The protection of Indigenous peoples’ territory and resources should be a priority regulated according to international law, said UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, following a visit to the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico.
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Tauli-Corpuz based her report on last year’s visit to Tlatzala, a Nahuatl community in the mountainous region of Guerrero, were she met with about 300 Indigenous people from the municipalities of Tlapa, la Montaña and Costa Chica.
The report will be formally presented later this year, but Tauli-Corpuz has published a general overview in commemoration of the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
"My mission is being able to be with you and learn about the situation of the peoples, the challenges you’re facing and your best practices," she said. "I will communicate what you tell me to Mexico’s authorities. I will bring them your proposals and recommendations."
The rapporteur said the defense of territory is behind the majority of human rights issues experienced by Indigenous peoples. Land tenure regimes established by the government are disenfranchised from communal and other types of ‘property’ traditionally used in Indigenous communities, leading to conflicts as government and economic interests get involved.
"The same procedures for the recognition of territorial rights are neither simple nor accesible and lead to long legal processes. In many agrarian cases, the delay has been a source of conflict within communities and between them."
Tauli-Corpuz reviewed the case of Parota Dam, in the Acapulto municipality, where an Indigenous local council opposed the project and were criminalized as a result.
The government called for parallel agrarian assemblies to facilitate the appropriation of communal land, which faced opposition from the communities and their traditional form of government. Despite the process being nullified by local tribunals, the government plans to continue with the project.
The leader of the Indigenous council, Marco Antonio Suastegui, and 24 others were arrested for their opposition to the project and accused of murder.
Social organizations say the government has been inciting division and violence among the communities to help its own agenda in the region for at least 15 years.
Tauli-Corpuz also commented on the San Miguel del Progreso case, in Malinaltepec, where the Indigenous Me’phaa community is battling several mining licenses that were granted without the consultation of local people.
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The community has filed several appeals, nullifying some of the projects, but it has also paid the price for the struggle. Many of its leaders have been incarcerated, even though courts have ruled in favor of their cause.
Tauli-Corpuz recognized the labor of municipalities such as Ayutla de los Libres, in Costa Chica, where the community has successfully organized and established a self-government system, electing authorities through their own traditional means.
In the states of Guerrero, Chiapas and Chihuahua, Indigenous people are being displaced by cartels and other criminal organizations threatening the security and integrity of the local populations.
In response, the government has increased the presence of military personnel in those regions, but has yet to reduce insecurity.
Tauli-Corpuz paraphrased the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who during a 2015 visit to Mexico said involving the military in public security affairs was not the answer, and called for a decrease in militarization.
"In Guerrero, the presence of organizad crime in areas where there are also mining interests increases the vulnerability of the Indigenous communities," said Tauli-Corpuz.
The report also highlights women’s limited access to justice and the increase in femicides in Indigenous areas with a high rate of impunity. Tauli-Corpuz listened to several testimonies from victims of violence and noted authorities’ lack of sensitivity in investigating such crimes.
Tauli-Corpuz also noted cases of obstetrical violence, in which women denounced negligence and discrimination in health centers which results in serious injury and even death.
And she called attention to the situation faced by youths in the states of Chihuahua and Gurerrero, where recruitment by criminal organizations flourishes in "the abscense of preventive policies by state and economic opportunities."
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According to the rapporteur, historical and structural discrimination has deepened the multidimensional marginalization and poverty of Indigenous peoples.
In the mountains of Guerrero, she saw communities lacking proper access to education, health, food, housing and water, and evidence of social exclusion and racism. Some Indigenous communities have now taken legal action to demand schools and teachers.
She also remarked on campesinos and other field workers, many of whom come from southern states and suffer labor and human rights’ violations, exposed to toxic chemicals and long work days with no health care. Women workers, meanwhile, face sexual violence by employers.
And she noted that Indigenous peoples affected by natural disasters face unique problems: in Guerrero, where about 16,000 families were affected by natural disasters in 2013, communities developed a program to deal with these issues, based on their own experiences. The government, however, ignored the proposal and continued instead with relief-centered activities.
The report will be officially presented by the rapporteur at the sessions’ period of the UN Human Rights Council between September 10 and 28.