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1998 | 54th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (16 March - 24 April 1998)

The grave human rights situation in Mexico, Colombia, Burundi and Rwanda

March 16 – April 24, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Mr. Chairman,

Franciscans International in collaboration with Dominicans wishes to raise the grave human rights situations in Mexico, Colombia, Burundi and Rwanda.

Concerning Mexico, the most recent reports of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch largely documented disappearances, extra judicial killings, the widespread use of torture and other acts of violence by the Mexican army as well as by paramilitary groups throughout the whole country. More than one hundred people have been killed in the last three months and more than twelve human rights observers have been expelled from Chiapas in the last six months.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nigel Rodley in his report on Mexico tabled at this Session gave documented examples of widespread torture. His report concluded that torture is systemic in many parts of the county. Last year, the UN Committee against Torture examining Mexico’s period report concluded that the cases of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatments are systemic in the country.

The tragic massacre of 45 civilians which occurred December 22, 1997 in Acteal in the Chiapas municipality of Chenahló was another signal to the international community of the deteriorating situation. Human rights groups had forewarned the government of an impending war against the people in the region. The massacre which was committed by paramilitary groups affiliated with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was not an isolated incident and is a growing phenomenon in Mexico.

In Mexico, human rights defenders’ lives are at great risk. Many who speak out against human rights violations receive death threats and are persecuted or expelled from the country. These acts are carried by the military and government supported para-military groups.

On November 4, 1997 members of the paramilitary group Paz y Justicia (Peace and Justice) carried out an assassination attempt on the lives of Bishop Samuel Ruiz, president of the National Mediation Commission (CONAI), and Bishop Raul Vera, OP in the Northern Area of Chiapas. The following day, they tried to murder Bishop Ruiz’ sister.

The military continues its policy of intimidating, harassing and terrorizing the local populations. According to the CONAI (National Mediation Commission) there are presently 70,000 Mexican Army troops in Chiapas. There is justifiable concern that the government may be planning a large-scale military offensive in Chiapas.

One of the major causes of the ongoing conflict in Chiapas is the government’s refusal to honor the San Andrés Larrainzar Agreements by circumventing them by every means possible. The

Agreements were signed in good faith by the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) and the Mexican authorities on February 16, 1996. The San Andrés Agreements were intended to redress five hundred years of violation of indigenous rights and culture and brutal repression.

Franciscans International and Dominicans urge:

  1. the Commission on Human Rights to seriously consider appointing a Special Rapporteur to examine all aspects of the human rights situation in Mexico;
  2. the Mexican government to conclude its investigations into the violent massacre in Acteal and bring to justice the perpetrators including federal authorities;
  3. the Mexican government to disarm all paramilitary groups operating in Chiapas and to hold them accountable for their violent campaigns against indigenous peoples;
  4. the Mexican government to fulfill the San Andres Agreements signed in February 1996 in view of restoring peace negotiations and guaranteeing the indigenous populations the full enjoyment of their rights.

In terms of Colombia, we have referred to the human rights situation in that country a number of times. We wish to express our concern over the inclusion in the Commission Chairman’s statement on Colombia of a reference to the Vigilante and private security services known as Convivir. A number of UN bodies have recommended that the government of Colombia withdraw recognition and authorization of these groups which have been identified as having links with paramilitary groups and having been involved in serious human rights violations. The High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that the Convivir groups are responsible for the enforced internal displacement of approximately 2,000 persons and the execution of numerous farmers. The effect of the reference in the Chairman’s statement to the Convivir is therefore to accept the legalization of groups which constantly violate human rights, rather than requesting the government to disband them. This creates a precedent which other countries could use to maintain such groups as in Mexico. Further, the Chairman’s statement is obviously in contradiction with the report of the High Commissioner.

Franciscans International and Dominicans request the Commission

  1. To appoint a Special Rapporteur to closely monitor the implementation of the various recommendations concerning Colombia.
  2. To ask the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report to the General Assembly on the situation of human rights in Colombia.

In Burundi, the human rights situation has clearly deteriorated since the 53rd Session of the Commission. It is imperative that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, be maintained to ensure that the Commission and the General Assembly reamain fully informed of the situation of human rights in the country. There is an urgent need for the UN and the international community to take an evne more active interest in the grave human rights situation in Burundi and to carry out their responsibilities.

In Rwanda, there appears to have been some steps taken to improve the human rights situation, according to the report of the Special Representative, Mr. Michel Mussalli. However, due to the limits of his mandate, we consider that the Commission is not sufficiently informed on the human rights situation in Rwanda. Previously, this had been well documented in the reports of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. René Degni-Ségui whose mandate was unfortunately rescinded at the last Session of the Commission. Further, it is more difficult for neutral and independent observers to visit the countries to assess the situation. We therefore consider that the Commission should reinstate the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Rwanda.

Franciscans International and Dominicans urge the Commission:

  1. To renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Burundi, Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
  2. To reinstate the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on Rwanda.
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