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Statements of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People, Dr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen

On the rights of indigenous people in the criminal justice system

Friday 25 August 2006, by Comité Cerezo México

México, August 25, 2006

In 2003, the Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People of the United Nations Organization, Dr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, visited México on a special mission, and the result was a report presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights and to the government and people of Mexico. This report is also part of the Diagnosis on Human Rights in Mexico prepared in 2004 for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in this country.

Among other issues, the Special Rapporteur indicated in his conclusions: “Indigenous people are the most conspicuous and vulnerable victims of human rights abuses in the workings of the judicial system, and are subjected to violations of the right to life and physical integrity, security, due process and individual guarantees. An alarming tendency to treat protest and social dissent as a crime has been observed in the conflicts, to which should be added considerable impunity and corruption in the agrarian, criminal and civil justice system, all of which gives the impression that, despite official rhetoric to the contrary, for the majority of Mexican society the indigenous peoples are expendable.”

Rapporteur urged authorities to observe the following recommendations, among others: “The system of justice for indigenous people should be thoroughly reviewed at the national level, with broad-based and flexible criteria and extensive participation by the indigenous people.” and “The federal and State judiciary and the national system of ombudsmen should ensure that legislation and justice are not used in the interests of caciques and local authorities to treat legitimate protest or social dissent as a crime or penalize it.”

In compliance with his mandate, for the last three years the Special Rapporteur has continued to receive information about these problems from the most diverse sources and has visited and held meetings with indigenous and human rights organizations, as well as with authorities and specialists with the purpose of observing the follow-up that the country is giving to his recommendations. He has relied on the collaboration of numerous civil society organizations, corresponding authorities, and the UN’s own system.

With regards to the administration of justice, the Rapporteur is concerned that the problems identified in his report have not received the necessary attention. In the framework of several social conflicts (Atenco, Guerrero, Oaxaca, among others) the human rights of indigenous people continue to be violated. These situations have been denounced by organizations such as Amnesty International, and some have been taken to court by human rights groups.

Neither the national nor state human rights commissions have paid enough attention to the specific violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples and communities.

In many cases, the report indicates that indigenous people do not receive fair treatment and they are not accorded due process of law and their right to a speedy trial, as required in national laws and international treaties that Mexico has signed. Among the violations that continue to occur are: arbitrary arrests; physical abuse, including cases of the torture of prisoners; harassment and sexual abuse against indigenous women and girls; the fabrication of crimes against leaders of social movements; the lack of interpreters for indigenous people in trials; and ethnic and racial discrimination in the public prosecutors’ offices, courts and jails. The situation of indigenous prisoners in the Federal Social Rehabilitation Centers is particularly vulnerable and of great concern. In numerous cases cited, there is non-compliance with Convention No. 169 of the International Labor Organization, ratified by México.

The Special Rapporteur calls for an integral defense for indigenous victims of a variety of human rights violations in the framework of the administration of justice, and he renews his hope that the government, in the framework of its commitment to the National Human Rights Plan , will do everything necessary to comply with the recommendations of the Report and aforementioned Diagnosis.

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