August 3 – 28, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva
Franciscans International and the Dominicans continue to monitor closely the human rights situation in Mexico, Brazil and Pakistan where we are actively involved and about which we had expressed our concerns at the last session of the 54th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Franciscans International and the Dominicans reiterate their grave concern about the deterioration of the human rights situation in Mexico and particularly in the State of Chiapas. Since the last session of the Commission on Human Rights, there have been major events in the region which point to the radicalization of the government of Mexico’s policies and its refusal to comply with the existing accords.
- There is strong evidence that the Mexican government is in fact implementing a strategy aimed at :
- increasing the military presence in the communities in Chiapas and thus controlling their legitimate political and social activities
- continuing to allow paramilitary groups to harass communities with full impunity, and in some cases supporting them thus giving the army the pretext to increase its presence in these communities and consequently to control them
- systematically attacking the autonomous municipalities and thus weakening the social bases of the EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional)
- attacking the local organizations that provide moral and political support to the indigenous movements
- arbitrarily expelling foreign priests, international human rights observers, solidarity visitors and journalists. By doing so, the Mexican government is imposing a social and political isolation on the indigenous communities in addition to maintaining tight military control on their lives
Moreover, the suspension of the CONAI (National Mediation Commission) on June 7, 1998 after four years of activities, was another signal that the Mexican government is dismantling the necessary conditions for dialogue and negotiation. This unilateral act on the part of the government led Bishop Ruiz to declare that: “ a phase of the peace process is ended”. It is clear that the decision to suspend the CONAI results from the hostile behavior of the government of Mexico which categorically refuses any attempt at mediation in the conflict of Chiapas. Additionally, the government has aggravated the situation by accusing CONAI of spreading false information and of being partial and supporting the interests of its own group. We believe that the appeal launched by the members of CONAI for a greater participation of the civil society must be seen as an invitation for all to recognize that the historic requests of the indigenous populations are fundamental for achieving peace and harmony in the region. Regretfully, the appeal was met only by stronger governmental repression and intransigence. If the Mexican government does not bring a halt to the circle of violence and human rights violations, civil war is bound to break out in Mexico. The recent events in Chiapas and elsewhere, the increasing number of displaced persons among the indigenous populations and the deterioration of their living conditions, and the government’s bad faith concerning the implementation of the San Andres Larrainzar Agreements generate a climate of conflict and general civil unrest. Franciscans International and the Dominicans urge:
- the Sub-Commission to adopt a resolution on Mexico requesting the Commission on Human Rights to appoint a Special Rapporteur with the mandate to examine all aspects of the human rights situation in the country, with a special focus on the State of Chiapas,
- the Mexican government to disarm all paramilitary groups operating in Chiapas and to hold them accountable for their violent campaigns and illegal acts against indigenous peoples,
- the Mexican government to fulfill the San Andres Larrainzar Agreements signed in February 1996 in view of restoring peace negotiations and guaranteeing the indigenous populations the full enjoyment of their rights,
- the Mexican government to cease its repression and defamatory campaigns against the Catholic Church, namely the diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas and its bishops and priests.
Franciscans International and the Dominicans are alarmed at the chain of violence and impunity in Brazilian countryside. Between 1985 and 1997, the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) of the Catholic Church registered 1,003 assassinations of human rights defenders, rural workers, lawyers, technicians union leaders and religious connected with the struggle for land. In particular, since 1995, 140 rural workers have been killed in agrarian conflicts, and those guilty for the crimes have not been brought to justice. In addition, Brazil possesses one of the most unequal land distribution in the world. According to Brazil’s National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform, although large properties correspond to only 2,8% of the total number of farms, these occupy 56,7% of the total amount of land. The fact that much of this land remains unproductive further aggravates the problem. Despite the official opposition to the “latifundio”, the government has expropriated and redistributed 3,4 million hectares, a ludicrous figure if we consider that more than 80 million hectares of unproductive land have been registered. Franciscans International and the Dominicans support the work and petitions of the Landless Movement of Brazil and urge:
- the government of Brazil to take effective measures to ensure that the Judiciary concludes, without delay, the numerous pending legal proceedings concerning the assassinations of rural workers and persons linked to them,
- the government to promote the immediate settlement of all landless rural workers and their families,
- the government to carry out an ample, massive and immediate agrarian reform program,
- the government to respect the principles and the rights contained in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and to guarantee human rights defenders working in Brazil the right to security in carrying out their activities on behalf of victims of violations.
For decades, the Christian community in Pakistan has suffered and struggled for recognition as full citizens and for the protection of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Since the last decade, a vague and arbitrary definition of blasphemy was inserted into the Pakistan Penal Code and punishment was increased from two years imprisonment to the death penalty sentence. Human rights defenders claim that most cases under the blasphemy law are the result of the abuse of law by certain individuals in order to stir up disharmony among religious groups. Also, procedural deficiency in the legal system and alleged police torture have further complicated the problem. Sections 295 B and C and 298 A of the Pakistan Penal Code allow little room for investigation and verification of evidence between the time allegations are made and actions (judicial or extra-judicial ones) against the accused are taken. Court cases have shown that often mere allegation without circumstantial evidence was enough to condemn a person. Moreover, the accused are not accorded the right to defend themselves under the controversial blasphemy laws. Further the law restricts freedom of expression as people fear that any opinion or remark may be construed as blasphemy. We also consider that the death penalty in these cases is contrary to international human rights standards and totally out of proportion for punishing an individual for the use of offensive language. Christians have made dramatic gestures to alert us to the tragedy of the blasphemy laws. On May 6, 1998, the world was shocked to learn of the untimely death of Catholic Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad who protested with his own life to the death sentence of Ayub Masih and against the Blasphemy Laws. Franciscans International and the Dominicans are also gravely concerned about the consequences of the separate electorate system in Pakistan which requires that all religious groups vote only for candidates of their own denomination. This has the effect of marginalizing the non-Muslim population since the main political parties and their candidates need not take into account the vote of non-Muslims. This creates skepticism in the minority communities in terms of the ability of their candidates to influence policies in government. Franciscans International and the Dominicans support the recommendations of the Pakistan Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Superiors of the Catholic Church and therefore urge:
- the government of Pakistan to repeal all the discriminatory laws, particularly the blasphemy laws, section 295 B, 295 C and 298 A of the Pakistan Penal Code,
- a speedy, fair and open trial for the many blasphemy cases pending in court, and a guarantee that those accused and their families will be free from harassment and any form of ill-treatment,
- the government of Pakistan to implement all the provisions of fundamental rights which are contained in Part 2, articles 8 to 10 of the Constitution of Pakistan,
- the government of Pakistan to promote equal rights for all citizens of Pakistan according to Article 25A of the Constitution,
- the government to abolish the separate election system,
- that the role of minorities in the creation and development of Pakistan be publicized and included in school and college textbooks,
- the government of Pakistan to adopt legislation forbidding religious discrimination.
In addition, we request the Sub-Commission to closely monitor the situation described above and to urge the government of Pakistan to implement the recommended Constitutional and other changes related to the protection of religious minorities.