the indigenous peoples and these Autonomous Municipalitiies as soon as they were formed, and, since 1998, has launched a major offensive against them. By the end of 1998, many had been killed, thousands displaced, over 100 jailed and over 200 international observers expelled. For example, on April 11, 1998, the Mexican authorities dismantled the Autonomous Municipality of Ricardo Flores Magon. Human rights workers were expelled. A military encampment and police checkpoint have been placed in the center of the community. The village men fled to the mountains. In June 1998, another village was under siege by the Mexican authorities. The villagers encircled the town with a human barricade, subsequently overrun by charging soldiers. Twenty-one men and one woman were arrested and held at Cerro Hueco prison, the last 8 until October.

Just two weeks ago (April 7, 1999), the Mexican authorities siezed San Andres Sacamch'en, but the next day (April 8) 3000 Tzotzil Indians successfully retook their town. We have just found out that on April 11, Mexican authorities began attacks on camps of displaced Indians in Polho, where more than 10,000 have sought shelter. The authorities cut the electricity in Tila in the north. Military convoys have been seen rolling into the area. At this time, we are not certain what will happen, but we fear the worst.

It is imperative that the commission address the situation of the Indigenous peoles of Mexico. Accordingly, we urge a resolution appointing a Special Rapporteur on the overall situation of human rights in Mexico in general, and the situation of the Indian communities in particular.

The Commission receives overwhelming evidence each year of the serious violations of the rights of Indigenous peoples in other countries as well; murders, rapes, displacements, seizures and contamination of Indian lands due to petroleum exploitation and other operations for the financial gain of the non-Indian perpetrators. Indigenous representatives have been diligent in their investigation and presentation of these and other atrocities befalling their people and have made many constructive recommendations on how to best address these violations. We urge the Commission to implement these suggestions, especially the recommendation that the Commission appoint a Special Rapporteur for Indigenous peoples. In solidarity with Indigenous organizations, we also urge the establishment of a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples at the highest level of the United Nations system.


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