RIGHT TO LIFE INTRODUCTION
130. One of the basic problems that IACHR investigated during its in-situ visit to Mexico in July 1996 concerned violations of the right to life. Frequent complaints of such violations alerted the IACHR to the need for appropriate measures to be taken to combat the problem. The situation was found to be particularly acute in some of the southern states of Mexico, notably in Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Hidalgo. The right to life is a fundamental requirement for the exercise of all other rights. Because of the importance of this issue and the realities of the situation in Mexico, it is necessary for the IACHR to carry out a special survey of how the right to life is respected in that country.
I. LEGAL FRAMEWORK - RIGHTS
131. In Mexico's legal system, the right to life is protected by the following instruments:
A. International law
132. Article 4 of the American Convention provides that:
Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.(13)
B. National law
133. Article 14 of the Constitution provides that no one may be deprived of his life or liberty or of his property, possessions or rights. Article 22 prohibits the death penalty for political offences and, in other cases, it may be imposed only on persons guilty of treason during war with a foreign country, parricide, aggravated or premeditated homicide, kidnapping, highway robbery, piracy and serious military infractions. Article 22 of the Civil Code of the Federal District provides that natural persons acquire their civil rights at birth and lose them at death, but that from the moment of conception a person enjoys the protection of the law and is deemed to have been born for purposes of the Code.
134. Despite these codified standards, the main violations of the right to life in Mexico occur in cases of extra-judicial executions and forced disappearances.
II. EXTRA-JUDICIAL EXECUTIONS
135. In the past few years, the increasing number of homicides in some parts of the country has made it clear to Government officials and human rights organizations that the problem is a complex one and that steps must be taken to prevent this sort of situation from continuing to occur.
136. A grave example of this was the assassination of Norma Corona Sapien, a human rights defender, whose killing had all the characteristics of an extra-judicial assassination. In the days prior to her death, the teacher Norma Corona had been investigating the torture and assassination by federal judicial police of persons accused of drug trafficking. The discovery of the motive behind these violations would have implicated the senior officials involved in the crimes. This brings into the picture certain suspicions and presumptions as to the causes of her death and the identity of those responsible. Another widely publicized case is that of the Quijano family, alleged victims of the abuse of authority by agents of the federal judicial police, who often act under orders of their hierarchical superiors. Only one member of the Quijano family survived the torture and extra-judicial executions and she wants to put the entire tragedy behind her because of the terrible scars caused by her horrifying experience.
137. Along with these executions, political murders of the worst kind have taken place which still not been solved. Among them are the cases of Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas, who was shot to death at the Guadalajara airport, in Jalisco, in May 1993; presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta, assassinated in March 1994; and the Secretary General of the Partido Revolucionario Institutional (PRI), Francisco Ruiz Massieu, who was killed in September 1994. These horrific crimes and the indelible impact that they have had on public opinion have further exacerbated the crisis of lack of public confidence in the institutions responsible for the prosecution of crime and the administration of justice.
138. The Commission continues to receive reports from various sources that indicate that the shameful practice of extrajudicial executions, followed by the impunity of the perpetrators, continues in Mexico. In this regard, the December 19, 1997 report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions contains a list of persons who, according to reports received by that international official, had been executed extrajudicially by Mexican police:
Celerino Jiménez Almara, who died on April 24, 1997, shortly after having been detained by investigative police in Oaxaca; Adrián Sebastián Antonio, who died in December 1996 in San Agustín Loxicha; Fernando González Pérez, Carmen González Gómez, Juan N. and Miguel Gómez Hernández, who died on March 14, 1997 in San Pedro Nixtalucum; Misael Tovar Rodríguez, who died on February 19, 1997 in Conejos, Municipality of Tula de Allende; Erick Cárdenas Esqueda, 16 years of age, who died on January 4, 1997 in the cells of the municipal police station in Laredo, Tamaulipas, as a result of abusive treatment; Sixto de la Rosa Martínez, whose body was supposedly found on May 2, 1997 in Calero de Cofrados, shortly after he was arrested by investigative police in the State of Nayarit; Reyes Penagos, who died on December 17, 1995 in Jaltenango, Chiapas; José López Reyes and Ricardo Rico López, who died on October 24, 1996 in Córdoba, Veracruz; Antonio Torres Estrada, who died in November 1996 in León, Guanajuato, after being beaten; Alejandro Herrera Flores, who died in October 1996 in Morelia, Michoacán, shortly after his arrest; Belisario Villegas Perrelleza, Silvestre Bernal and José Mario Payán Beltrán, members of the PRD, who died on December 3, 1996 in León Fonseca, Municipality of Sinaloa de Leyva.(14)
139. The referenced report of the Special Rapporteur also refers to complaints of extrajudicial executions at the hands of members of the armed forces, and specifically the execution of the following persons: Marcial Oribe Zarco on November 7, 1996 en Agua Fría, by six men wearing uniforms and badges of the Mexican Army and carrying AK-47 firearms; Valentín Carrillo Saldaña, on October 12, 1996, in San Juan Nepomuceno; and, Juan Aceves Cruz, in November 1996 in Oaxaca. Mention is also made of other serious complaints, including executions of PRD opposition party politicians, committed by PRI members, or under the orders of local officials belonging to that party. The Rapporteur passed on all of these reports to the Mexican State. After reviewing the State's response, the IACHR observes that the overwhelming majority of these cases were never cleared up, and so the perpetrators continue to go unpunished.
140. The grave situation described by this high international official coincides with data received by the IACHR from Mexican and international non-governmental organizations. For instance, the Mexican Committee for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights has indicated its concern over the increase in extrajudicial executions in recent years, and especially ever since the Zapatista rebellion in January 1994. In 1997 alone, that Committee received 27 reports of extrajudicial executions associated with operations to combat the insurgents and with State security operations.(15)
141. Nevertheless, the Commission saw during its on-site visit to Mexico the great efforts being made by the various State agencies to control the surge of violence in the country. Indeed, the programs created by the National Human Rights Commission and the Public Prosecutor's Office in the Federal District to educate the public and prevent situations of violence are clear examples of this.
142. Likewise, mention should be made of the willingness demonstrated initially by President Zedillo to negotiate a peace accord with the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), with a view to seeking a peaceful solution to this internal problem of violence in Mexico. Unfortunately, with the recent dissolution of the National Mediation Committee (CONAI)--followed by the violent incidents which occurred in various parts of Chiapas during June 1998--the outlook for peace is relatively discouraging in the short run. This delicate situation will be examined in greater depth further on in this report.
143. Finally, it is important to refer to the alarming reports formulated with regard to a recent operation by the security forces in the town of El Charco, in Guerrero State. This operation took place on June 7, 1998, when, according to official reports, members of the military and police force were attacked after surrounding a school in which several members of the ERPI (Revolutionary Army of the Insurgents, a splinter group of the EPR) were sleeping. According to preliminary data, the results were eleven dead, five wounded, and 22 arrested. The Commission had access to information from the people based on what was reported by eyewitnesses who were arrested at the site of the attack and later released:
Entrenched inside, with the desks piled up, the ERPI militia fired sporadically at the soldiers. At around 9:00 a.m., they called out that they would surrender. The soldiers entered the room, while civilians were dragged to the military vehicles. A guerrilla was overheard asking for pardon before he was shot several times and killed. A number of the local indigenous people could see how some of the militia were led out of the school unarmed, with their hands over their heads. They were also taken to the field, where the soldiers made them lie face down and shot them. Afterwards, they turned them over and shot them again. According to Martín Macario Salazar, Francisco Cristino Crescencio, and Eugenio Edudosio Trinidad, other members of the militia remained inside, wounded.
The evidence of the Army's attack had vanished scarcely 72 hours afterwards. Sergio Ramos Aguilar, a mason, along with three helpers, replastered the walls of the rooms which were perforated with hundred of shots. They took out the broken windows and replaced them with new ones made of aluminum and steel. And then they used white paint to hide the blood that stained the walls.(16)
144. The Mexican State, speaking through the Assistant Attorney-General, José Luis Ramos Rivera, denied the reports. At a press conference, that State official made the following statement: "There was a confrontation during which the Mexican Army was attacked …. it was not a massacre, nor were weapons planted, nor were people detained and tortured so that they would admit to being members of the EPRI." The Human Rights Committee of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies initiated an investigation into the events. Following a visit to the community, the head of that Committee, Benito Mirón Lince, made a public statement to the effect that there was evidence that what happened on June 7 was a massacre and not a confrontation. Consequently the federal lawmaker and one other member of that Committee indicated that they would demand an investigation into the crimes committed by the soldiers and punishment of the persons responsible for the operation.(17) The IACHR will follow this investigation as it unfolds, in addition to any efforts made by the Mexican State to obtain a full disclosure of the events that occurred at El Charco.
III. FORCED DISAPPEARANCES
145. The phenomenon of forced disappearances of people began in Mexico in the late 1960s, mostly in the state of Guerrero, where armed dissident movements were strong at the time. These acts were carried out in some cases by private parties tolerated by the State, and in others directly by State agents.
146. In recent years, despite vigorous efforts by the Mexican State to eradicate this kind of activity (including the creation by the National Human Rights Commission of a program for the presumed victims of forced disappearances and various State initiatives to educate and purge the security forces), complaints about forced disappearances continue to be made. Mexican human rights groups and the IACHR have information on forced disappearances which have occurred in conjunction with fighting guerrilla movements or drug trafficking, and even in conjunction with efforts to fight common crime. In 1997, for instance, the Mexican Committee for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights received direct reports of 65 presumed disappearances, which occurred primarily in Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, and the Federal District. That organization provided the following information:
The authorities cited most frequently as the ones probably responsible are the state public prosecutor offices, members of the Mexican Army, state police agencies, and the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic.(18)
147. Complaints received by the IACHR indicate that persons suspected of collaborating with the armed dissident groups are reported to be arbitrarily detained by members of the Armed Forces, usually in cooperation with other branches of the security forces, such as the judicial police or agents of the public security services, sometimes with the help of paramilitary groups known as "white guards."
148. The IACHR is aware of the drug-trafficking problem in Mexico and of the stated goals of the State to combat this threat to public safety. The IACHR also understands how complex these police operations are and the need for secrecy in order to achieve their objectives. Nevertheless, it has received complaints linking State agents in charge of these operations with the disappearance of persons. The IACHR states in this connection, without prejudging the truth of the complaints, that any action taken by State institutions to fight drug trafficking must adhere strictly to the norms laid down in domestic law and in international treaties that have been duly ratified by Mexico, including the American Convention.
149. With regard to the fight against common crime, the IACHR also has heard of cases of forced disappearances. It has been alleged in this connection that senior officers of the preventive police have coordinated operations that sometimes result in the unlawful detention of individuals and their subsequent disappearance.(19) In this connection, the IACHR must reiterate its view that, regardless of the gravity of the crime committed by a person, agents of the State must at all times respect that person's human rights, including, in particular, the right to life and to personal freedom.
150. Unfortunately, Mexican legislation does not yet provide for the characterization of any category of crime which includes the forced disappearance of persons. Though the crime of unlawful deprivation of liberty exists, it is not the most appropriate characterization for the prevention and punishment of the practice of forced disappearance. The IACHR has learned of the initiative of the Mexican National Human Rights Commission to submit to the Legislative Chamber a bill to reform the Federal Penal Code by including the crime of forced disappearance. The IACHR places high value on this initiative and hopes it will be well received by Congress. Approval of the bill by the legislature would help to address this problem and combat the impunity enjoyed by the guilty parties.
151. The Commission has received various complaints of violation of individuals' right to life by police agents or members of the Mexican army.(20) In particular, based on the information received and the experience gained by the IACHR during its Mexico visit, it attaches special importance to the problems of violations of the right to life in some parts of southern Mexico, especially in the states of Chiapas, Veracruz, Hidalgo, Guerrero y Oaxaca, and these will now be looked at in greater detail.
A. The State of Chiapas
152. Most of the population of Chiapas lives under extremely backward and impoverished conditions. Of the 111 municipalities that comprise the state, 94 exhibit high levels of exclusion, making the state the poorest in the country.
153. Chiapas is also one of the states with the greatest inequality in land tenure patterns and the greatest fragmentation of property. This largely explains why most conflicts in Chiapas are land-related. The nature of such conflicts varies from one part of the state to another. In municipalities in forested areas, small landowners frequently complain about eviction from their land. Conflicts also arise over property lines and demands for the enforcement of presidential decisions. Evictions are frequent in municipalities in the north of the state. In municipalities along the frontier with Guatemala, most disputes are over boundary lines caused by the overlapping of maps. And, finally, in the Altos de Chiapas region, almost all of the problems have their roots in internal disputes within communities and over public land.
154. The region is rife with social, religious, and cultural contrasts. In Chiapas there are indigenous people and mestizos living side by side, there is the traditional political system and the majority of the inhabitants living in poverty, properties with vast expanses of land bordering barren land with strong population pressures, there are the traditions and modern ways, traditional, indigenous religions existing alongside the Protestant and Catholic churches, traditional indigenous authorities and municipalities, and there are the contending forces of the dominant official party, the PRI, and the opposition PRD. To all of this is added the presence in Chiapas of a dissident armed group, the EZLN, which has been operating there ever since 1994. In the past four years, the Mexican State has allocated a large quantity of resources to Chiapas, so that it now reports that "regions free of conflict have attained standards of living similar to the national average." According to the State, "the refusal on the part of the EZLN and its members to receive government assistance has been the sole reason why no assistance has reached the areas of conflict and why conditions are worsening in those areas."
155. For decades, rural dwellers and indigenous people in many northern municipalities have been engaged in an intense struggle over land with landowners --mostly non indigenous--, "white guards" and members of police organizations. It is against this background that local indigenous groups have repeatedly denounced the existence of paramilitary groups that harass, threaten, assault, and in extreme cases murder those whom they consider to be opposed to them. The same complaints point out that the reaction of authorities to these grave crimes is in many cases an indifferent and tolerant one; and in others, it includes support and even the direct participation of security forces.
156. The IACHR also learned that during the period leading up to the municipal elections in October 1995, the "white guards" became noticeably more active in carrying out acts of aggression, intimidation and even murder against members and supporters of political parties.
157. The delicate and important process of dialogue, which was initiated to negotiate a response to the demands of the indigenous people and local peasants, has encountered numerous obstacles. During 1997, the spiraling violence against members of social organizations continued, including the unfortunate events that occurred towards the end of the year in the town of Acteal, where presumed paramilitary groups executed 45 indigenous people, many of whom were women and children. The National Mediation Commission (CONAI) was dissolved in June 1998, and a few days later an armed conflict broke out in the Chiapas municipality of El Bosque, leaving nine dead and various people wounded in both camps, and leading to the arrest of over 50 indigenous people. Both events will be analyzed in greater detail in this chapter.
a. State security forces
158. Dozens of peasant leaders and activists have been assassinated since 1994. Both the federal and state police have been frequently accused of arbitrary executions. In a specific case, the deaths occurred as a result of excessive force by police during operations to control peasant demonstrations arising from land disputes with local landowners. In January 1995, for example, the NGO coordinating committee reported that seven peasants had been killed in Chicomuselo, Chiapas, during a peasant rally. The coordinating committee reported the incident as follows:
At about 1.00 p.m., in an operation led by the state attorney-general, Jorge Enrique Hernández Aguilar, a force of municipal, public safety and state judicial officers violently attacked the members of the peasant organization OCEZ-CNPA, of Chicomuselo. The peasants were petitioning the state government to respond to their demands. During the demonstration, the police launched tear gas canisters and fired at the demonstrators and at the public in general. At about 12 noon the presence of armed civilians was reported (persons known as "white guards" who could be identified by the red armbands which they wore and because they worked in coordination with the police). At the same time, two helicopters of the Federal army flew over the area at low altitude, spreading panic among the people. Two truckloads of armed soldiers patrolled the city threatening the civilian population with their weapons. Shooting continued for another fourteen hours. Seven protestors were killed."(21)
159. Again, in November 1996, three peasants were reportedly killed in a police attack on demonstrators in Venustiano Carranza, in the state of Chiapas.
160. Over the last two years, the Mexican army has also been accused of killing unarmed civilians. During the armed uprising in Chiapas, in January 1994, the army was accused of killing 11 civilians who were taken from the hospital in Cosingo and their bodies buried in a garbage dump. The bodies of six other men were allegedly dragged through the main square with their hands tied behind their backs and bullet wounds in the back of their heads. At the same time, three elderly people from the nearby indigenous community of Morelia were arrested and reportedly tortured. They were taken away in a military vehicle with Red Cross markings and their remains were identified months later by forensic experts.(22)
161. Various cases of disappearance have also been reported. On this point, the United Nations Working Group on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances said that in 1995, most of the 21 cases reported related to disappearances in the State of Chiapas and involved indigenous people, peasants and members of political organizations.(23)
162. Numerous cases of forced disappearance have also been reported. The IACHR received information on fourteen indigenous Tzeltales who disappeared after having been kidnapped by members of the army while it was conducting operations in Chiapas in January 1994. According to the report, the list of victims included the following: Juan Mendoza Lorenzo, Eliseo Pérez Santis, Leonardo Méndez Sánchez, Vicente López Hernández, Manuel Sánchez González, Enrique González García, Marcelo Pérez Jiménez, Nicolás Cortéz Hernández, Alejandro Sánchez López, Doroteo Ruiz Hernández, Marcos Guzmán Pérez, Diego Aguilar Hernández, Fernando Ruiz Guzmán, y Antonio Guzmán González. The report indicates that the Mexican authorities have refused to provide information on the whereabouts of these persons.(24)
b. Death squads and "white guards"
163. A large number of murders have been blamed on unidentified individuals or on the paramilitary groups known as white guards, which are sometimes connected to landowners and local political bosses. According to information received by Commission, 292 activists of the PRD party were killed between July 1988 and January 1995. Amnesty International has stated in that connection that "In January 1994, the National Human Rights Commission officially confirmed the responsibility [of these groups] in 60 of the 140 murders of PRD members reported to the Commission. In most cases, those responsible for the attacks, including the white guards, acted with the approval of the local authorities, and have still not been prosecuted."(25)
c. The Acteal massacre
164. Another of the tragic occurrences that took place recently in the state of Chiapas, which reflects the gravity of the stage which this conflict has reached in the area was the massacre that took place in the community of Acteal, municipality of Chenalhó, on 22 December 1997. A group of heavily armed men killed 45 persons (including a baby, children and women), who were at the time internally displaced. Most of the victims were killed as they sought refuge inside a church, which was machine-gunned indiscriminately. The reports stated that the perpetrators of the massacre belong to paramilitary groups allegedly connected to local members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), including the then President of the Municipal Council of Chenalhó.
165. This act, which has produced justifiable outrage both nationally and internationally, is an indication of the excesses which the conflict in question can produce if urgent measures are not taken to combat the tolerance of this kind of acts, which leads to impunity. Also as important are the long-term goals in a number of areas (social, economic, legal, among others) to bring about a peaceful solution. More specifically, the State has the obligation imposed under Article 1.1 of the American Convention, namely: "to respect the rights and freedoms recognized in it and guarantee their free and full exercise to all persons under its jurisdiction." As part of that obligation, the State has the following duties: to prevent events of this kind from being repeated; to conduct a serious, complete, and exhaustive investigation into the events, so that the perpetrators can be identified, disarmed, and detained; and, to compensate the victims and their families for the damages resulting from the violation of their human rights.(26)
166. On 24 December 1997, the Commission requested Mexico to adopt without delay precautionary measures for the protection of the lives, physical integrity and health both of the immediate survivors of the Acteal massacre and of other internally displaced persons in the municipality of Chenalhó; to undertake an immediate, serious and exhaustive investigation of the reported events; punishment of the authors; and to take the necessary action to prevent any repetition of similar occurrences in the area. On 31 December 1997, Mexico informed the Commission of certain of the requested precautionary measures which it had taken in response to the Chenalhó incident. These measures included a series of steps taken by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic to investigate the incident, in addition to medical care for the wounded victims, protection for displaced persons, the establishment of 20 social assistance groups made up of various health professionals and others, and strict enforcement of the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives. The Commission received additional information and comments from complainants and the State, and it conducted a hearing of the two sides during its 98th session.
167. At the end of March 1998, the Attorney-General's Office had brought criminal proceedings against 124 persons in relation to the events in Acteal, and 97 of those persons were at the time being detained and were involved in a trial, facing primarily charges of homicide, assault and battery, possession and use of prohibited firearms or firearms for the exclusive use of the Armed Forces, and criminal conspiracy. Special attention should be drawn to the fact that the defendants in the criminal proceedings included the municipal president of Chenalhó on the day the events took place. That official stood accused of being an accessory before the fact to the crimes of aggravated homicide and wounding with grievous bodily harm, in addition to criminal conspiracy and possession of unlicensed firearms for the exclusive use of the Armed Forces. Moreover, eleven former police officers from the Chiapas State security forces were among those imprisoned in Chiapas facing criminal proceedings. They were charged with permitting the shipment of firearms for the exclusive use of the Armed Forces, and with failure to prevent the homicides from occurring, despite the fact that they were present at the time the incidents took place.
168. In principle, the IACHR does not have information that establishes the direct participation of members of the forces of law and order in the Acteal massacre. However, the Commission would point out that official data point to the fact that state agents were involved in previous stages and in the cover-up of the event. In fact, the inquiries conducted by the Office of the Attorney-General clearly show that public security forces not only tolerated, but encouraged the illicit trafficking in weapons to the benefit of groups supporting the authorities in office, on the alleged grounds that they were meant for their own protection and to defend their property. The investigation into the Acteal massacre by the Mexican State authorities has provided evidence that several of the accused had joined forces and been organized since September 1997 on the pretext of looking out for the security of the inhabitants of the community of Miguel Utrillla, Los Chorros, in the municipality of Chenalhó. The community leaders provided this group of supposed vigilantes with firearms, which over time became increasingly sophisticated and more powerful, as can be seen from the acquisition of AD-47 weapons and R-15 rifles, which civilians in Mexico are strictly prohibited from using.
169. Other recent steps taken by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic include the following: creation of a Special Prosecutor's Office for the municipality of Chenalhó, in charge of wrapping up the investigation into the incidents; a follow-up on the criminal proceedings, investigations, and inquiries related to the case; and investigation of the armed groups of civilians, and arms trafficking in Chiapas. In addition, three offices were opened under the Ministerio Publico de la Federación [Office of the Public Prosecutor of the Federation] in the municipalities of Pantelhó, Tila y Ocosingo, whose population is 95% indigenous. According to official reports, these offices will be staffed by bilingual ministerial personnel from the areas in question, to give greater attention to the local people.
170. The Commission acknowledges the importance of the measures that have been adopted to date by the State in investigating the Acteal massacre, but it reserves the right to give a detailed opinion regarding the effectiveness of those measures, since it may be called on to pronounce a decision in an individual case. As far as the precautionary or protective measures are concerned, the Commission expects to continue to receive information from the Mexican State periodically, which it will forward to the complainants so that they may submit any comments they may have. The IACHR will keep the situation in Acteal and in the villages affected by the events described under close observation.
d. El Bosque
171. On June 10, 1998, the State conducted a joint police-military operation in the municipality of El Bosque in Chiapas State. According to official information, the purpose was to recover the building which housed the offices of the autonomous municipal council of San Juan de la Libertad, and serve 15 arrest warrants in the villages of Unión Progreso and Chavajeval in that municipality. According to preliminary reports, the mobilization of over a thousand soldiers and policemen culminated in the death of seven peasants and one policeman, with nine people on both sides wounded, 57 indigenous people arrested, and one PGR helicopter damaged. The information received indicates that this was the first armed conflict since the cease-fire agreed between the State and the EZLN in March 1994.(27)
172. According to the official version, the conflict began when the police were ambushed and attacked by weapon fire at approximately seven in the morning on June 10, 1998, at a place close to Chavajeval. Mexico's Interior Secretary, Francisco Labastida Ochoa, reported that the attack was not initiated by the Mexican army, or by State security forces from Chiapas State, but that: "they were attacked when they tried to arrest various persons for whom arrest warrants had been issued on charges of homicide and grievous bodily harm.(28) In contrast, the Autonomous Council of "San Juan de la Libertad" and representatives of the Unión Progreso community asserted that what had happened was a State attack.
173. The events in El Bosque have been the subject of reports and communiqués issued by various organizations, including the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mrs. Mary Robinson, who heads that office, had the following to say in her first statement on Chiapas since she took office:
The deaths of nine people in what has been reported as action by government forces in the town of San Juan de la Libertad this week is just the latest in a string of violent incidents in a region already affected by widespread displacement, dispossesion and severe poverty.(29)
174. Mrs. Robinson also stated in the same press release that the reports regarding the situation in that state "paint a grim picture of an atmosphere of fear among the indigenous people of Chiapas caught between government forces suported by officially funded militias on one side and armed resistance groups on the other. Such conflict does not serve the interests of anyone".
175. The IACHR will keep this worrisome situation under close examination. For the time being, the Commission expresses its concern over the escalating violence in the region, and notes that this has coincided with the collapse of the negotiations and the expulsion of the international human rights observers.
B. The Huastecas region of Veracruz and Hidalgo
176. The Huastecas region is located between the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madre Oriental, in the states of Veracruz and Hidalgo. The main inhabitants of this region are indigenous Nahuas, Totonacas, Otomis, Huastecos, and Tepehuas, although mestizos are found in the main towns. The precarious economic conditions in which the indigenous people live, together with strong competition from ranchers and farmers, have been at the root of the serious social conflicts over land in Huastecas. The peasants in this region have launched their resistance by establishing various organizations to defend their rights, and in particular their right to land. The last few years have seen an upsurge in violence by the police, officials and caciques [local political bosses]. The violence is rooted not only in land issues, but also in political and military issues.
177. In recent years the federal government has shown its concern over this area of the country, and it has carried out different programs in an attempt to prevent the social differences among its inhabitants from becoming more accentuated and to restore law and order. Nonetheless, recent data point to a series of violent events in which it is not always easy to distinguish the roles of the various participants. In the Veracruz area of Huastecas, the victims are mostly indigenous peasants, who are often members or leaders of the OIPUH-FDOMEZ(30) a group that comprises the Independent Organization of the United Peoples of Huasteca and the Emiliano Zapata Organized Democratic Mexican Front, or the Organization of Ethnic Peoples of Huastecas. The aggressors are generally identified with public security forces, the army, and pistoleros [gunmen] linked with local political bosses and officials.
178. In Huastecas, the conflict has agrarian and political roots. The struggle over the land is still going on, and the local peasants continue to be the victims of repression exercised through persons known as regional "caciques" or political bosses. These leaders are usually landowners with local political influence, who resort to illegal armed groups known as "pistoleros" to defend their interests. In this part of the country, the situation described, together with the presumed action of armed groups and the activities of drug traffickers, has led to a deepening of the conflict. This conflict has been reactivated since the EZLN revolt in Chiapas and, the joint operations of the army and the police, mounted under the pretext of searching for weapons or drug traffickers, have dealt a hard blow to the indigenous communities, whose inhabitants report that a general climate of terror and hostility prevails.
179. A similar situation exists in the state of Hidalgo. There too, the victims are primarily indigenous peasants. However, land disputes do not appear to have been as important a factor here as in the Huasteca Veracruz areas. The level of politico-military violence increased in 1995, particularly in the municipalities of Atlapexco and Huatla.
180. In a communiqué which it sent to President Zedillo, the FDOMEZ denounced "caciques and large landowners pretending to be small landowners", who have killed many indigenous peasants in the municipalities of Yahualica, Tianguistengo, Huazalingo, Atlapexco and Huejutla in the state of Hidalgo, and in Tantoyuca, Chalma, Benito Juárez and Ixhuatlán in Veracruz, with the support of "paramilitary groups, police and the Mexican army itself, driving them from their lands, arresting them and unjustly imprisoning them, if not forcing their disappearance or killing them outright".(31)
181. The Working Group on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances also noted in its most recent report that a large number of people had forcibly disappeared in the state of Veracruz during 1995.(32)
182. The IACHR has received complaints about the situation referred to above. On August 11, 1995, for example, it received a complaint about the torture and killing of Rolando and Atanasio Hernández Hernández. According to the complainants, the judicial police of the state of Veracruz and gunmen in the service of the former head of the municipality of Ixhuatlán de Madero attacked and evicted the indigenous Nahua and Otomi communities living in Plan del Encimal, in the municipality of Madero, Veracruz. The attackers shot and wounded their victims, bound them and took them away when they withdrew from the community. Four days later, the bodies of Rolando and Atanasio Hernández Hernández were discovered with clear marks of torture.
183. The IACHR approved publication of the 1/98 report on the Hernández Hernández case during its 99th special session. In that report, the Commission concluded that the State had violated Articles 4, 5, 7, 8, and 25 of the American Convention. It went on to reiterate its recommendations to the Mexican State, as follows: that it complete a serious, impartial, and effective investigation into the reported events and institute criminal proceedings against the responsible parties; that it provide for reparations to compensate for those violations; that it enact a law regulating Article 21 of the Constitution to ensure that the rights to judicial guarantees and judicial protection, as set forth in Articles 8 and 25 of the American Convention, are enforced.
C. The State of Guerrero
184. Some of the most serious violations of the right to life in recent years have been reported in the state of Guerrero. The economic, social and cultural backwardness of most of the communities in the state is viewed as the result of the misguided policies pursued by States about whose arbitrariness complaints have been received. The violent incidents that have occurred there have focused national attention on this state. Unfortunately, facts that are known about the situation paint a sorry picture of the daily lot of the residents of that state: official intimidation of social opposition leaders, militarization of the state under the pretext of combating drug traffickers and armed dissident groups, assassinations carried out by members of the state security forces, and pre-and post-election conflicts.
185. The pattern of repression that has prevailed and spread over time frequently involves members of the state police force. Torture, murder, arrest and illegal judicial processes, disappearances, electoral violence and violence resulting from conflicts over land, increased militarization and intimidation by the military, according to reports received, are violations of the personal freedoms of the residents of the state of Guerrero.
186. In this connection, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances reported that between 1974 and 1981 there were 98 complaints of disappearances in the state of Guerrero, and that of the five new cases reported in 1996, four related to the state of Guerrero.(33)
187. The disparity in living conditions has also led to social protest and has polarized the political situation, which in turn has provoked official repression, making Guerrero the most repressive state in the nation.
188. In recent years, in the wake of the political upheaval that followed the 1988 elections, a series of violations of the personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution have been reported in the state of Guerrero. This situation began since the creation of the opposition party PRD, which resulted in various violent conflicts between its followers and those of the governing PRI, where the latter's members have benefited from the tolerance or outright support for these illegal acts of the security forces and authorities of the above mentioned state.
189. These reports have sometimes implicated the state security forces in large-scale extra-judicial executions, such as the killing in 1995 of 17 peasants who were on their way to attend an event in honor of Gilberto Romero Vásquez, their leader who had forcibly disappeared. According to the report submitted to the IACHR, on 28 June 1995, several members of the Peasant Organization of Sierra del Sur (OCSS) in the state of Guerrero had boarded a red truck to take part in a demonstration demanding that their disappeared comrade be produced alive. A blue truck had set out at the same time with 50 passengers aboard. At approximately 10.30 a.m., the red truck with 70 peasants aboard was stopped at the Aguas Blancas ford by members of the motorized police of the state of Guerrero. After stopping the bus, the police forced the peasants to get out of the truck and to lie face down on the ground. Ten minutes later, the smaller blue truck arrived at the scene and its passengers were also forced to get disembark. As they were doing so, however, the police opened fire indiscriminately. The shooting lasted ten minutes, during which 17 people were killed. In the months leading up to this killing, several confrontations had taken place between the indigenous communities and State officials. More than three dozen people, including political activists, peasants and police officers had been killed by unidentified assailants during this period.
190. In conjunction with the preparation of this report, the Commission initiated proceedings in Case 11.520 (Tomás Porfirio Rondín and others). In this case, the IACHR concluded that the Mexican State violated Articles 4, 5, 7, 8 and 25 of the American Convention. Consequently, in its final report 49/97, it recommended that the Mexican State take the following steps:
A. Complete a serious, impartial, and effective investigation into the events described in this report, which occurred on June 28, 1995, in the ford of the Aguas Blancas river, based on the judgment handed down by the Supreme Court of Justice on April 23, 1996.
B. Initiate the appropriate criminal action, so that the personal involvement of high officials of the government of Guerrero State, who were identified in the judgment issued by the Supreme Court, can be established, and so that, as a consequence, the corresponding criminal sentences can be imposed on the responsible parties.
C. Authorize adequate compensation to the families of the persons who were executed, and to the surviving victims of the events in Aguas Blancas, and arrange for proper medical care for the victims who require it, as a result of the wounds they received during the referenced incident in Aguas Blancas.
D. Adopt the necessary measures to ensure the prompt enactment of a law regulating Article 21 of the Mexican Constitution, to enforce judicial guarantees and judicial protection, as set forth in Articles 8 and 25 of the American Convention.(34)
191. In its final conclusions on report 49/97, the IACHR decided that the State had not carried out the recommendations indicated, based on the information provided by both parties,. In fact, the State did not complete a serious or impartial investigation into the events underlying the report. This finding is all the more alarming when account is taken of the time that has lapsed since the Supreme Court established that high officials of Guerrero State, including the Governor himself, were involved in the events. The ineffectiveness of the current investigations is more than obvious, because of the lack of concrete results, and because of the consequent impunity of the persons materially and intellectually responsible for the events. The compensation granted by the State is not considered adequate either, since it was not based on the individual circumstances of the victims. As for regulations pertaining to Article 21 of the Constitution, the Commission noted the progress made in the arguments advanced in the decision issued by the Supreme Court of Mexico in case CLXVI/97, issued on November 11, 1997, which determines the merits of amparo proceedings in cases in which the Public Prosecutor refrains from or delays in initiating criminal proceedings. However, the IACHR decided to reiterate the recommendation it made in this regard in the interest of greater legal certainty, and also on account of the fact that said recommendation was not applied to the case in point. Based on all the foregoing, the IACHR decided, at its 98th regular session, to publish Report No. 49/97 and to include it in its Annual Report to the OAS General Assembly.
192. The police were also blamed for the execution of 12 peasants in a nearby village, who had been identified a few days after the attack by the only survivor, a boy of fourteen.
193. On June 28, 1996, at a ceremony organized to commemorate the first anniversary of the "Aguas Blancas massacre", a group of armed individuals wearing face masks and military-style clothing made its appearance. Without committing any acts of violence, the members of the group introduced themselves as the People's Revolutionary Army (EPR) and read out a statement which they referred to as the "Aguas Blancas manifesto" and in which they explained the reasons that had led them to become an armed opposition group.
194. The next day, the state of Guerrero was virtually occupied by personnel from the Mexican army and navy. Almost immediately, reports began to be received of arbitrary arrests, especially by militants of OCSS, an organization that was believed to be linked to armed groups. Witnesses reported that detainees were beaten during this operation and were later held incommunicado.
195. In its observations on this report, the Mexican State stated that the EPR "is a terrorist group which has attacked military installations, wounding and even killing members of the Armed Forces. In the face of this situation, the State has acted with the firmness required to maintain order." The IACHR acknowledges and respects the obligation and authority of a State to defend itself against armed movements, and to come to the point of using force. However, the Commission considers it necessary to point out that the "firmness" with which the Mexican State claims to have acted must always be exercised within the legal limits imposed by international humanitarian and human rights law. The Commission regards this clarification to be opportune, in view of the fact that the presence of the EPR has not only triggered renewed controls, but also the indiscriminate subjugation of community organizations and leaders. At the present time, the militarization has spread over various states, where the official justification for this military presence is stated as a need to combat drugs and crime. It is clear that as the military presence in certain communities increases, reports of violations of the right to life of the local inhabitants increases as well.(35)
D. The State of Oaxaca
196. Oaxaca is a state that has traditionally suffered from violence linked to its politico-economic system. Its poverty and geography have conspired to keep many communities isolated and defenseless. A large part of the indigenous population speaks no Spanish, which places them in an even more vulnerable situation and facilitates their exploitation and control by caciques.
197. Since 1989, most of the political repression and killing in Oaxaca has been directed against local leaders who had been fighting the system for years through their regional organizations. Others have been reportedly killed for protesting against electoral fraud.
198. According to data supplied by the human rights secretariat of the PRD, the following cases that occurred during 1994 may be mentioned as examples:
- The PRD leader in Tlalistac de Cabrera, Pánfilo Lorenzo Hernández, was shot to death in the vicinity of San Sebastián Tutla. His killing was believed to be "political revenge" for having led the movement to recover land for the peasants of that region.
- Eliseo Alfonso Cruz Sandoval, a 66-year-old peasant, was shot to death as he walked with his son to the community of Las Trancas, where they were to meet with the archbishop.
- Cándido Robles Ruiz and Cristóforo Herrera were murdered by persons waiting in ambush as they made their way to a local bar after attending a meeting.
a. Land and violence
199. Problems stemming from ownership of land persist in Mexico today. In Oaxaca, land disputes create tensions between and within indigenous communities, between large and small landowners, and between different religious sects, political parties and peasant organizations.
200. There are currently more that 300 unresolved land disputes in the state and these have led to considerable violence. According to information received, state government forces have sometimes taken part in acts of violence. At other times, the violence takes place within the communities themselves. It is widely believed, however, that the government is using land disputes as a means of social control, to keep dissidents out of power. The general opinion among the region's inhabitants is that the state government shows favoritism to some over others and that it sometimes purposely allows the violence to continue without any attempt to control it.
b. Violence against human rights defenders and against indigenous and other civic leaders
201. In recent years, there has been a widespread movement to develop civilian organizations, such as indigenous peasant associations, groups of teachers, outreach workers, and human rights defenders. This process has changed the traditional social dynamics, and has touched off violent reactions at times on the part of the local political bosses and officials of the governing party. As a result, civilian society in Oaxaca has been the object of serious attacks and threats. These attacks have taken various forms: some have consisted of campaigns to discredit members of these community organizations; in other cases, they have taken the form of actual physical attacks on these organizations, causing injuries and even death to its members; legal means have also been employed to intimidate non-governmental organizations. In all of these cases, the common objective is to sow terror among these groups so that they will abandon their efforts to bring about social change.
202. Frequently these activists raise issues that relate to such matters as democracy, corruption, justice and human rights, which are perceived as a challenge to the status quo in the hundreds of small and isolated communities throughout Oaxaca. But, as stated earlier, the state has had a long tradition of caciquismo, whereby powerful local bosses exert considerable influence over important aspects of the lives of all members of the community. It is not surprising, then, that individuals who dare to question this social model - including people from communities other than those in which they lend their services - are targets of attack and in extreme cases even assassination because of their activities in the region. The IACHR examines this type of situation in greater detail in Chapter X of this report, under the right to freedom of expression.
203. In view of the situation described above, the IACHR makes the following recommendations to the Mexican State:
204. To take the necessary steps to reform the criminal law of Mexico with a view to characterizing forced disappearance as a crime.
205. To conduct meaningful, prompt and impartial investigations in all cases of disappearances that have not yet been resolved and those responsible punished.
206. To act in a meaningful, immediate and effective manner to ensure that complaints about violations of the right to life committed by members of the Mexican police or Armed Forces are immediately and thoroughly investigated and that those found guilty are duly punished.
207. To take the necessary steps in order to ensure that security agents are subject to administrative suspension during the investigation of complaints of alleged violations of the right to life.
208. To develop coordinated strategies to effectively combat the proliferation of paramilitary groups ("white guards"), who are organized by landowners, to disband such groups, disarm its members, investigate the violations, and to punish those persons whose responsibility has been established.
209. To provide better training for police personnel with particular emphasis on the excesses which they commit during operations to control crowds, especially of rural dwellers; and to clearly inform such officials of their duties and obligations and of the criminal liability which they may incur if they fail to observe the requirements of the law.
210. To provide remedies and compensation to the relatives of victims of violations of the right to life.
211. To promote and develop peace initiatives in areas affected by armed conflict, especially in the states of Chiapas and Guerrero, with a view to bringing about the reforms that are necessary to ensure full compliance with human rights.
13. Mexico issued a statement of interpretation with respect to article 4, paragraph 1, to the effect that the expression "in general", which is used in the above-mentioned paragraph, does not create any obligation to adopt or maintain in force legislation to protect life "from the moment of conception", since this matter is within the exclusive competence of States.
14. United Nations, E/CN.4/1998/68/Add.1, December 19, 1997, par. 262 (unofficial translation)
15. Mexican Committee for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, Los derechos humanos en México, report presented to the IACHR, Document Series No. 10, October 1997, p. 33. Reference should also be made to the following passage from the 1997 report of the nongovernmental organization, Amnesty International:
Various persons, including political party members, were executed extrajudicially by members of the security forces and paramilitary groups. Most of these perpetrators were granted impunity. In January, Gildardo Dorantes Muñoz, a member of the OCSS and PRD, was assassinated in Mexcaltepec, Guerrero State, by local agents who had threatened him previously for his political activities, In February, nine peasants in El Paraíso, Guerrero State, were killed by the state police. They had supposedly discovered evidence of local police involvement in kidnappings. In April, Marcos Olmedo Gutiérrez, a CUT party member, was executed extrajudicially by members of the Morelos State police force. He had been wounded and arrested during a peaceful demonstration which was attacked by the police. In September, members of the Alianza San Bartolomé de los Llanos, a paramilitary group with close ties to local government officials, arrested Manuel Martínez de la Torre, a politically active peasant, put a hood over his head, and shot him twice in the head outside his home in Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas State. In November, three peasants who were activists were assassinated in Laja Tendida, State of Chiapas, when state police and soldiers fired on the participants in a peaceful demonstration.
Amnesty International, AI Report 1997: Mexico, AMR41, page 4 (Internet publication, unofficial translation).
16. The weekly "Proceso" No. 1128, Testimony from indigenous people confirm that several members of the militia and two civilians were executed in El Charco, Internet publication dated June 14, 1998, pages 6 and 2, respectively.
17. La Jornada" newspaper, PGR: en El Charco hubo enfrentamiento, no matanza ["Confrontation but No Massacre in El Charco"] Internet publication dated June 19, 1998.
18. Mexican Committee for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, op. cit., p. 19.
20. The Commission does not prejudge in any way the final outcome of these denunciations, which are being investigated.
21. Garrett, Frances. Parliamentary Human Rights Group. Mexico: Human Rights Traded In. January, 1997.
23. Report of the Working Group on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances, E/CN.4/1997/34, December 13, 1996, par. 231-237.
24. MEXICO "Disappearances": a black hole in the protection of human rights" Amnesty International, AMR 41/05/98, May 7, 1998, p. 21.
25. "Human Rights Violations in México: A Challenge for the Nineties", Amnesty International, London, November 1995.
26. See IDH Court, Velásquez Rodríguez Case, Preliminary Pleas, Judgment of June 26, 1987, par. 191.
27. "Proceso," 1128, "Two versions of the conflict in Chiapas," published on the Internet June 14, 1998.
28. "La Jornada" newspaper, SG: Ante el silencio de Marcos, paciencia infinita [With Marcos' Silence, Infinite Patience], Internet publication dated June 19, 1998.
29. United Nations, HR/98/38, June 12, 1998, High Commissioner for Human Rights expresses mounting concern about situation in Chiapas, Mexico
30. In its analysis of the role of rural people's organizations in the region, one Mexican NGO provides the following clarification:
Despite a history of fighting for the rights of rural people, and despite real progress, recent actions by the OIPUH-FDOMEZ have been improper. Though often victims of repression, the members of these organizations have also been perpetrators.
"Miguel Agustín Pro" Human Rights Center, Violence in the Huastecas region of Veracruz and Hidalgo, Internet document http://mixcoac.uia.mx/-prodh/huasteca.htm, p. 4.
31. Miguel Agustín Pro Human Rights Center, op. cit., p. 6.
32. Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, E/CN.4/1997/34, December 13, 1996, paras. 231-237.
33. United Nations, E/CN.4/1997/34 cited.
34. 1997 Annual Report of the IACHR, Report No. 49/97, Case 11,520 - Mexico, February 18, 1998, p. 704.
35. On this point, Starting in 1994, Amnesty International reported an "alarming increase" in the number of complaints involving new cases of forced disappearance. In most cases, the persons were political and social activists, and who disappeared in the course of supposed counter-insurgence operations or operations to combat drug trafficking, especially in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca, where armed dissident groups emerged in 1994 and 1996. See Amnesty International, AMR 41/05/98, May 7, 1998.