Agenda item No. 16a

Joint Statement by Franciscans International, Pax Romana and International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project

Delivered by Diana Rodriguez


Thank you Madame Chairperson and Members of the Commission.

We wish to draw the Commission's attention to resolution 1998/4 of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, regarding developments in the situation in Mexico.

In this resolution, the Sub-Commission requests the Mexican authorities to attach the highest priority to:

First, "combating the impunity of perpetrators of serious human rights violations, especially those suffered by numerous members of the indigenous populations.'

Since this resolution was made, the Mexican government has, in fact, taken important steps in the opposite direction. Earlier this year the Governor of Chiapas introduced his "Comprehensive Disarmament Act." This law, by granting amnesty, as well as agrarian credits, for those persons handing in weapons, ensures that members of paramilitary groups responsible for such heinous crimes as the massacres of Acteal and El Bosque, will continue to benefit from inpunity.

The grave human rights abuses against indigenous peoples in Mexico, which provoked the resolution of the Sub-Commission, continue unabated. During this session of the Commission on Human Rights, the Mexican authorities have launched three operations against indigenous communities in the state of Chiapas.

On the 7th of April, 300 police officers and supporters of the governing party siezed the municipality of San Andres, which has been self-governed by indigenous peoples (in accordance with ILO Convention 169) since 1995.

On the 10th and 11th of April, the Federal Army conducted operations in the communities of Tila and Sabanilla, allegedly to search for two unlicensed firearms. These operations, described by community members as "provocations," resulted in the arbitrary detention of five youths. To our knowledge they remain in detention as we speak.

On the 13th of April, heavily armed soldiers entered a camp of internally displaced indigenous persons in Polho, harassing and intimidating men, women and children gathered there.

The second request of the Sub-Commission was that the Mexican authorities should promote "the action of human rights defenders and guarantee their safety."

Three days ago, the office of one of our Mexican colleagues, present here today, was attacked. The indigenous organization he represents was evicted from the premises they have occupied for the past six years in Oaxaca state.

The Director of a second human rights organization in the same state of Oaxaca, is currently threatened with death for his involvement in the defence of 300 citizens who had been detained for their involvement in protests at electoral fraud in the municipality of Santiago Itayutla late last year.

Furthermore, international human rights observers continue to face deportation or rejection of visas to enter the country on the premise of an archaic constitutional article which dictates that the President can expel any foreigner he deems inconvenient, and without a prior hearing.

The third request made by the Sub-Commission is that the parties to the conflict in Chiapas "resume the process favouring dialogue."

In its intervention at this Commission meeting under item 11, the Mexican government alluded to its political will to find a peaceful soltion to the conflict, by describing the consultation with civil society organised by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, the EZLN. The Government delegate spoke of the "unrestricted freedom of movement, association and expression throughout the country" enjoyed by the EZLN representatives, and stated that "Not in all parts of the world can similar cases of respect, freedom and tolerance in the absence of peace accords be witnessed."

The delegate overlooked several important events. EZLN representatives were detained as they attempted to participate in the consultation in the state of Jalisco. In the states of Durango and Guerrero, representatives faced harassment and death threats.

Neither does the Mexican Government's insistence on its desire for a negotiated peace sit well with the facts of the military machinery in place in the conflict zone. Following the Acteal massacre of 45 indigenous men, women and children in December 1997, which galvanised international concern for the human rights situation in Mexico, 5000 military officers were deployed to the Chiapas region, adding to the already 70,000-strong presence. In this region, which is predominately indigenous, there is one soldier for every three inhabitants.

Finally, the Sub-Commission "Requests the Commission on Human Rights, in the interest of prevention, to consider at its next session the developments in the human rights situation in Mexico..."

We ask the Commission to respond seriously and urgently to this recommendation of the Sub-Commission. Action must be taken now to avoid a dramatic downturn in the respect shown for human rights in Mexico. Clearly, the most appropriate measure for the Commission to take is to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Mexico. At the very least, this 55th Session of the Commission should receive a public confirmation of dates of invitations to relevant special procedures to visit Mexico.

Thank you for your attention.