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Mexico’s Tlachinollan: “Through the Language of Human Rights We Have Become Brothers.”

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This year, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) gave its annual Human Rights Award to the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center from the state of Guerrero in Mexico. This award honors the bravery and dedication of organizations and individuals defending human rights in Latin America. 

LAWG has great respect for Tlachinollan’s work and we were moved by the beautiful words that Abel Barrera, the director of Tlachinollan, used in his acceptance speech. The following is an excerpt from that speech. To read the full speech click here. Para leer todo el discurso, haga clíc aquí.

     “Fifteen years ago, when we decided as group of professionals from the Mountain region of Guerrero to start working along side the indigenous people, we never imagined what daring to serve the poor would represent… As we began to face the violent reality inflicted by state agents, we began to understand how difficult it is to live defenseless, with poverty and discrimination.  This is when we understood the historic resistance of the indigenous people, their perseverance, courage and generosity. This is why we now know that with them we are defenders and without them our work would be weak and without meaning…

     “Through the language of human rights we have become brothers and what is even more beautiful is that we have combined our defender’s skin with the skin of the men and women of the countryside, who from the time they are born suffer in silence and are always just managing to survive. Their pain is our pain; their unbreakable desire to seek justice is the noblest lesson to keep us strong and unharmed in the face a repressive government who does not respect human rights defenders…

     “This language of human rights is what brings us here today and which allows us to speak wearing our hearts on our sleeves, to say to you that the feelings that we share are the most important patrimony that we have as human rights defenders, because we do not want war, because we do not tolerate injustice, because we are not willing to be accomplices to governments that violate human rights, because we are willing to accompany at any cost the victims who suffer this scourge, because we cannot accept that in the name of democracy and State security the Army is used to guarantee lawfulness, because we will not be accomplices to policies of privatization that the governments want to impose to take over the natural resources that the indigenous people have been able to collectively conserve, because we will always raise our voice against any abuse of power…

     “To a large extent what happens in the Mountain originates in the policies related to global security that are designed in this country. The militarization that we suffer today is a unilateral decision that has dramatically increased human rights violations, unhinging the lives of many families who are the victims of military abuse… we see the Army’s aggressions in the communities of las Ollas, located in the Sierra de Coyuca de Catalán; in Guadalupe Mano de León, in the Tlacoachistlahuaca municipality in the Costa Chica region and in Huamuxtitlán in the Mountain region. These are indigenous peoples and peasants who have had to pay with their lives or have suffered torture and put up with aggressions and raids of their homes by the army which now acts like the police, public prosecutor and judge without any civil authority investigating their acts, limiting their power, punishing those responsible and ensuring that they respect the rights of the population…

     “We do not feel deserving of this distinction… there are dozens of men and women who still cannot find their loved ones, who suffer the damages of torture, who are forced to leave their communities in order to be safe, who are unjustly imprisoned, who are criminalized and persecuted, who have had to suffer the government’s terror through extrajudicial executions.  This recognition is in their memory and in the name of their family members and friends who continue to suffer and cry for their loss. We are simply instruments that feel honored to live the painful but valuable experience of being useful defenders for the cause of those who struggle on the firing lines for a just world.”

May Abel’s words encourage us, and the international community at large, to stand in solidarity with Tlachinollan and all the other human rights defenders in Latin America, and remind them that they are not alone.