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


Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Jun 22 2011 (IPS) - Although four of the five sentences in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has found the Mexican state guilty involved cases from the southwestern state of Guerrero, the effects of the rulings have not yet had an impact on that area, one of the poorest parts of the country.

“We cannot say that there have been tangible results,” Abel Barrera, founder and director of the Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Centre, told IPS. “But this at least proved that victims’ reports of human rights violations were true.”

Founded in 1994, the human rights group based in the city of Tlapa de Comonfort, a city in the mountainous region of Guerrero, works in community development, social justice issues, human rights education, and legal assistance for local indigenous people.

Between November 2009 and November 2010, the Inter-American Court, an Organisation of American States (OAS) body, held the Mexican state responsible for violating basic rights and denial of justice in five verdicts.

The first ruling was for the 2001 murders of three young women in Ciudad Juárez on the U.S. border, in what is known as the Cotton Field case because of the area where the victims’ corpses were found along with other bodies of unidentified women.

But the four subsequent rulings involve human rights crimes committed in Guerrero, a state plagued by lawlessness and violence perpetrated by drug trafficking cartels, paramilitary groups and left-wing guerrillas.

In November 2009 the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court condemned Mexico for the 1974 forced disappearance of schoolteacher and community activist Rosendo Radilla in that state.

In August 2010, the Court found the state guilty in two separate rulings for failing to protect the rights of two young indigenous women, Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo, who were raped by soldiers in 2002, also in Guerrero.

And the Court once again held the Mexican state responsible in November 2010 in the cases of peasant environmentalists Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, who were arrested in 1999 and tortured by Mexican soldiers before they were sentenced in 2000 to six and 10 years in prison, respectively, on charges of illegal weapons possession and growing marijuana.

The Mexican government of conservative President Felipe Calderón held a public ceremony Tuesday to apologise to Montiel and Cabrera, in compliance with the Court ruling.

Although the Court ordered the government to make a public apology to the victims and their families in each of the five rulings, human rights group say the Calderón administration chose to do so in the least complex and most recent of the sentences.

More than 100 human rights defenders in Guerrero have received death threats. In response, the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) demanded that the federal and state governments implement protective measures for 107 activists in the state.

“The state’s incompliance is more than worrisome, not only in terms of the Court sentences,” Fabián Sánchez, executive director of Strategic Human Rights Litigation, a local NGO, told IPS. “The state has also failed to live up to the observations of committees, working groups and rapporteurs.”

In the past few years, the IACHR and other international bodies have issued 1,000 recommendations for Mexico, more than 90 percent of which have gone unfulfilled, according to human rights groups.

At the same time, the Inter-American Court has drawn up 14 in-depth reports on the state’s responsibility in human rights questions.

Montiel, Cabrera and a group of other peasant activists founded the Organización de Campesinos Ecologistas de la Sierra de Petatlán y Coyuca de Catalán (OCESP – Organisation of Campesino Ecologists from the Sierra of Petatlán y Coyuca de Catalán) in 1999 to fight rampant and often illegal deforestation in that mountainous area 600 km southeast of the Mexican capital.

In 2001 Montiel and Cabrera were released for humanitarian reasons by then President Vicente Fox (2000-2006) after a major international outcry. However, their cases were not reviewed and they were not declared innocent.

The Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Centre (PRODH), the Tlachinollan Human Rights Centre, and the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) presented the case to the IACHR in 2001 on the argument that the two activists were in jail on trumped-up charges and had been tortured into confessing.

In June 2009, the IACHR referred the case to the Inter-American Court.

“There has been no substantial progress in terms of compliance with the sentences,” said Barrera. “There is a lack of political will on the part of the government to live up to its commitments. But we cannot just sit and wait. Mexico has the reputation of a country where grave human rights violations are committed; it’s an area of red alert in Latin America.”

On May 27, Barrera, an anthropologist by training, received the sixth Amnesty International Human Rights Award. And in 2010 he received the Human Rights Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights.

The Tlachinollan Human Rights Centre reopened its office in the town of Ayutla de los Libres in Guerrero on Jun. 16. It had been closed since February 2009 due to threats and harassment.

Rural environmentalist 30-year-old Javier Torres, one of Tlachinollan’s leaders, was murdered in the community of La Morena on Apr. 18 after receiving death threats. No suspects have been arrested.

Three of the five Inter-American Court verdicts call for reforms of Mexico’s military justice code, with dates back to 1933 and shields soldiers from prosecution for crimes.

In October 2010, President Calderón introduced to Congress a proposed reform to the code, under which the military tries all crimes committed by active-duty soldiers. But the proposal, which would only shift cases of forced disappearance, rape and torture to the civilian authorities, is opposed by human rights organisations as overly narrow.

Congress has not yet begun to debate the bill.

“Many more cases will reach the Court in the next few years,” Sánchez said. “And if the state does not respond, we will run into the same problem. We are lagging terribly behind on these issues.”

The IACHR accepted 267 cases from Mexico in 2010, second only to the 325 cases from civil war-torn Colombia.

In the Radilla case, the Inter-American Court declared early this month that the state had failed to comply with the terms of the judgement.

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