1998 | 50th Regular Session of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights

Human rights of indigenous peoples in Mexico

August 3 – 28, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Franciscans International in collaboration with the Dominicans remain concerned about the progress made during the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous people in advancing of the rights of indigenous peoples. One of the objectives of the International Decade is the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous people and their empowerment to make choices which enable them to retain their cultural identity

In her report Indigenous People an their relationship to the Land presented at last year’s Sub-Commission, the Special Rapporteur Mrs. Erica-Irene Daes stated the following: “The gradual deterioration of indigenous societies can be traced to the non-recognition of the profound relationship that indigenous peoples have to their lands, territories and resources, as well as the lack of recognition of other fundamental rights…That indigenous societies are in a state of rapid deterioration and change is due to the denial of the rights of indigenous peoples to land, territories and resources.” There are a number of examples where this situation continues to exist and where indigenous peoples’ survival and lives are being threatened. The situation of indigenous people in Mexico remains of grave concern to Franciscans International and the Dominicans. The situation of indigenous people is worsening in three States of Mexico: Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca. In a press release dated June 12, 1998, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mrs. Mary Robinson reported on the situation in Chiapas: “I have been following with mounting concern the situation of human rights in the Chiapas region of Mexico. News reports and almost daily submissions from representatives of the indigenous groups an non-governmental organizations indicate an alarming deterioration over the past several days. These reports paint a grim picture of an atmosphere of fear among the indigenous people of Chiapas caught between government forces supported by officially funded militias on the one side and armed resistance groups on the other.” In addition, Mrs. Robinson deplored the death of nine people in an action by government forces in the town of San Juan de la Liberdad as the latest in the a string of violent incidents in a region already affected by widespread displacement, dispossession and severe poverty. The High Commissioner then declared that these are serious violations of the rights of indigenous peoples. San Andres Accords
These events follow the failure of the government to conclude agreements with the indigenous people of Mexico. We consider that the government of Mexico has missed an opportunity for a precedent setting example by not implementing the San Andres Accords. The event which prompted the meetings leading to the Accords was the uprising in January 1994 by the Zapatista Liberation Army. The war was stopped after 10 days with great pressure from within Mexico and from the international community The government appointed the Bishop of San Cristobal Bishop Dom Samuel Ruiz since they knew that he was a person that indigenous people in the region could trust. Dom Samuel conducted negotiations with the EZLN representatives and government representatives who stayed in the Bishop’s house during the talks. The negotiations were unique in the history of Central America. They produced proposals from the government which were taken to the indigenous communities in the outlying areas for consultation. In August 1996 Ernesto Zedillo was elected president of Mexico and once in office he decided to take control of Chiapas. In October 1996 following a Zapatista refusal to continue negotiations, Don Samuel launched a new peace initiative to recover the dialogue between the EZLN and the federal army through the agency of CONAI – an eight-member National Mediation Commission. However, on February 9, 1995 the federal army entered the territory of the Zapatistas. Then the Zapatistas retreated to the jungle without returning to armed struggle. By law, the Mexican government had to negotiate with the EZLN. Negotiations began in the small town of San Andrés Larrainzar, between the government and the Zapatistas with guests and advisers and moderated by the CONAI. In order to negotiate the integration of the Zapatista movement into civil life, four subjects were discussed: indigenous rights and culture, justice and democracy, economic development and women in Chiapas. The Mexican government signed the San Andres Accords in February 1996 with the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion National (EZLN) which dealt with the rights and culture of indigenous peoples. These agreements were validated by the most representative indigenous organizations in Mexico and they represented a commitment made by the government with all indigenous peoples in Mexico and not only with those belonging to the EZLN. The document incorporated Indian Rights (not just as individuals, but as peoples) into the federal Constitution of Mexico. But the government did not intend to implement the San Andres Accord it had signed. Rather, the government of Mexico made a counter-proposal which was adopted by the Mexican Congress against the wishes of the EZLN. The Zapatistas had decided to officially suspend dialogue since the government did not agree to stop the violence and negotiate. In June 1998, Bishop Dom Samuel Ruiz resigned as President of the CONAI stating that government harassment had made his job impossible. Paramilitary groups
The government of Mexico continues covertly to stimulate and allow paramilitary groups who attack indigenous communities. The leadership of the paramilitary groups have studied in Guatemala and at the School of The Americas in Fort Bragg, Georgia. The government is pursuing a strategy of transferring the war to civil society and dividing and pitting communities and groups against each other. At least a dozen paramilitary groups are protected by the government in a real war which has resulted in more than 15,000 displaced persons, more dead than in the 1994 war, many destroyed indigenous communities, a disrupted economy, and attacks on places of refuge such as Acteal where 45 persons including women and children were massacred by para-military groups on December 22 1997. The strategy used by the government is to start a fight and then send soldiers to help and build military camps, creating still more displaced persons. There are indications of 65,000 federal troops in Chiapas, 5.000 more since the massacre in Acteal. Further, the indigenous people are being terrorized by military helicopters given by the United States for use in fighting a drug war. This is a violent government war by a government that denies it is at war. The issue of impunity is also of great concern. There are numerous documented cases of violations against indigenous leaders committed with impunity in the States of Chiapas, Guerrerro and Oaxaca. Impunity as is torture appears to have become a systemic practice in Mexico They have devastating effects on the lives and dignity of indigenous persons in the country. Franciscans International and Dominicans therefore urge:

  1. the Sub-Commission to give priority attention the systematic violations of human rights of indigenous peoples in Mexico,
  2. the government of Mexico to respect the human rights of indigenous peoples,
  3. the signatories to the San Andres Accords to honor them, to re-establish mediation and re-initiate dialogue with all parties,
  4. the government of Mexico to demilitarize the indigenous regions in Mexico and to commit to guaranteeing that security forces will act with full respect of human rights.