UN urges Mexico to demilitarise society
The following is a report from the Nizkor International Human Rights Team on the current situation in the Chiapas region of Mexico, where the struggle by indigenous people for their rights remains unresolved.
The image of a tightly sealed simmering pot describes Chiapas in recent months.
The Mexican Army's grip on the conflict area was tightened in the form of new checkpoints obstructing travel and additional military encampments. Several indigenous communities which have long been settled in the Lacandon Jungle have recently been accused of ``ecological infractions'' and simply ordered to leave. (They claim that their displacement is actually intended to strengthen a military corridor connecting two important bases.)
Some of those responsible for well-known massacres have not been prosecuted and ``the incapacity of the judicial system results in an increase in human rights violations. - UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Asma Jahangir
Security force harassment of perceived Zapatista supporters, including aircraft overflights at very low altitude, constitute a constant pressure on the indigenous communities that exacts a physical and psychological toll. The military pressure is a principal focus of continuing popular protest activities, which have recently included roadblocks, marches, and a National Consultation on Women's Rights. The other rallying cry of the Zapatistas and indigenous rights supporters is implementation of the San Andres Accords. Signed in 1996, their fulfillment has been stalled by disagreement regarding implementing legislation. Recent comments by federal officials make the prospects for resolution look dim. The EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) was criticised repeatedly for its unwillingness to engage in dialogue. In addition, President Zedillo asserted, ``Dialogue with the EZLN will not resolve the problem of Chiapas.'' Francisco Labastida, presidential candidate of the ruling PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), went further: ``You cannot have a small group of people substitute for the legislative powers of the country. Laws are not made from the jungle.'' The San Andres Accords that the federal government negotiated and signed require legislative reform regarding indigenous rights. In appearing to reject not only the outcome but also the very legitimacy of the previous negotiation process, Labastida cast a dark shadow over peace prospects if he is elected.
The influence of COCOPA (the Congressional Commission for Agreement and Pacification) remained checked by partisan splits. The role of another key actor in the conflict, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas, entered a transition with the naming of Felipe Arizmendi, Bishop of Tapachula (Chiapas), to replace retiring Bishop Samuel Ruiz. Arizmendi, who is considered a moderate, sounded a conciliatory note, observing: ``I am not going to San Cristobal to compete nor to destroy, but rather to complement.'' Those who feared the possibility of an abrupt change in the pastoral practice of the diocese were relieved. Others pointed out that the influence of the diocese as a protector of the indigenous and supporter of peace efforts would almost surely diminish with the departure of Bishop Ruiz who carried such political weight.
Meanwhile, there was an increase in visits to Chiapas by Mexico City-based diplomats, and the remarkable chorus of international criticism of Mexico's human rights record continued unabated. After her February visit to Mexico, Erika Daes, President of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, called on the government to respect the San Andres Accords. She said that the Mexican Army should suspend its patrols in Guerrero and Chiapas, return to its bases, and focus on external threats. (She also called on guerrilla groups to put down their arms and seek dialogue.) Also in February, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Asma Jahangir released a report on her investigation in Mexico last July. She concluded that some of those responsible for well-known massacres have not been prosecuted and that ``the incapacity of the judicial system results in an increase in human rights violations.'' She called upon the government to demilitarise society and to refrain from using the armed forces for law enforcement activities. Other voices critical of Mexico's human rights record during this period included representatives of the European Parliament, who lamented the role of paramilitary groups in Chiapas, and the US State Department.
Government officials generally dismissed or minimised these criticisms. However, in an unusual admission, Minister of Foreign Relations Rosario Green acknowledged during a trip to Europe that Mexico has not been able to end human rights violations nor to solidify a culture of respect for those rights and intolerance of impunity.
Despite the escalating cost for the indigenous communities, the Chiapas conflict has not been a major factor in the presidential race. With the election set for 2 July, both PRI candidate Francisco Labastida and PAN (center-right National Action Party) candidate Vicente Fox are running strong campaigns. Among the three leading candidates, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the center-left PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) trailed.
The governor's election in Chiapas set for 20 August, is being strongly contested by PRI candidate Sami David and Pablo Salazar, a PRI Senator who resigned from the party and has since secured the support of a broad opposition alliance. Salazar, who has been a strong supporter of peace efforts, would appear to be the favorite, but the situation remains unpredictable. This is both because of the history of fraud in Chiapas elections as well as because of the obstacles a new governor would have to face when it comes time to actually implementing change.
The recent deportation of veteran election observer Ted Lewis, despite having observer credentials from the Federal Electoral Institute, raised the spectre that the Mexican government is expanding its campaign against human rights observation to target observers of its election process as well. Lewis, Mexico Program Director of US-based Global Exchange, was deported despite his accreditation by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) to conduct observation activities related to the current election campaign.
Mexico continues to aggressively pursue international trade agreements. In mid-February, Mexico and the European Union approved a free trade treaty. It was subsequently ratified by the European Parliament and by the Mexican Senate. However, its implementation was impeded by a failure to achieve approval in the Italian Parliament.
Negotiations on free trade agreements proceeded with Japan and Israel. As in the case of the European agreement, opposition political forces as well as social organisations complained that they were being left out of the discussions and their concerns were not being heard.
1. Urge the Zedillo administration:
to implement the recent recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Asma Jahangir, including: ``Ensure the demilitarisation of society and avoid deputising the armed forces to maintain law and order or to eradicate crime... End the impunity enjoyed by certain privileged categories and classes of people...''
to respect the internationally recognized function of election observation and the autonomy of the IFE (Federal Electoral Institute) in approving election observation applications by granting a visa to experienced election monitor Ted Lewis.
2. Circulate information, such as this report, on the situation in Chiapas.
Sr. Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon
Presidente de la Republica
Palacio Nacional - Patio de Honor, Piso 1, Col. Centro
06067 Mexico, DF - Mexico
Fax: (int-52) (5) 271 1764 / 515 4783
Roberto Armando Albores Guillen
Gobernador de Chiapas
Palacio de Gobierno, 1er. Piso
Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas
Fax: (+52) (961) 20917