Worrying Wave of Violence Against Human Rights Defenders in Oaxaca

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This blog originally appeared on Peace Brigades International Mexico’s website.

In Oaxaca human rights defenders are confronted with severe risks. Community and indigenous rights defenders are particularly vulnerable. They demand respect for their right to free, previous, and informed consultation in a context of apparent imposition of megaprojects, such as wind farms and the extractive industry…

PBI (Peace Brigades International) is specifically concerned about the wave of attacks against human rights defenders of the last few months in the region. The denunciations of violence included death threats, arbitrary detention, police searches of offices, information theft, and even the murder of several human rights defenders and one journalist.

Alba Cruz Ramos, who is an attorney for the Comité de Defensa Integral de Derechos Humanos “Gobixha” (The Integral Defense Committee for Human Rights, Código-DH), a locally based human rights organization, received threatening messages on her phone in April this year. Shortly before, in the same month, her office in Oaxaca was searched and files and documents related to her work for the communities affected by the megaprojects in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec were stolen.

In May 2013, Susana Ramirez, also working for Código-DH, was arrested by the municipal police of Oaxaca and detained without charges for over 34 hours by the attorney general.

Within this context, community defenders from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec denounced the arrest of Mariano López Gómez. Mariano is the spokesperson for the Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Juchitán (Public Assembly of the People of Juchitan, APPJ) and was arrested by state police on accusations of extortion, only to be released because the case did not proceed.

In July 2013, members of the APPJ suffered acts of intimidation and harassment after a protest in front of the department of public affairs in the city of Juchitan. A few days after that, Hector Regalado Jímenez, member of the same assembly, was murdered and two other members injured by bullets. The most recent incident, on the 25th of August 2013, was a shooting against members of the APPJ. Sara López, also a community defender, denounced that she suffered an assault with a cold weapon. All of these events were presented to the Fiscalía de Investigación de Delitos de Trascendencia Social (Office for the Investigation of Transcendental Social Crimes, FIDTS).

Members of the Coordinadora de Pueblos Unidos del Valle de Ocotlán (Coordination of the United People of the Valley of Ocotlán, COPUVO), are opposing a gold mine in San José del Progreso, and they too received death threats in May 2013. In July Herón Sixto López, of the Centro de Orientación y Asesoría a Pueblos Indígenas (Centre for Guidance and Advice for Indigenous Peoples), disappeared. He was found murdered five days later. Before his disappearance, Sixto López denounced to the authorities that he had received threats about his disappearance.

The cases described above are in itself an illustration of the high risk situation that human rights defenders face, a risk even greater for the community defenders who demand the realization of their rights as indigenous peoples and defend their land.

It is also worth noting the risk that journalists face in Oaxaca. In July 2013 Alberto López Bello, journalist for “El Imparcial”, was murdered. Pedro Matias, journalist of the national monthly magazine Proceso and member of the council of the Centro de Derechos Humanos Bartolmé Carrasco (Bartolomé Carrasco Human Rights Centre, Barca-DH) and the Consejo Ciudadano de la Defensoría de Derechos Humanos del Pueblo de Oaxaca (Civil Council for the Defense of Human Rights of the City of Oaxaca, DDHPO) received threats on two different occasions this year, in April and July.

This wave of aggressions, the impunity that characterizes these crimes and the failure of an effective implementation of protective measures mean that the security conditions necessary for human rights defenders to do their work without fearing for their lives do not exist in Oaxaca.Alba Cruz Ramos was issued precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In the case of some of the community defenders of the APPJ, the Ombudsman for Human Rights of Oaxaca issued protective measures in their favor.

Click here to read this article in Spanish.