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Human Rights

Mexico, Strong on Human Rights Abroad, Not at Home

MEXICO CITY, Mar 29 2013 (IPS) - Mexico has been a prominent defender of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the battle being waged by some members of the Organisation of American States to curb its authority.

What is paradoxical, according to human rights defenders, is that Mexico’s strong support for the IACHR actually endangers to some extent access by victims of human rights abuses in Mexico to this last resort for justice.

“Mexico has backed the work of the (inter-American human rights) system and in its discourse it presents itself as a defender of human rights. It even managed to place representatives in the system,” human rights lawyer Simón Hernández told IPS.

“The risk is that this can translate into a degree of political control over decisions against the Mexican state,” said Hernández, an activist with the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Centre.

The human rights group has presented petitions to the IACHR in cases like the Pasta de Conchos coal mine disaster, where 65 miners were buried after a methane explosion in 2006 in the northern state of Coahuila, or the women raped that same year in San Salvador Atenco during a police crackdown on protests.

The problem, Hernández said, is that “in international forums, Mexico’s position has always been marked by an enormous contradiction between its rhetoric and reality.”

David Peña with the National Association of Democratic Lawyers said “Mexico’s foreign policy has been characterised by accepting everything, supporting everything – but domestically, the situation is different.”

Peña is one of the lawyers who brought the case of eight women killed in 2001 in the northern border city of Ciudad Juárez, known as the “cotton field” case for the name of the waste ground where their bodies were found, to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

In November 2009, the Court found the Mexican state guilty of denial of justice in relation to three of the murders.

Three years later, Mexico asked the Court to declare that it had complied with the sentence, even though the femicides (gender-related murders) and disappearances of women not only continued but had spread to the rest of the country, as part of the wave of violence that has swept Mexico since 2006.

And the map of femicide hotspots includes the central state of Mexico where San Salvador Atenco is located – and which was governed by current President Enrique Peña Nieto from 2005 to 2011.

“Mexico has supported the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,” said human rights lawyer Peña. “It was one of the countries that proposed closing down the discussion (of the reforms) and I hope that position will win out. But we don’t know what repercussions that support will have (on denunciations against the Mexican state).”

The regional human rights system – made up of the Washington-based Inter-American Commission and the San Jose, Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights – oversees compliance with the American Convention on Human Rights.

The IACHR has eight thematic rapporteurships, the most dynamic of which is the special rapporteurship on freedom of expression, which receives nearly one million dollars a year in external financing.

The regional human rights system is appreciated by human rights defenders but not governments. Since June 2011, states affected by its resolutions, including Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, have been pressing for reforms to curtail its reach.

And in May 2012, the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, José Miguel Insulza of Chile, himself questioned the system, stating in an interview that “if you look at the statistics by country, most of the countries that have the most cases (before the IACHR and the Court) are not the ones where the largest number of abuses are committed, but are where the non-governmental organisations know how to use the system.”

The debate is focused on the IACHR’s power to issue binding precautionary measures; the singling out of countries considered “problematic” – like Cuba, Colombia, Honduras and Venezuela – in its annual report on human rights; and the operation and financing sources of the special rapporteurships.

The criticism is that one-third of the IACHR’s budget comes from the European Union, the United States and Canada, even though the last two have refused to ratify the American Convention on Human Rights, which forms the basis of the system.

In the special OAS meeting held Friday Mar. 22 to discuss the reforms, Mexico defended the need for states to be reliable in meeting their payments to the system, and announced an extraordinary 300,000 dollar contribution.

“It is time for the states to give all of their support to the Commission,” said Mexican foreign minister José Antonio Meade.

The legal experts who spoke to IPS said it was necessary to strengthen the inter-American system.

But one of them added that, compared to “the level of violations” committed in Mexico, very few cases are accepted by the IACHR. There are even cases, like that of San Salvador Atenco, in which there had been “certain delays” by the Commission when it came to carrying out an in-depth investigation, the source said.

Nor is Mexico included in the annual report singling out countries with human rights problems, even though as many as 98 percent of all crimes go unpunished in this country, according to NGOs.

On Mar. 14, the IACHR held a marathon session of hearings related to abuses by the Mexican state.

Two of them involved the leftwing government of Mexico City, one for the public exhibition of detainees and another for the refusal to accept evidence running counter to the sentence that found that activist Digna Ochoa’s 2001 death was the result of suicide rather than homicide.

In another case, the women raped in San Salvador Atenco rejected the apology they were given by representatives of President Peña Nieto.

Two other hearings involved public policies, such as the concentration of authority over the police forces in the interior ministry, and the inoperativeness of the government’s Mechanism of Protection for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists.

Since 2006, 61 activists and more than 50 reporters have been killed and at least 15 have gone missing in Mexico.

In the latest hearing, representatives of the Rarámuri and Tepehuán indigenous communities complained that the authorities did not consult them on the construction of a tourism project in the northern state of Chihuahua.

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