FOCUS Magazine, Human Rights in Mexico

After 25 years, Center Prodh continues to work to bring  about structural reforms and acces to justice for victims of human rights violation, in a context that seems more  desperate every day.  Looking back over the passed two and a half decades, we can say that recent years have witnessed some of the most historic and positive Constitucional reforms for human rights in México, to open new strategies to human rights defenders.

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FOCUS 10 New era, April 2017

PortadaFocus10On the night of September 26, 2014, in Iguala, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, one of the most emblematic episodes of human rights violations in the recent history of our country occurred. The results were brutal: the enforced disappearance of 43 young students who are still missing; six people killed, including three Ayotzinapa students, including a man whose body appeared the following day in an uninhabited area with clear signs of torture; at least 40 people injured. In all, more than 180 people were direct victims of human rights violations that night and about 700 people were indirect victims, considering the relatives of the victims.

Ayotzinapa forced the world to see and accept that a serious human rights crisis was taking place in Mexico, which has as a particular characteristic the collusion between state and non-state actors in organized criminal activities. The so-called "Iguala Case" became a painful and paradigmatic event defined by the number of victims and the student identity of the disappeared. It is a case marked by the flagrant collusion between authorities and criminal groups, but also by an immediate documentation of what happened by human rights organizations, an ingrained tradition of social struggle in the state of Guerrero and in the school of Ayotzinapa, and an early internationalization of some aspects of the search for justice. Above all, the organizational and moral force of the fathers and mothers of the disappeared made an intense impact on the national and international public.

In the midst of pain, mothers, fathers, sisters, uncles, daughters, and grandparents of the students have spearheaded initiatives to search for the young men and the demand justice. One of these was the formation of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (giei), which worked for more than a year in our country. Although the obstacles placed in the giei's path did not allow the group to transform its findings into the full discovery of the truth, justice, and structural change, the contributions made by this unprecedented exercise of international supervision have been of great relevance to ensure that the truth regarding the case is not covered up. These contributions also clearly marked a route that could allow us to take the first steps to emerge from the crisis that led to the events of September 26 and 27, 2014, and to so many others.

In this issue of Focus we present what, from our perspective, are the main contributions of this experience, both structural and within the case. You will also be able to read, from the voices of members of the giei, about the problems in the investigation and the challenges in ensuring that the victims are at the center of the process. Above all, we hope to contribute to an ongoing debate about how to break the cycle of impunity that harms everyone in our country.

FOCUS 9 New era, July 2016

Focus09COVERToday, men and women from all over Mexico are organizing to use their knowledge and the law to defend their land against destruction by so-called mega-development projects, including the extraction of mineral resources foreseen in Mexico’s energy reform.

As land takeovers tear the social fabric of Mexico’s communities, the violation of the right to land is without doubt an extremely alarming aspect of the country’s human rights crisis.

In particular, the defense of the land has become a fundamental mission for indigenous and non-indigenous communities besieged by public policies and business practices that prioritize extraction of resources above any other use of the territory.

Although human rights law recognizes both economic, social, cultural and environmental rights (esc rights) and the collective rights of indigenous communities, our country lacks mechanisms to provide for the defense and justiciability of these rights.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights and some decisions adopted by Mexico’s Supreme Court have established precedents that recognize that the right of indigenous peoples to their land must be respected above the ambitions of business projects that seek to extract natural resources. Yet even when communities achieve legal victories, these decisions often fail to lead to compliance.

Powerful economic interests in collusion with authorities who ignore court judgments and organized crime continue to threaten the communities.

One of the key lessons learned through these experiences is that prevention is a better strategy than waiting until a threat materializes. Strengthening community organizational networks and ensuring the active participation of women in these processes are two essential pillars for the successful, prevention-based defense of the land.

In this edition of Focus, which highlights the challenges facing the defense of land in Mexico, we analyze the experiences of communities and organizations who battle each day to retain their autonomy, their rights, and their land.

FOCUS 8 New era, Fall 2015

Focus08PortadaAs our readers know, Mexico’s crisis of violence and serious human rights violations takes place against a backdrop of territorial disputes between rival criminal organizations. The government’s official position is that it fights against these organizations in a “war against crime” whose different parties are perfectly distinguishable.
 
The reality, exemplified in cases such as Ayotzinapa, is that Mexico’s near-total levels of impunity stem largely from the complicity between government and crime, especially in certain regions where the line between these two groups does not exist, with authorities working for organized crime groups. This context of macro-crime, not only at the municipal level but also with complicity by state and federal authorities, shows the clear link between corruption and human rights abuses today.
 
Macro-crime claims thousands of victims throughout Mexico’s territory. The media, academic investigators, civil society organizations, and thousands of everyday citizens denounce the wave of executions, enforced disappearances, torture, extortion, and kidnappings that afflict our country.
 
The government, unfortunately, is not taking appropriate actions to tackle this problem. The few criminal investigations launched into the most high-profile cases avoid taking into account the context of macro-crime and fail to recognize the responsibility of authorities. The most that is ever done, and only when there is an especially high level of public outcry, is to put low-ranking public servants on trial, even when it is clear that criminal responsibility originated at higher levels.
 
Center Prodh calls for ongoing initiatives such as the drafting of a General Law against Enforced Disappearance and the reform of the federal Attorney General’s Office to tackle macro-crime as an essential component of the crisis unfolding in Mexico. We insist that it will be impossible to advance towards truth and justice for thousands of victims with our eyes closed to this cycle of criminality.

FOCUS 7 New era, Spring 2015

PortadaFocus01Spr15Over twenty-six years ago, a group of Jesuits founded the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Center Prodh) to respond to a reality in which human dignity was ignored and trampled.

Following what they called “the signs of the times,” the Jesuits recognized with keen foresight that as the 1980s neared their close, it was time for the excluded and marginalized populations of Mexico to convert international human rights instruments into tools that could be used by victims to fight for a more just world.

A lot has happened since then. Civil society in Mexico has become a diverse, professionalized, and increasingly specialized sector. At the same time, the context could not be more challenging: the country is immersed in a national emergency in which grave human rights violations, such as those exemplified in high-profile cases of mass disappearance and extrajudicial executions, have shown clearly the participation of the government in criminal activities.

The struggle to make human rights reality for the most vulnerable sectors of the Mexican population is not so different today from that which the Jesuits faced when they founded Center Prodh. We cannot point to any true democratic transition or consolidation of the rule of law when 43 families await news, truth, and justice following the enforced disappearance of their sons due to the collusion between authorities and organized crime, or when the government has yet to explain why soldiers chose to attack and extrajudicially execute nearly 20 civilians in Tlatlaya in Mexico State. In light of a panorama of violations that goes far beyond these two internationally known cases, the task facing human rights defenders is to accompany victims with professional actions and tools that not only advance justice in individual cases, but that expose and weaken the structural causes of these abuses, with the aim of transforming our reality.

Along its journey, Center Prodh has been home to dozens of defenders who have helped to shape our institution; and Center Prodh has shaped them as well. The defenders who have formed part of our organization maintain a common vision, based on the conviction that our work, as our ex-Director Davíd Fernández once said, is not simply an option that we logically choose, but an instinctive and heartfelt reaction as we come face to face with the individuals and communities who seek us out.

Our task places us at a crossroads, at the intersection of denouncing and condemning abuses on the one hand, and trying to design policies to respond to them on the other. But in the end, our work has shown us that we cannot depend on any political party or banner to transform our reality, but only on the people who allow us to accompany them in their struggle for dignity and justice.

Mario Patrón Sánchez, director, Center Prodh

FOCUS 6 New era, Sumer 2014

Focus6Summer2014This special edition of Focus is dedicated to one of the gravest human rights violations in our world: torture. We especially dedicate this edition to all survivors of torture.

Torture is by definition an intentional act committed by those who have power. This crime seeks to control and annul the human personality or erode the physical or mental resistance of the victim, using physical, sexual, and/or psychological pain and suffering to obtain a certain result: a confession, punishment, the criminalization of the victim (even for a crime that has not been committed), or any other goal.

There is a highly developed legal framework that establishes an absolute prohibition on torture. International human rights law prohibits torture with the same force as the prohibition on genocide and slavery. Physical, sexual, and/or psychological torture are forbidden under any circumstances, even during wartime or public emergencies.

This prohibition is so universally accepted that it forms part of international law at the level of ius cogens, the highest category of binding law. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has repeatedly held that, “There is an international legal system that absolutely forbids all forms of torture, both physical and psychological, and this system is now part of ius cogens. Prohibition of torture is complete and non-derogable, even under the most difficult circumstances…”

However, in Mexico the use of torture is “widespread” according to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Dr. Juan Méndez, who concluded after visiting the country between April 21st and May 2nd that no security force in Mexico respects the prohibition on torture. The Rapporteur’s message was damning: “I have the duty to inform the Mexican government, but also the Mexican people, that there is an epidemic of torture here that must be corrected.”

This edition of Focus also seeks to explore the differentiated vulnerability and use of torture against women who are detained by security forces in Mexico, particularly the use of sexual torture, which seeks to transform women’s bodies into battlefields, employing physical and psychological techniques that clearly fit within an over-arching context of institutionalized gender violence and discrimination.

Last month, Center Prodh and partner organizations, as well as Amnesty International, launched two respective campaigns against torture: “Breaking the Silence: All Together against Sexual Torture” and “Stop Torture,” both of which call for an end to this brutal practice in general and push for the Mexican government to stop using torture as a primary “investigation” method, often against innocent people.

Torture isn’t justice. Torture is a crime, an attack on human dignity, and a synonym of impunity that must be eradicated.

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