Fifty-sixth session
Agenda item 15

Oral Presentation by Adam Branch


International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project has long been involved in promoting a peaceful resolution to the Civil War in Chiapas, Mexico, and we are committed to seeing the end of the grave human rights violations perpetrated by Mexico's security forces against the indigenous people of that state. This struggle for justice and autonomy, led by the indigenous Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, or EZLN), is based in hundreds of communities comprising a large section of eastern Chiapas. While concentrating their attention on these communities, the EZLN peacefully supports indigenous autonomy throughout Mexico. In contrast, the response of the Mexican government has been military terror and political deception.

IED/HLP welcomes the recent visits to Chiapas by Special Rapporteur Asma Jahangir, Sub-Commission Member Erica-Irene Daes, and High Commissioner Mary Robinson, although we are disappointed that they were unable to visit the communities most damaged by the conflict. Two of the recommendations that grew out of their visits are: first, the demilitarization of Chiapas including the end of the "official indulgence" enjoyed by paramilitary groups; and second, the renewal of talks between the Mexican government and the EZLN. It is imperative that these be implemented if the war against the indigenous communities of Chiapas is to be resolved with justice and dignity.

The need for demilitarization is clear. Right now there are 70,000 federal troops stationed at 266 bases in Chiapas, and at least 15 distinct paramilitary organizations operate in the state, threatening, detaining, torturing, and even murdering EZLN sympathizers, often in cooperation with state security forces. All this goes on in spite of the 1994 Cease-fire, the 1995 Law for Dialogue, and a Constitutional injunction.

Our assessment in Chiapas verifies a marked deterioration of human rights in 1999. In response to the overwhelming success of the EZLN's National Referendum for the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (Consulta Nacional para los Derechos de los Pueblos Indios) in March, the government began a more extensive military campaign on June 4th with a 700-troop assault on the community of Nazareth. The soldiers are still there, living in the primary school. Incursions into many other villages and municipalities followed, with over 10,000 new troops being positioned in the Lacandón Jungle. The wave of violence culminated with the August 14th siege of Amador Hern·ndez and the August 25th attack by the Federal Army on peacefully protesting Tojolabal villagers in San José La Esperanza.

Despite the assurances the High Commissioner received during her visit in November, the violence has continued unabated. Incursions, by public security forces, paramilitaries, and the Federal Army, sometimes jointly, have taken place over the last two months in the communities of Nicolas Ruiz, Nachajev, JerusalÈn, San Andrés Sakamch'en, and San Gerónimo Tulij·. And, we have submitted to Madame Jahangir the cases of the summary executions of four indigenous men in Chavajeval this year.

Demilitarization of Chiapas can best be achieved by following the second recommendation of the three UN officials, namely the revival of talks between the Mexican Government and the EZLN. The Government accuses the EZLN of obstructing the deadlocked talks, but, as the High Commissioner recognized, often an "abyss" exists between "what is said [by Mexico] and the reality on the ground." We have consistently chronicled Mexico's duplicity in the peace process, as they pay lip service to the ideal of dialogue while undermining the very possibility of meetings in good faith.

The San Andrés Accords (Acuerdos de San Andrés) between the Mexican Government and the EZLN gave the promise of both peace in Chiapas and indigenous autonomy throughout Mexico when they were signed on February 16, 1996. The Government, unfortunately, made no move to implement the Accords, and faced with increasing militarization, the EZLN had to suspend the dialogue. The EZLN's conditions for re-opening the dialogue are simple: the fulfillment of the Accords and the cessation of military hostilities. Until these conditions-already agreed to four years ago by both parties-are met, the Government's new calls for dialogue have no credibility. This obvious truth seems lost on Mexican officials, such as the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, whose recent presentation to the Commission ignored the question entirely. And the Government's highly-touted but illusory 1999 proposal, "One More Step to Solve the Conflict in Chiapas," does not even mention the military presence in the state.

The proposed Technical Assistance Program between the UNHCHR and Mexico is encouraging. However, it must become effective to avoid being yet one more hollow phrase in the Government's empty rhetoric of peace. We call upon the Commission, first, to support the visit of a Needs Evaluation Mission to establish the terms of the agreement. Next, the courageous Mexican NGOs, who were the first to bring the problem to the attention of the UN, should be involved in the commencement of the Program. Other important factors include further visits by rapporteurs and the appointment of an Independent Expert on Mexico. These new measures, along with the long-overdue demilitarization of Chiapas and the fulfillment of the San Andrés Accords, are the real 'steps' to a just and lasting peace in Chiapas.


Militarization and Indigenous Life: Daily troop movements, combined with the omnipresent roadblocks, harassment, ground patrols, overflights by planes and helicopters, searches, interrogations, physical attacks, and the constant possibility of armed incursions, all conspire to create a massive psychological and physical pressure on the indigenous communities. Many communities have been completely displaced after army incursions or from the threat that the army presented. When the army enters an indigenous community, it is common practice for them to install themselves in the local school, hospital, or civic building, rendering it unusable for the local population. As U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush stated after a visit to the indigenous communities of Chiapas in June 1998, "When schools are converted into barracks, democracy is a farce."

Militarization and Indigenous Women: Indigenous women bear a disproportionate part of the violence that has resulted from the militarization of Chiapas. There has been extensive documentation of the alarming increase in the incidence of rapes, prostitution and domestic violence brought into the indigenous areas along with the military bases. The concomitant disruption of family and community values has further placed women in jeopardy. Indigenous women often cannot go to the river to bathe for fear of being raped by soldiers, and men cannot go to their fields for fear of what might happen during their absence. But women have also been at the forefront of the resistance. Women and children have repeatedly used their bodies to keep military convoys out of their communities. With babies wrapped in shawls, the mothers, daughters, sisters, and grandmothers of Tojolabal, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, and Chol ethnicities have yelled "Get the army out of our villages!"-without the government ever listening. Most recently, on March 8, 2000, International Women's Day, thousands of Zapatista women filled the streets of San CristÛbal de Las Casas, demanding an end to the military presence. To everyone's surprise, they peacefully occupied the offices of the government radio station, and, for one hour, their voices were heard as they demanded the removal of all Federal Army troops and security forces from the state.

Militarization and the Environment: There has been much information of late concerning the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in Chiapas, including transgenetic maize. Mexico, unlike most European countries, has no official policy on these products, and has thus opened itself up to their widespread and unmonitored use. The concerns about their use, particularly in an environment like Chiapas with small, closely cropped parcels, are legitimate and various. Another issue has been that of bio-prospecting and bio-piracy, especially in the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. The historical pattern of biotech companies prospecting and patenting biological products acquired from indigenous lands, is clearly being repeated in Chiapas. CIEPAC, the internationally highly regarded economic and political research organization based in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, has done seminal work on all the above issues.

Militarization and the Indigenous Economy: Mexican Government officials proudly declare that Chiapas had received more development funds than any other state in Mexico, proof of their will to resolve the massive poverty in Chiapas. However, the way in which these funds are allotted makes it clear that they are merely a part of the counterinsurgency. Funds are given solely to those who support the government, or else are used as bribes to bring people out of the Zapatistas or other oppositional groups. This promotes fractures within the communities, in violation of the 1995 Law for Dialogue. Funds are also used to construct roads for military use, completely disregarding the communities' needs, as is the case in Amador Hernández. The military presence has in many places replaced traditional productive patterns with a service economy catering to the needs of the military camps. Furthermore, the hundreds of roadblocks set up throughout the state keep people from bringing their goods to market or purchasing needed items in town.

Militarization and the Internally Displaced: While the Mexican Government desperately tries to cover up the war it is waging in Chiapas against its own indigenous peoples, indisputable testimony as to the severity of the unilateral operation is given in the refugee crisis the state is currently undergoing. Forced to flee from their homes as a result of both military and paramilitary action, usually in conjunction, over 20,000 indigenous persons survive as best they can in refugee camps, neighboring communities, or simply in the wilderness, waiting until the reign of violence ends and they can return to their homes. The refugee camps are health and environmental disaster areas, but even so the paramilitaries continue their threats and attacks in order to impede any humanitarian aid or medical help from reaching the refugees. The situation continues to deteriorate.