March 22 - April 28, 1999
Palais des Nations, Geneva Franciscans International and the Dominicans wish to draw to the attention of the Commission on Human Rights to the lack of real improvement in the condition of indigenous peoples since the beginning of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. One of the key objectives of the Decade is the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and their empowerment to make choices which enable them to retain their cultural identity. The situation of misery and exclusion of indigenous peoples in Latin America remains one of the most serious and unresolved human rights issues.

A negative vision has been shaped over the centuries of indigenous peoples and this should be addressed with seriousness during the International Decade. Additionally, some governments still consider indigenous people as an obstacle to national development. For example, Mexico adopted integration policies for assimilating indigenous peoples, not understanding their vision of the world, their harmonious relation with nature, their values, their historic memory and their projects for the future. Violent responses to the indigenous efforts to organize in a struggle for a dignified life have added to the situation of structural injustice.

Further, the implementation of national development models based on the exploitation of natural resources and the economic dependencies on the outside have led to the dispossession of indigenous lands, their exploitation and marginalization. Evicted from their own territory, under the pretext of development projects from which they did not benefit, the indigenous were forced to migrate to the cities where they suffer misery, discrimination and the uprooting from their community. Further, the political systems have traditionally excluded indigenous participation and representation in the power structure, at various levels, not recognizing indigenous political institutions.

The indigenous rebellion in Chiapas, in 1994, demonstrated that a large gap exists between recognized rights and experienced rights of indigenous peoples. On January 1, 1994, the indigenous people entered on the national political scene as a principal actor in defining their future. This led to negotiations with indigenous leaders and the government which were unique in the history of Central America. Following negotiations moderated by the National Mediation Commission (CONAI), the government signed the San Andres Accords with the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) which recognized the rights and the culture of indigenous peoples. The accords were signed by the most representative indigenous organizations in Mexico and also presented a commitment made by the government with all indigenous peoples in Mexico. The Accords incorporated Indigenous rights in the federal Constitution of Mexico. The federal government of Mexico undertook to fulfill the following promises:

  • To recognize indigenous peoples in the general Constitution.
  • To increase political participation and representation.
  • To guarantee full access to justice.
  • To promote cultural manifestations of indigenous peoples.
  • To ensure education and training.
  • To guarantee the satisfaction of the basic necessities.
  • To stimulate production and employment.
  • To protect indigenous migrants.

Also the federal government committed itself to five fundamental principals to regulate the State’s actions in its new relationship with indigenous peoples: pluralism, sustainability, integrality, participation and self determination.

It is obvious that the government did not intend to implement the accords it had signed. Rather, the government made a counter proposal that was adopted by the Mexican Congress against the wishes of the EZLN. In view of the Mexican government’s unwillingess to continue serious dialogue with indigenous peoples, the National Mediation Commission dissolved and the President of the Commission Bishop Dom Samuel Ruiz resigned stating that government harassment had made his job impossible.

In additon to the non recognition of indigenous rights in the Mexican Constitution, the low intensity warfare continues its pace, with the consequent increase in human rights violations against thousands of indigenous persons in the State of Chiapas and elsewhere.

Franciscans International and Dominicans urge:

  1. The Commission to give priority attention to the systematic violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples in Latin America, especially in Mexico.
  2. The government of Mexico to respect the human rights of indigenous peoples and to honor the San Andres Accords which it signed.

45 displaced, adults and children, live in houses of 15 by 5 meters1.
This situation causes multiple problems, practical as well as emotional. There is no space for the daily activities or for the children to play or run freely. The adults complain about feeling imprisoned.
In many cases the houses´ walls are made out of plastic that let in the wind, cold and rain. The fireplaces are on the earthen floors exposed to the humidity and thus making cooking much more difficult.

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The right to work is established in Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico, article 50 and 123 and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 23.1.

The work in the indigenous communities is working the land, the earth is what maintains the family. The displaced men generally cannot go to work because their fields are in “paramilitary territory” where they fear for their lives. The impossibility to work and maintain the family causes feelings of anguish and impotence, especially in the family fathers. On the other hand, members of the communities that expelled and plundered are harvesting the products of the displaced.

In the municipality of Chenalhó coffee picking brigades were organized to avoid that the members of the group Las Abejas would lose their harvest again as they did in the 1997/1998 season. These brigades were organized by the National Human Rights Commission, the Mexican Red Cross and this Human Rights Center. The Rights to protection of Health is established in the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico, article 40 and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 25.1.

The percentage of first grade malnutrition in the indigenous population under 17 years in Chiapas is 51 % and 80% of the inhabitants of the Jungle and the Highlands suffer from some grade of malnutrition. In comparison with the United States of America where infant mortality is at 8 for every 1000 live births, in Chiapas this number is 55 to 65.
Because of the unhealthy conditions in the displacement camps, this situation becomes worse. In the majority of the camps there is not enough running water, the lack of pots and firewood makes boiling the water difficult and therefore there are many cases of gastrointestinal, parasitical, diarretical and infectional diseases.
The houses do not protect enough from the elements which causes diseases like pneumonia, flues and serious colds. The lack of winter clothes and shoes especially for the children worsens these respiratory diseases.
The change and lack of food and the unbalanced diet produce malnutrition and illnesses. In Masojá Yoshijá, municipality of Tila, almost all the children’s bellies are inflated.
In Acteal, the latrines were made for the short term, which means that after more than a year they are in a terrible state of hygiene.
In Polhó, in the 13 months after the Acteal massacre thus situation has caused the death of at least one person per week.2
Frequently we can observe cases were the illnesses have psychological roots which begin with events of high tension. The emotional load is so large that in many cases it is expressed with psychosomatic diseases.
In the municipality of Chenalhó during the coffee picking, the testimonials refer to pain in different parts of the body because of the high tension of being in the home communities again with only minimal security conditions.
One alarming case of mental health problems are the orphans in the municipality of Tila whose parents died at the hands of Paz y Justicia members. The family members feel incapable to care for them and the orphans themselves suffer the permanent reminders of their pain and the feeling of being a burden to the family. There is no strategy of psychological attention for these victims of the low intensity warfare3.
Some communities try to solve these health problems by capacitating health promoters. The group Las Abejas is organizing a network of promoters as well as the autonomous municipality Polhó. However, these efforts confront serious obstacles for the lack of resources.

The right to education is established in the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico, article 3 and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 26.1.

The illiteracy rate in the municipalities with high a percentage of indigenous population ranges from 29% (Palenque) and 49% (Sabanilla) in children between 6 and 14 years of age and between 27% (Palenque) and 54 % (El Bosque y Tumbalá) in people older than 15 years4.
In the displacement camps in Chenalhó children do not receive classes. For two years now, there are no teachers, no materials, no space for a school. The children’s passivity inhibits their integral, physical and psychomotoric development and their process of academic growth is halted. According to the parents in Acteal, the children cannot recover from the pain of the massacre because they don’t attend school or activities to distract them.
The education in the displaced communities in the northern zone is irregular due to the constant inattendance of the teachers who on occasions belong to the group SOCAMA (Solidaridad Campesino Magisterial), and according to the displaced serve as informants for the paramilitaries5.
In Xoyep, Acteal, Polhó and in the camps in San Cristóbal different people organize weekly artistic or game activities for the children. However, these efforts cannot replace the formal education of the children.

Chapter 6
Evaluation and Conclusions

The new governmental offensive after the Acteal massacre had contributed to making the situation in Chiapas more and more complex and dangerous. Some moments forewarned about the reinitiation of open hostilities with armed confrontations. The attacks by the Mexican Army against the villages in El Bosque represented the peak of this escalation. The national and international reaction influenced towards a change in the course of the actions and the new strategy in the low intensity warfare. The state’s force was concentrated in reducing the opposition’s spaces in the municipalities: the opposition lost various important municipalities on the war map, among them Ocosingo, Altamirano, Bochil, Chilón and Huitiupán.
The natural disasters on the coast as well as the return to actions in the context of the low intensity warfare helped lifting the image of the human rights situation in Chiapas. The Interamerican Commission on Humans Rights (CIDH) published their report at the end of last year in which it states: The Mexican State is responsible for human rights violations committed by state agents in exercise of their functions. … The State can also be made responsible internationally if it omits to adopt the necessary measures to prevent the mentioned acts and it is responsible for repairing damages via compensation for the victims.
The patterns of violence and human rights violations from years back are being repeated, especially the impunity with all its mechanisms of complicity. One of the basic elements of impunity is the intent to erase the collective memory of the crimes. The law initiative of Chiapas´ governor Roberto Albores which proposes to grant amnesty to “armed civilian groups” is immoral. Colombia applied this method with the legal decrees 199 y 2034 in 1987. Today in this country the law establishes that the members of the paramilitary groups who turn themselves in to the authorities do not have to confess their crimes nor declare to help clarify them.
The intolerance in society is a time bomb easily activated in the context of the war. The intolerance and cover up of the truth are not only aberrations, but also fundamental weapons to feed the war. The militarization has continued and expanded, especially in the period of this report.
We join in the recommendations of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights which urge for the presence of a special human rights relater by the UN.

  • We consider indispensable to typify the paramilitarization and the actions of the paramilitaries as a crime.
  • We join the recommendation of the CIDH to the Mexican Government, in the numeral 704 which rules to combat effectively the armed civilian groups.
  • It is urgent that the Congress approves the COCOPA law about the Indian peoples and the implementation of the San Andrés Accords.
  • We reiterate the demand, not only legal, but ethical, to continue the impartial investigations of the Acteal massacre case.
  • It is the State’s task to promote a culture of tolerance in all of its aspects.
  • The formation of a National Commission for the Displaced that assures the conditions for safe returns.

1 Reporte de observadores, septiembre de 1998

2 La Jornada, 19 de enero, P. 8, H. Bellinghausen

3 CDHFBC, trabajo de campo, enero 1999

4 Censo de la secretaría de hacienda de noviembre 1995.

5 CDHFBC, trabajo de campo, enero, 1999

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UN Commission on Human Rights: Fifty-fifth session
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UN Commission on Human Rights: Fifty-fifth session