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1999 | 55th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (22 March - 30 April 1999)

The situation of indigenous peoples in Mexico

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.
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