University of Minnesota


Doc. 7 rev. 1
September 24, 1998
Original: Spanish





506. Mexico's indigenous population is estimated to number 10 million, or a little over 10per cent of its total population. Around 6.5 million of these people speak one of the 59 different autochthonous languages and retain their own cultural values, their own relationship with nature, their own system of justice and their own methods of organizing production. They also identify themselves as indigenous people.(145)

507. Most of Mexico's indigenous peoples are concentrated in twenty regions which have a majority indigenous population and reflect the diversity of these societies. In the north, the Mayo region (Sinaloa and Sonora) and the Tarahumara region (Chihuahua); in the centre of the country the Huicot region (Huicholes, Coras and Tepehuanos) in Nayarint, Durango and Jalisco; the Purepecha tableland region (Michoacán); the Mazahua-Otomí region in Querétaro and the state of Mexico; the Otomí region in Querétaro, Hidalgo and Guanajuato; the Huasteca region of Potosí, Hidalgua, and Veracruz; the region of Norte de la Sierra de Puebla; the Totonaca de Veracruz y Puebla region; the Nahuatl de Jalapa region; and the Nahuatl region on the coast of Michoacán. Another extensive region with a heavy Indian population is the Yucatan peninsula (Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Róo). In the south, there are three Nahuatl regions (in Cañada Oaxaqueña-Poblana, Veracruz and Puebla); the Nahuatl-Tiapaneca-Mixteca-Amuzgo de Guerrero region; the Chontal de Tabasco region; the Oaxaca region; and the Chiapas region (Norte de Chiapas, Selva Lacandona, and Altos de Chiapas).

508. A large percentage of Mexico's indigenous peoples maintain their own identity to a great extent and live in villages and districts regarded as "indigenous". Indeed, 28 per cent of the country's towns or villages have a significant indigenous population. A survey by the National Indigenous Institute of Mexico, which was based on the 1990 national census, showed that there are at least 13,179 localities that are predominantly indigenous (where 70 per cent or more of the population speak an indigenous language) and 4,359 towns with a less concentrated indigenous population (where from 30 per cent to 69 per cent of the population speak an indigenous language).

509. These predominantly indigenous localities (more than 17,000) account for 7 per cent of the country's population. When added to the 26,680 towns and villages with a scattered indigenous population, we see that there is a significant or predominant indigenous population in 28 per cent of the towns and villages in the country. Most of them (60.7 per cent) have a population of less than 500, and 13.8 per cent of them have between 500 and 2,500 inhabitants. The remainder of the indigenous people, approximately one-third to one-fourth of them, lives in larger cities.

510. Mexico's indigenous peoples are disadvantaged in comparison with the rest of the population in terms of access to State services. In many areas of the country they live in deplorable conditions of poverty without access to social and health services. Also, official studies show that, while indigenous municipalities represent one-third of all municipalities in the country, they account for 48 per cent of those that are "highly disadvantaged" and 82 per cent of those that may be described as "extremely disadvantaged".

511. In the field of education, while Mexico's population as whole record high rates of preschool and primary school attendance, the rate of attendance for indigenous children is lower. Fifty-nine per cent of indigenous children five years of age do not attend preschool and 28 per cent of those aged 6 to 14 years do not attend primary school. As a result, 43 per cent of indigenous people over 15 years of age have had no formal education, one-third of them have not completed primary school, and just over 10 per cent of them have received some secondary schooling. Whereas the rate of illiteracy for the adult population as a whole is 12.4 per cent, the rate for indigenous people is 46 per cent.

512. In the area of housing, only 32 per cent of the predominantly indigenous localities have running water and only 10 per cent have sewage systems. Eight out of every ten indigenous homes do not even have a sheet-metal roof and only dirt floors. It is important to note, however, that 94 per cent of the indigenous inhabitants of these localities own their own land and homes as compared with only 77 per cent of the rest of the population.

513. Indigenous women are the most disadvantaged, since they have the highest rates of illiteracy and the least education and suffer the most from malnutrition and health problems.

514. It is indigenous people who are suffering most acutely from Mexico's agricultural crisis and from the drop in the prices of agricultural products. To indicate the magnitude of this crisis, in Baja California, for example, as many as 35 per cent of the day laborers are children. In Hidalgo, approximately 5,000 indigenous children leave school every year because of the need to work.

515. Historically, indigenous people and their communities have had to settle primarily in semi-arid or wild areas, because their lands were penetrated and occupied. The low agricultural productivity of the land on which they were forced to settle and later the sub-dividing of land-holdings and the lack of investment in productive activities and infrastructure by the State worsened their economic situation and made the survival of their cultures and communities difficult. Despite all this, they have managed to remain well organized and culturally rich insofar as their knowledge of nature, collective work and survival strategies in the face of the various obstacles to their development are concerned.


516. The Mexican Constitution states in Article 4 that: "The Mexican nation is a mix of many cultures originally based on its indigenous peoples..." This recognition is expressed in various legal provisions that guarantee the acceptance of traditional indigenous institutions and their customs and practices. In certain circumstances, Mexican law authorizes elections to municipal posts to be conducted on the basis of the decision-making procedures traditionally used by local indigenous peoples and of the Indigenous Law known as "Indigenous Practices and Customs". Recognition of this law and of traditional indigenous institutions, many of which are still very active, has become more widespread in Mexico in recent years, although it is still incipient.

517. As indicated above, Mexico has 2,403 municipalities, and in 803 of them the indigenous population accounts for more than 30 per cent of the inhabitants, which has important implications for the cultural and electoral weight of the indigenous peoples in these communities, especially in terms of candidacies for municipal office and the exercise of municipal authority as well as the modalities of election.

518. A particularly noteworthy example is that of the state of Oaxaca, where out of 570 municipalities, 140 elect their municipal officials under the regular system and 430 conduct elections based on indigenous "practices and customs". According to information received by the Commission during its on-site visit, these electoral methods are consistent with political pluralism, the right to participate and freedom of expression. In both forms of election, the two largest national parties and the local lists received a variable but significant number of victories.(146)

519. In the state of Chiapas, on the contrary, various associations(147) have reported that the legislative elections held in July 1997 and which were generally acknowledged to have been fairly conducted in most of the states of the country, were not fairly conducted in a number of districts with a heavy indigenous population. This seems to be confirmed by the findings of the Federal Electoral Institute, which stated as follows:

In some districts of this region (Chiapas) there are circumstances that have an adverse effect on the electoral process, as it is set forth in and defined by the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States and the Federal Code of Electoral Procedures and Institutions.

In communities in the municipalities of Tila, Sabanilla and Salto de Agua in District 01, in the municipality of Bosque in District 02, and in the municipalities in Chenalho and Pantelhó in District 05, there is an atmosphere of insecurity caused by criminal elements and by political and economic factors. The real violence that prevails in those municipalities and the potential for further violence endanger the right of citizens to vote freely in various areas and polling booths in the region.

520. Indeed, numerous incidents were reported during the elections, including the setting on fire of 160 voting booths, actions that were attributed to local groups of opposing political affiliations. These incidents, together with mistrust of the electoral process itself and certain isolated cases of the presence of military roadblocks which prevented the free flow of traffic, caused about 65 per cent of the registered voters in that state to abstain. It is interesting to recall that in the 1995 elections for municipal presidents, the abstention rate was 72 per cent, which was attributed (148) to the alleged fraud in the gubernatorial elections of 1994.(149) On that occasion, the PRI candidate was officially declared the winner, but the State Democratic Assembly of the People of Chiapas refused to accept the declaration and named the PRD candidate as their Governor. As a result of these events and to protest the fact that a governor had been imposed on them, 38 municipalities declared themselves in rebellion and elected under their indigenous laws based on Indian "practices and customs" officials other than the ones who had the official elections. Faced with the institutional and popular protest, the PRI governor-elect resigned his office. However, the same elections determined the deputy and senator who would represent the district in Congress. This situation helped to create a climate in which violations of human rights were committed in the Norte de Chiapas region, as described later in this chapter.

521. Another situation related to the political rights of the indigenous people also contributed to the tension: the possibility of electing their own local authorities using traditional procedures. This right claimed by the indigenous people is already being exercised in the neighboring state of Oaxaca (as was mentioned earlier) and has been accepted as a policy in the San Andrés Agreements. However, this right has not been recognized in Chiapas, despite the fact that the communities have requested it.


522. In recent years, the presence of the Armed Forces in areas that are predominantly indigenous has been growing. A primary reason for this increased deployment has been the emergence of armed dissident groups in various parts of the country, which has led the national government to establish a military presence in those areas. The Commission has received information to the effect that this militarization has entailed restrictions on freedom of movement, commerce and the general tranquility of the population. There have also been reports of human rights violations committed by the security forces against the life, integrity, freedom and property of the rural and indigenous civilian population.

523. It is a general principle of international humanitarian law that Armed Forces must perform their duty with due respect for the civilian population, no matter what their mission may be, and that they must use methods that entail the least risk of collateral harm to the civilian population. This general principle is and given greater and more specific meaning through full respect for the rights and guarantees provided by the American Convention and other human rights treaties, even in territories where there is rebellion or a danger of rebellion. The American Convention itself and the relevant Mexican laws define the situations in which certain rights may be suspended under emergency measures and establish the applicable limits. Even so, there are certain inalienable rights, such as the right to life and physical integrity and other rights specified in the Convention, which must be observed at all times.

524. In Mexico, no constitutional measures to suspend rights and guarantees have been adopted. Therefore, even in areas where attacks by dissident forces may occur or where the presence of guerrilla groups is suspected, the freedoms of movement, commerce and expression, among others, must be respected.

525. However, during its on-site visit and in complaints received subsequent thereto, the Commission had access to credible reports about the militarization of areas with a heavy concentration of indigenous peoples, which involved restrictions on the freedom of movement and commerce and the disruption of the general tranquillity of the population, as well as isolated cases of violations of the right to life, personal integrity and property.

526. In the case of Chiapas, the Commission was told of the presence of Mexican Army camps in 46 municipalities in the state, (or in 41.4 per cent of the total number of municipalities in Chiapas) and the occupation of at least 111 indigenous communities.(150) Under the command of the Chiapas military headquarters, this deployment has expanded to the interior of the state of Tabasco. In various instances, the military presence has allegedly led to restrictions on the freedom of movement and checkpoints have been set up along roads at a number of points, temporarily preventing freedom of movement in some communities.

527. According to the complaints received, 1996 and 1997 witnessed an increase in the number of attacks and rape committed by soldiers and police officers against indigenous and peasant women living in rural communities. In Chiapas, the organization OPEZ issued a public denunciation of the rape of ten indigenous women by a group of heavily armed individuals wearing face masks and uniforms of the Federal Judicial Police, who plundered the Los Centros estate on the border with Guatemala. The Human Rights Commission of Chihuahua received a complaint of the rape of an indigenous Tarahumara woman by a soldier from the Bachamuchi military camp.

528. In 1995, the Union of Sierra del Sur Organizations in Guerrero (UOSS) reported threats made against groups which were demanding an investigation into the Aguas Blanca case and accused the state authorities of instigating the threats. Reports were also received that military and police personnel were harassing residents of the communities under the pretext that they were looking for armed groups. The OCSS reported that its leader in Patatlán, Angel Valdovinos, had disappeared.

529. That same year, during the regional indigenous meeting in Xalapa, Veracruz, the indigenous people gathered there complained of the repression and demanded a halt to the harassment of their leaders in Popoluca, Nahuatl and Zapotec in the southern part of the state.

530. The Mexican Human Rights League reported in 1996 that, as a result of military and police harassment in Huastecas, the mental health of indigenous Otomí and Nahuatl children had been severely impaired. The children exhibit disturbed behavior characterized by fear of the dark, trembling and shaking and neurotic disturbances following the constant raids and attacks on their communities. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), for its part, warned that fight against public insecurity should not affect children and it referred to the serious situation of the Otomí and Nahuatl children in the Huastecas areas, who were victims of military and police repression.

531. In August 1996, officials of the Defense Ministry and of the Seventh Military Region of the state of Chiapas gave a detailed briefing to the Commission, in which they claimed that their presence and actions in various parts of the Federation were strictly related to the performance of their professional duties, in the face of the emergence of irregular armed movements, such as the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL). They also indicated that all of their personnel and soldiers received orders and instructions to respect human rights and that any complaints of human rights violations that were reported by the local people were fully investigated.


532. On June 28, 1995, the so-called "Massacre of Aguas Blancas" took place in Guerrero; those events have been analyzed in Chapter II of this report. On first anniversary of those events, a new dissident armed group calling itself the People's Revolutionary Army [Ejército Popular Revolucionario] (EPR), emerged in Guerrero and expressed its intention to operate as a dissident armed group using uniforms, weapons and military organization. The Mexican State immediately took steps to counter the activities of this new group, mainly through the actions of the Mexican Army.

533. According to reports, the rapid succession of events created a climate of heightened insecurity characterized by frequent human rights violations attributable to State agents, especially in the 14 municipalities that form the area known as Montaña de Guerrero. There is extensive military deployment in this area and this has coincided with other phenomena, such as violence within and between communities, drug trafficking activities and other forms of organized crime, the appearance of paramilitary groups and its sequel of extrajudicial executions.

534. Among the events known to the public which have occurred recently and which exemplify this lack of security and the pervasive tension and human rights violations, the Commission wishes to note the following: the assassination of the former municipal president, Valentino Pérez Carrasco (PRD) by unknown persons on the road from Tlapa to Marquelia; the execution of two teachers from the UOCEZ (the Union of Zapatista Workers, Peasants, and Teachers) by a group of masked men who allegedly operate in the region with impunity; and the assassination of three persons near CERESO in Tlapa, in which officers of the National Judicial Police of that city are alleged to have been involved.

535. Conflicts between communities, generally related to political conflicts between the ruling party, the PRI and the opposition party, the PRD, have also worsened, and it is noted that the PRD has strengthened its presence. This situation has produced victims in the communities of Oztocingo, Ocotequila and Potoichán in the Copanatoyac municipality; in Villa de Guadalupe in the Tlapa municipality; and in the city of Tlapa itself.

536. This entire situation coincides in time and place with the actions taken by the Mexican State to suppress the EPR using both federal and Guerrero state police forces as well as Army personnel. Their repressive actions included a series of events reportedly carried out by the Army, military intelligence, and federal, judicial and state police in violation of the rights of the civilian population, including the following: extrajudicial executions; arrest without a warrant of peasants and local officials who were interrogated, sometimes under physical and/or psychological torture, to obtain the names of ERP supporters; destruction of and setting fire to the homes of presumed ERP collaborators; invasion of the homes of peasants; and seizure and destruction of personal papers and property. These incidents were reported to have occurred starting in October 1996 in various communities, including Tehutaxtitián, in the municipality of Olinalá; Tlapa and Chilpanchingo; Xitopontia, in the municipality of Ahucotzingo; Ocoapa and Ocotillo, in the municipality of Copanatoyac; Alpoyecancingo and San Miguel Ahuelicán, in the municipality of Ahuacotzingo; and San Juan Bautista Coapala, in the municipality of Atlixtac.


537. This report has discussed above the various modalities of municipal elections in the indigenous areas of Oaxaca, a state in which 60 per cent of the 3.2 million inhabitants are indigenous, and 75 percent of the territory is communal owned by the indigenous population. According to official statistics, it is the most socially disadvantaged state in Mexico. For example, in the Ayutla region, there are no public services whatsoever in the areas of health, education and electricity.

538. The Commission was also informed that the increasing organization and politicization of indigenous communities in Oaxaca had brought a negative reaction from the traditional political structure made up of caudillos (local bosses), who reacted by making false accusations and threats and by attacking opposition leaders and other opposition figures. At the same time, military forces moved into the area for the stated purpose of preventing the Zapatista movement from expanding to the north and to counter the emergence of a new guerrilla group, the ERP, in Oaxaca, which appeared there toward the end of 1996.

539. The Commission recently received reports from reliable unofficial sources which contain consistent information about arbitrary executions, torture, arbitrary arrests, and attacks against the civilian population of Oaxaca, either committed or condoned by State agents including the Mexican Army and the Federal Police.


540. In the State of Chiapas the indigenous population comprises 30 per cent of the population of three million inhabitants. The indigenous population belongs to ten local ethnic groups. There are thirty-three indigenous heads of municipalities in Chiapas and seven of the twenty-four state PRI deputies are indigenous, representing five of these ethnic groups. Of the 111 municipalities in the State, fifty-eight are predominantly indigenous or have significant indigenous populations, and of those fifty-eight, opposition parties lead twenty-five.(151)

541. In his interview with the Commission during the latter's on-site visit to Mexico, the Governor of the state of Chiapas stated that there was increasing participation by indigenous people in the following areas: social and economic development; indigenous judges; bilingual educational curricula with materials translated into indigenous languages; and radio and television programs broadcast in indigenous languages. In the 3,100 predominantly indigenous communities in Chiapas, some 40 percent of children aged six to fourteen years do not attend school, and only 17 per cent of those over fifteen years of age have completed primary school.

542. The Governor also indicated that there were also community doctors who practiced modern and traditional medicine in the state and that 60 new clinics had been established during his administration, in addition to the 55 existing ones that had been rehabilitated. There is also an Assistant Public Prosecutor for Indigenous Affairs and a special Office of the Public Defender had just been created to cater to the needs of indigenous people. Of the 2,577 prisoners incarcerated in Chiapas, 289 are indigenous or 11 per cent of the prison population. This is a small percentage considering that they make up 30 per cent of the general population.

543. Following the armed uprising in 1994, investment in infrastructure in the 68 indigenous municipalities had risen from $44 million in 1994 to $183 million in 1995 and $314 million in 1996. In some communities that were dominated by the opposition party, infrastructure projects are blocked by the communities which regard them as part of the State's counterinsurgency plan.

544. In recent years, two situations have adversely affected the observance of human rights: the insurgency of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in the southern region, which has led to a large Army presence deployed in low-intensity operations in this area; subsequently, and mainly after 1995, the militarization of the northern region and the emergence there of paramilitary groups which have been accused of committing human rights violations.

545. In July 1996, the Commander of the 7th Military Region, Gen. García Fernández, reported to the Commission that just a few weeks earlier, 6,000 cadets from all the military schools had been engaged in maneuvers in Chiapas for 15 days and that there had been no incidents at all involving the civilian population. He said that the Army did not regard the Zapatista troops as enemies and did not treat them as such, and that their primary objective was to act as a deterrent to prevent violence. He also reported that all security personnel received orders and instructions to respect human rights. Where the population made complaints, they were fully investigated. It must be noted, however, that the zapatistas and the State had been advancing in the peace negotiations, so at that time a prompt solution to the conflict was thought possible. The updated information is this report shows that situation has changed.

546. In mid-1997, the level of social and political violence increased in Chiapas, a development that was attributed(152) to the many conflicts that existed and to impasse in the so-called "San Andrés Dialogue" between representatives of the State, the Zapatista movement and other civic groups.

547. The following are among the most significant events that have occurred: confrontations between peasants and members of the paramilitary group Paz y Justicia [Peace and Justice] in the community of El Paraíso, municipality of Sabanilla; the ambush of members of a group of associations, including the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, during which an attorney, José Montero, was wounded; confrontations between members of the State security forces and peasants belonging to the Xi'Nich organization, in the community of Emiliano Zapata and San Martín Chamizal, in Palenque, on March 7; the alleged arbitrary arrests and torture of the two leaders of the above-mentioned peasant organization and of two Jesuit priests; confrontations between peasants from the Casa del Pueblo organization and the San Bartolomé de los Llanos Alliance, in the municipality of Venustiano Carranza; the ambush of members of OPEACH on the San Cristóbal-Tuxtla highway; the assassination of Manuel Lopez, a peasant, and his son Juan, on March 17 and 18, respectively, in Buena Vista, municipality of Sabanilla; and confrontations in June and July in Chenalho, Pantelhó, Sabanilla (which left three persons dead and six seriously wounded) and in Pueblo Nuevo, Solistihuacán.

548. During this same period, i.e., May to July 1997, there were repeated public denunciations of pressure and threats to civic, political, and non-governmental organizations, both in the main towns of the municipalities and in San Cristóbal de las Casas. The present head of the State delegation to the peace dialogue, Pedro Joaquín Codwell, attempted a few days after his appointment to defuse many of the situations that were creating tension in Chiapas. Mr. Codwell left that position in January of 1998.

549. The Commission attaches great importance to these negotiations, as the way to create conditions that will foster respect for human rights in Mexico, and especially the rights of indigenous people. Unfortunately, the progress achieved early in the negotiating process has been undermined by a series of recent incidents in Chiapas. The IACHR and the international community are deeply concerned over these incidents, which include the following: the expulsion of a number of international and foreign observers who were human rights defenders; the dissolution of the National Mediation Commission (CONAI); and, the armed incidents that took place in El Bosque in June 1998. As part of its responsibility to safeguard the effective exercise of human rights, the Commission will be keeping a close eye on events in the Chiapas region, and especially any incidents tending to escalate the violence there.

A. The situation on the public lands of San Jerónimo, Bachajon, Chiapas

550. The Commission had the opportunity to visit the municipality of Chilon in Chiapas, and to obtain information from various groups on events that occurred on the public lands of San Jeronimo Bachajon. There are 4,100 communal farmers in this locality, who own 57,000 hectares and comprise 190 communities and small farms, with three communal farm centers where assemblies are held. For several years now, there has been conflict in this area among the different indigenous groups, apparently because according to complaints presented one group, which calls itself "Los Chinchulines", in apparent connivance with certain PRI authorities and officials, has obtained special privileges to exploit natural resources (gravel) and to transport merchandise and has unlawfully assumed authority, including to levy taxes and fees on the rest of the local population.

551. The situation described above has polarized the community and caused hostilities on both sides which have escalated to the point of murder and destruction of property of members of both sides without the necessary measures being taken by the authorities to guarantee peace or to investigate and punish the guilty parties. The conflict flared up again in 1996, when members of "Los Chinchulines" took over the office of the head of the municipality of Chilon, which had been held by popularly elected anti-PRI officials. Despite the promises of state authorities and the signed agreements, the legal authorities of the community (ejido) have not been reinstated to date, nor has any legal action been taken against the persons responsible for occupying and seizing the town hall.

B. The situation in northern Chiapas(153)

552. Northern Chiapas refers to an area that consists mainly of the municipalities of Tila, Sabanilla, Tumbalá and the Tila lowlands along the border with the state of Oaxaca. In this area, as in many others with a large indigenous population, there are conflicts over land, politics and other matters that flare up and die down at different times. The major problem there is the constant tension between large sectors of the population of indigenous communal farmers (ejidatarios) and groups that have traditionally been allied with the central government and the PRI party structure.

553. A local group declared that:

Signs of ungovernability can be seen in the northern part of Chiapas, in the increase in the number of displaced families, the decline caused by the failure to find solutions to the land-related, political and social problems, in the persistence of paramilitary groups, in the alliance between these groups and the police, in the diminished credibility of the institutions responsible for ensuring justice, in the impairment of the peace process, and in the disruption in the relations of peaceful co-existence. (154)

554. In northern Chiapas, the Zapatista movement has a smaller presence and this is not where the events related to the armed conflict between the EZLN and the Mexican Army took place. It is true that there has been a heavier presence of the armed forces in the area since then, but the military is there ostensibly to prevent further clashes.

555. Nevertheless, numerous criminal acts, including threats and attacks on civilian communities and leaders, have been committed in the area, which have been attributed to groups identified as "paramilitary" that are alleged to be operating with the support of officials and cattle ranchers from neighboring zones, and with the implicit protection of the Mexican Army, coordinating their actions against groups which oppose the State or which are sympathetic to the demands of the indigenous population. Their actions seem to be directed especially against leaders who support the catechist activities of the Catholic Church. However, according to information received by the Commission, these conflicts are based not on religion but on politics and Catholics and Protestants are to be found in both groups.

556. The "Paz y Justicia" organization which is reported to be paramilitary in nature, is the one most frequently denounced as being behind the attacks on leaders and organizations demanding autonomy for the indigenous population and advocating ownership of the land which they occupy.(155) Paz y Justicia has the support of approximately 20 per cent of the indigenous Choles, the main local ethnic group. Due to the fact that over two-thirds of the voters abstained and of the climate of fear, they succeeded in getting their leader, Samuel Sánchez Sánchez, elected as the deputy representing the region in the state government.(156) The removal of the electoral space as an instrument for resolving the conflicts led to a worsening of the situation and the subsequent series of violations of the right to life, integrity, personal freedom and freedom of expression which now characterize the situation in northern Chiapas.

557. This situation, which has been called "the last war between the Choles", began with a series of physical assaults and the abuse of judicial mechanisms against PRD communities and their leaders. In the climate that was created, two non-Mexican Catholic priests(157) were expelled from Mexico on charges of supporting anti-government activities. During this period, from June to July 1995, a number of PRD peasant leaders were assassinated with Paz y Justicia being accused of committing the crimes. At the same time, a series of incidents occurred in which peasants were evicted from farms which they had occupied as belonging to them.

558. In the face of new attacks by Paz y Justicia, many families were forced to leave their homes and to seek refuge in villages and municipalities (ejidos) with a PRD majority. PRI families were also forced to abandon communities in which there was a PRD majority, although the number of such displaced persons appears to be much smaller than in the case of the PRD refugees.

559. In early 1996, initiatives were taken by both parties and by the State with the aim of achieving reconciliation. Unfortunately, however, these attempts failed, despite the provisional agreements that had been reached. As a result, what has been called a "feudal" civil war between Paz y Justicia/PRI sympathizers and PRD/Zapatista sympathizers began. (158) According to information received by the Commission, it would appear that the failure to achieve peace stems from the fact that, despite the support given by some officials to a settlement, at the time of implementation other officials refused to honor the provisions of the accord and instead discriminated in favor of the PRI faction (for example, by not cooperating to permit the return of displaced PRD sympathizers to their communities, but allowing PRI sympathizers to do so or not initiating the appropriate judicial proceedings in response to complaints of attacks on PRD supporters, but doing so in the case of attacks against PRI supporters).

560. Widespread violence flared up again in June 1996 with attacks and ambushes being mounted by both sides. Within an 8-day period, a total of 19 persons from the two sides were killed in separate incidents of ambushes and clashes between civilians. According to reports received, villages were surrounded and besieged by Paz y Justicia with the tacit agreement of the security forces. Numerous roads were also blocked, thus interfering with the right to freedom of movement and trade.

561. Once again, attempts by civil society to reconcile the parties failed and the incidents and attacks continued in the months following October 1996. The climate of violence and tension continued in northern Chiapas. Many families and communities were displaced and the authorities failed in their duty to defend the right to freedom of movement, security and other guarantees, including the right to personal integrity, political freedom and the right of the people to elect their own officials and to participate in public affairs through their own representatives.

C. The Acteal massacre

562. The most tragic incident that took place recently in the state of Chiapas was the massacre that occurred in the community of Acteal, in the Municipality of Chenalhó, on 22 December 1997, when an armed paramilitary group killed 45 indigenous persons (including a baby, children and women) who had taken refuge in the area. The details of this massacre, as well as the actions adopted by the State in response to it, have been referred to in Chapter II of this report. The horror of the massacre has shocked Mexico and the international community, showing the degree of the tensions existing in Chiapas, as well as the danger for human rights that lies in the suspension of peace negotiations between the State and the zapatistas.

D. Freedom of conscience and religion in the state of Chiapas

563. While in Chiapas, the Commission took the opportunity to hear testimony from various communities, in which there had been friction in the past and complaints about populations being denied full freedom to practice their religion, since those who wished to profess evangelical or protestant beliefs were expelled from or discriminated against in their communities by the Catholics who were in the majority and thus identified with the traditional authorities. This discrimination would at times take the form of school segregation, since, according to the reports received, the children of evangelical Christians were denied admittance or expelled from community schools.

564. Based on the testimony heard, the IACHR concluded that, while these problems had existed in the past, at the present time they were minor and were being addressed by the authorities and the groups affected under the guidance and supervision of the "Plurality Commission", which is made up of representatives of all the various sectors. The Commission was informed that ever since the creation of this Plurality Commission, in which leaders of different faiths and sectors participate, there have been no cases of expulsion or assault. The problems of school segregation and separation have been settled in most communities, with the exception of two in which the different groups are working to resolve them. The IACHR highly values religious tolerance and education, as essential elements for the development of democracy and the observance of human rights.


565. Following the military offensive to quell the uprising in the south of Chiapas, the State responded to widespread popular demand to find a peaceful solution to the conflict by adopting the Law for Dialogue, Conciliation and an Honorable Peace in Chiapas, which took effect on March 11, 1995. The law links these objectives to a solution to the causes of the conflict, to directing the armed insurgency towards a political struggle within the framework of the Constitution, to reconciling the demands and interests of the various groups in Chiapas, and to promoting well-being and paving the way for a future amnesty.

566. The EZLN was defined in that law as "a group of persons identified as an organization of primarily indigenous Mexican citizens who for various reasons have expressed their dissent and have become involved in the armed conflict which began on January 1, 1994 in the state of Chiapas."

567. In addition to the Federal Government and the EZLN, the law recognizes three important participants in the negotiations: COCOPA (the Inter-Party Commission of the Congress for Reconciliation and Peace), in which representatives of the Chiapas legislative and executive branches also participate; CONAI (Mediation Commission), which includes prominent leaders of civil society, representatives and persons invited by both the State and the insurgent groups, and is chaired by the Bishop of San Cristóbal, Monsignor Samuel Ruiz; and COSEVER (Commission for the Follow-up and Verification of Agreements Reached), particularly for the San Andrés Agreements.

568. In April 1995, agreement was reached on the basic principles to guide the negotiations and numerous meetings were held to determine the negotiating procedures, culminating in an "Agenda, Format and Rules of Procedure" agreed upon in September 1995. A Committee on the Rights and Cultures of Indigenous People was then established and met for six weeks in the following working groups: community and autonomy: rights of indigenous peoples; guarantees of justice for indigenous people; political representation and participation of indigenous people; status, rights, and culture of indigenous women; access to the communications media; promotion and development of indigenous cultures.

569. These discussions expanded to the national level, both through the involvement of numerous institutions and individuals and through the Forums for National Consultation on the Rights and Participation of Indigenous People, which were held in 21 states of the Mexican Union in November and December 1995. This national inquiry into indigenous affairs conducted by the State included over twenty regional forums at which all the nation's ethnic groups were represented. It was organized in cooperation with the Indigenous Affairs Commissions of the National Senate and Chamber of Deputies.

570. The following are among the principal demands made by the indigenous people during this inquiry: improve the standards of health and well-being in indigenous regions; promote basic education reforms, train bilingual teachers and modify the contents of free textbooks in order to promote intercultural education; encourage the development and preservation of and respect for the languages and cultural practices of indigenous people; ensure that indigenous peoples have effective access to the courts and that their human and labor rights are respected; ensure that indigenous peoples participate in the planning, design, implementation and evaluation of public policies and in the management of natural resources and preservation of their historical and cultural heritage, and give priority to initiatives coming from indigenous peoples; encourage productive investment in indigenous regions and promote the financing of development projects which include the conservation of natural resources and use appropriate technologies and the experience and traditions of indigenous peoples; promote constitutional reform with a view to recognizing the collective rights of indigenous peoples and to granting legal status to their communities; and guarantee that lands presently occupied by indigenous peoples cannot be seized, conveyed or deeded.

571. It is important to note that this action by the State is consistent with the international commitment undertaken in article 23 of the American Convention on Political Rights, and in Articles 2, 6 and 7 of ILO Convention 169, in which Mexico pledged to engage in coordinated and systematic action, with the participation of the indigenous peoples through their representative institutions, to protect their rights and guarantee their integrity.(159)

572. The process met with success, and in February 1996 the San Andrés Agreements on "indigenous identity and culture" were concluded between State representatives and indigenous intellectuals and leaders associated with the EZLN. In June 1996 it was decided that COCOPA would be the sole authority responsible for declaring a breakdown in the dialogue and that the agreements would be politically binding. During that same month, a forum on State reform was organized by CONAI and EZLN, with the cooperation of COCOPA, attended by some of the most outstanding representatives of the process of democratization in the country.

573. The negotiations to have the San Andrés Agreements on Indigenous Rights and Culture lead to constitutional reform were undertaken by COCOPA. With the agreement of the parties, COCOPA took on the task of drafting a document containing proposals for constitutional reform, following the lines of the Agreements. It was agreed that the draft constitutional amendments, which were received by the parties on November 29, 1996, would have to be either accepted or rejected by both sides. When the Zapatista representatives accepted them, the State responded with a series of comments and alternative proposals and negotiations have been deadlocked ever since.

574. June 7, 1998 witnessed the dissolution of CONAI, which was made up of leading persons from civilian life and representatives and guests of both the State and the insurgent groups. This event occurred at the same time as its President, Monsignor Samuel Ruiz García, Bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas, resigned. The Bishop reported at the time that there was an atmosphere of "aggression and persecution" against the Church in Chiapas, and that the State displayed a "lynching mood." Msgr. Ruiz had the following to say in this regard:

…despite statements to the contrary, it is obvious that the government has abandoned efforts to engage in dialogue, according to the model observed in San Andrés, and is unilaterally implementing what was agreed and moving in the direction of handling the pending subjects on the basis of direct dialogue, without any mediation required.(160)

575. The IACHR observes that this development occurred a few days prior to the confrontation which took place in the municipality of El Bosque, Chiapas, on June 10, 1998. It is important to note that this was the first time since the January 10, 1994 cease-fire that there was an armed conflict between the State security forces and the EZLN. For all the reasons given, the Commission regrets that CONAI has been abandoned as a negotiating forum, and it reiterates it profound concern over developments in Chiapas.

576. Based on the information received and analyzed in this chapter, the Commission reached the conclusions set forth below.

577. It is the obligation of the State of Mexico, based on its constitutional principles and on internationally recognized principles, to respect indigenous cultures and their organizations and to ensure their maximum development in accordance with their traditions, interests, and priorities. The Commission considers that the State should conduct a study of the observance of the human rights of indigenous peoples and their organizations, having regard to the fact that article 4 of the Mexican Constitution recognizes that "Mexico is a multi-cultural country whose foundations are its indigenous peoples" and that Mexico has also ratified ILO Convention 169, on indigenous and tribal peoples.

578. Economic and social rights, measured by standard indicators (access to educational and health opportunities, infant mortality rates, etc.), exhibit major shortcomings which in themselves translate into suffering and injustice, in other words, indigenous peoples are discriminated against in comparison with the average situation of the rest of the population. This is particularly significant since in Mexico tensions within indigenous communities and between those communities and the society at large have been going on for a long time and are complex and widespread. These tensions became apparent not only through the armed EZLN movement, but also in the course of numerous conflicts in the indigenous localities of various municipalities in different Mexican states, conflicts that are reported to be in response to acts of violence and attacks.

579. Although some of these confrontations and even the crimes connected with them have not been perpetrated by State agents, the State may bear responsibility for at least two reasons: in many cases, State authorities or organizations or authorities and organizations connected to the Government facilitate, tolerate or cover up the actions of some of these groups; and also because it is the obligation of the State to organize its institutions in such a way as to prevent crimes of this sort and to investigate and punish them in accordance with the law.

580. State bodies, and especially bodies that are established by State authorities, have been partial to one side or the other, and as a rule with the side that is associated with the governing party, instead of applying the law and requiring that a peaceful and lawful solution be found to the internal conflicts of communities.

581. Intervention by the federal authorities, which generally helps to facilitate negotiations and peaceful solutions to conflicts, has been intermittent and has not succeeded in curbing the actions or omissions of local authorities. Also, the intervention of the military, which was initially linked to the conflict in southern Chiapas, has expanded to include various parts of the country in predominantly indigenous areas, and this has created new and widespread tensions in broad areas of the national territory and in some cases has resulted in human rights violations.

582. As a result of this situation, many leaders and members of indigenous communities have been assassinated or attacked during the period under review and efforts to halt this destructive cycle have been unsuccessful. The failure of the State to take action has meant that most of these crimes have gone unpunished.

583. There has been an increase in the presence and activities of irregular armed groups who usually answer to political leaders or ranch owners. These groups exercise illegal control, harass the civilian population and violate their rights with the complicity or at least the tacit approval and inaction of the forces of law and order.


584. In light of the situation reviewed above, the IACHR makes the following recommendations to the Mexican State:

585. To adopt such public measures and policies as are necessary to adequately meet the needs of the indigenous population of Mexico, especially in areas such as health and education.

586. To resume and strengthen the initiatives for dialogue and peace, especially in conflict areas like Chiapas, so that agreements reached could be effectively implemented.

587. To investigate and punish in accordance with the law criminal acts committed against residents of indigenous localities, especially by State agents or with their tacit agreement or condoning; and to ensure that the victims of such crimes or their families receive due reparations, including compensation and damages.

588. To protect and adequately provide for indigenous populations which have been internally displaced by conflict.

589. To adopt measures to combat and dismantle private armed groups linked to political or economic groups and promote the necessary political, social and economic reforms, paying special attention to zones such as the south of Chiapas.



145. Inter-American Indian Institute, Socio-economic indicators of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, I.N.I. Department of Research and Cultural Development. Research Division, 1993. The census data referred to in this chapter, except where indicated otherwise, are taken from this publication.

146. Proof of this is that in those municipalities in which elections are held according to the general system, the PRI lost to the PRD in the large cities; but in the rural municipalities, winners were distributed equally between the two parties. The PRI won in 40 per cent of the municipalities and the PRD in most of the others.

147. The National Commission for Concord and Peace, the National Commission for Intermediation, the Dioceses of San Cristóbal de las Casas, several of the political parties and indigenous and civic organizations. Bulletin of the Civic Alliance of Chiapas, No. 5, July 1997.

148. Bartólome de las Casas Center for Human Rights (CDHBC). Report on the situation in Chiapas, July 1997, p.12.

149. The irregularities in the electoral process in Chiapas included physical attacks against the opposition candidate Amado Avendaño (PRD), whose pickup truck was rammed by a truck without license plates. These actions led to the formation of a civilian association, the Electoral Agency of the People of Chiapas (non-governmental) to supervise the elections. This organization mobilized thousands of citizens who monitored 95 per cent of the polling stations and found that there were irregularities in 57 per cent of them that met the requirements for voiding the votes cast in polling stations. Ni Paz ni Justicia op. cit. p. 69.

150. Alianza Cívica Chiapas, Carta a la opinión pública, July 10, 1997.

151. Government of Chiapas, Statistical Agenda of Chiapas, Ministry of Finance of the state, January 1996.

152. CDHFBC. File quoted, p. 14.

153. It is important to recall that it was in the north of Chiapas, specifically in the Municipalities of Choles de Tumbalá, Tila and Sabanilla, and the txeltales of Sitalá and Chilon, that in the nineteen thirties a comprehensive programme of land reform was implemented, under which title was granted to the Indians who lived there as members of the ejido which comprised a large part of the land in those municipalities. Another part was also given to private agro-export farms. Taken from the CDHFBC, Ni Paz ni Justicia. General and comprehensive report on the civil war of which the Choles in the north of Chiapas were victims, San Cristóbal de las Casas, October, 1996.

154. CDIAC. 1.3. Since the Indigenous Congress of 1974, the Chol Indians began to assert greater control and to abandon the official and party structures of the PRI. According to a study undertaken by the Bartólome de las Casas Center Ni Paz ni Justicia, op. cit., p. 55:

"The Chol mobilization was countered with all the resources of the PRI regime....: many peons subject to confinement who tried to organize themselves in order to obtain better wages, improved working conditions and benefits or to demand their right to their own land and to common lands were repressed in operations coordinated by the Mexican Armed Forces. Others saw their efforts frustrated when their incipient labor unions were co-opted by the CNC (National Peasant Confederation) or the Mexican Workers Confederation (CMT) (Finca Morelia). The mobilization left hundreds of indigenous people in the jails that constitute that other machine of repression in Chiapas.

155. The political structure of Paz y Justicia is described by the Bartólome de las Casas center as follows:

Relations between the communal indigenous leaders of cattle-farming communities in Tila and the associations of large landowners of Salto de Agua, Palenque and Playas de Catazajá worsened when the latter were subjected to invasions by peasants after the conflict began in 1994. It appeared as though the large landowners had sponsored the creation of a beffer zone to protect them from incipient peasant movements in the region. "Paz y Justicia" is therefore reported to be the political outcome of this strategy, directed by the indigenous community leaders of Tila and Tumbalá, who are represented politically by the caciques of the capital town of Tila and financed by the large cattle ranchers in Salto de Agua, Palenque and Playas de Catazajá. The latter saw the danger that threatened them when, on December 19, 1994, the EZLN occupied the municipal capitals of Yajalon, Tila, Sabaniolla, Tumbalá and the Pemex Bridge over the river near to Salto de Agua.

156. Centro de Derechos Humanos "Fray Bartolome de las Casas," op.cit., pgs. 81 and 82.

157. Case No. 11.610, before the Commission, refers to that complaint.

158. Name given by the Office of the Land Attorney (Procaduría Agraria), Ni Paz ni Justicia, op. cit. p. 91.

159. Article 23 of the American Convention states:

1. Every citizen shall enjoy the following rights and opportunities:

a. to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly of through freely chosen representatives;

b. to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections, which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and by secret ballot that guarantees the free expression of the will of the voters; and

c. to have access, under general conditions of equality, to the public service of his country.

2. The law may regulate the exercise of the rights and opportunities referred to in the preceding paragraph only on the basis of age, nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, or sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings.

160. The newspaper "La Jornada", CONAI Dissolved as part of the "Official Strategy of War", published on the internet on June 8, 1998. Along the same lines, the former Executive Secretary of CONAI, Miguel Alvarez, explained the profound deadlock in the negotiations since September 1996 in the following terms:

…the government believed that it could use arguments of force, without any official negotiations, in an attempt to reduce the EZLN to a group with purely military capabilities and dimensions, and not accept it as a movement representing the indigenous people.

The weekly, "Proceso," No. 1128, The dialogue in Chiapas, wiped out by a government strategy giving precedence to military arguments over political ones, published on the Internet on June 14, 1998, pages 2 and 3.


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