Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

MEXICO: Rights Activists Face Threats, Arbitrary Detention – and Worse

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Apr 17 2010 (IPS) - Francisco Jiménez, a member of the National Committee of Rural and Fishing Unions (CONORP) was arrested on Apr. 7 in the Mexican capital by agents from the southern state of Chiapas in what activists say is another case of arbitrary detention.

Jiménez, who was seized by a group of armed plainclothes men while meeting with government officials and several fellow activists in a café to discuss the creation of a working group to respond to Chiapas peasant farmers’ demands, is accused of the brief “kidnapping” of an agriculture ministry official in 1999.

He is now in prison in the state of Nayarit, some 2,600 km northwest of the Mexican capital, far from his family, friends and colleagues.

His case is illustrative of the situation faced by activists in Mexico – the focus of the third national meeting of human rights defenders, held Friday and Saturday in the capital.

“We have been demanding that the state help create a national programme for human rights defenders,” Abel Barrera, head of the Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Centre based in the southern state of Guerrero, told IPS. “There is an international framework that has to be enforced and applied in a precise manner.”

Threats and attacks against activists are so numerous in Guerrero that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has extended precautionary measures for 107 human rights defenders in the state.

The threats faced by activists, protection mechanisms guaranteed by international treaties and the creation of a guide on international human rights conventions were the focus of the conference on Friday, which was closed to journalists.

Activists in Mexico suffer intimidation, harassment, attacks and are even murdered because of their work, according to reports by the Mexican office of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and local human rights groups.

In March, the U.N. Human Rights Committee issued a series of observations for the Mexican state, which included the need to improve security for activists.

The Committee, made up of 18 independent experts, monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in effect since 1976 and ratified by Mexico in 1981.

Prominent human rights activist Raúl Vera, bishop of Saltillo, a city north of the capital, said the worsening of the human rights situation in Mexico has to do with the neoliberal economic policies followed since the 1980s, which led to deregulation of the economy.

The neoliberal model “has favoured the accumulation of wealth in a few hands, while social, economic and labour rights have been violated,” Vera, who inaugurated the two-day meeting, told IPS.

The government of conservative President Felipe Calderón has announced that it would create a national mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders, but no steps in that direction have yet been taken.

The two-day meeting came just after the Senate approved a constitutional reform on Apr. 8 according to which the state has the obligation to promote, respect, protect and guarantee human rights. The modifications of 11 constitutional articles, which also stipulate that the state must prevent, investigate, punish and make reparations for abuses, is now in the hands of the lower house of Congress.

“The pending reform will set a fundamental precedent to continue bringing the Mexican constitution into line with the highest international standards for protection of human rights,” said the “All Rights for All” National Network for Human Rights Organisations.

In an Apr. 13 letter to the members of the Chamber of Deputies’ Political Coordination Committee, José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division, said “Approving these reforms would constitute a major step toward establishing greater protection for human rights in Mexico, and would lay a solid legal foundation for the state’s commitments in international treaties.”

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has found the Mexican state guilty in two cases: for the forced disappearance of community leader Rosendo Radilla, abducted in 1974 by soldiers in Guerrero, and for denial of justice in the 2001 murders of three women in Ciudad Juárez, on the U.S. border: Claudia González, Esmeralda Herrera and Berenice Ramos.

The Court is also considering the case of two young indigenous women raped by soldiers in Guerrero in 2002. A sentence is expected in the second half of this year.

Last year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which like the Court forms part of the Organisation of American States (OAS) system, received 232 complaints from Mexico – an indication of the state of human rights in this country of 107 million people.

“The constitutional reform (on human rights) does not provide us with many guarantees, because structural changes are needed in order to prevent rights violations,” said Barrera, whose organisation is one of the most active human rights groups in Mexico.

The national meeting also coincided with the second anniversary of the detention of Raúl Hernández and four other members of the Me’phaa Indigenous People’s Organisation in Mexico (OPIM) in Guerrero.

Hernández and his fellow activists were arrested on Apr. 17, 2008 and accused of homicide. The London-based Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience and is demanding their immediate release.

According to the global rights watchdog, they are being framed for a murder they did not commit, in reprisal for their activities fighting for the rights of their community and “exposing abuses” by local authorities and politicians.

“The only way human rights violations will be curbed is if the state once again takes up its role and its social responsibility,” said Vera.

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