(the following is an extract of a Joint Briefing by PBI-Mexico and Tlachinollan Human Rights Centre which has been circulated with the diplomatic corps)
In the context of the pandemic, human rights violations against the most vulnerable sectors of society have increased. The indigenous communities of the Montaña region of Guerrero face a health system which has collapsed, and a precarious economic situation that puts their food security at risk. Violence continues to dominate in the most conflict-ridden areas of the state, risking the physical integrity of human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists. The institutions responsible for maintaining security and delivering justice, which already had very limited capacities to protect the population and attend to the victims of serious human rights violations, now dedicate some of their efforts to attending to the COVID-19 emergency, which means that even fewer funds are available for security-related issues.
Approximately 600,000 people live in the Montaña region of Guerrero, almost all of whom belong to villages and communities of Me'phaa (Tlapanec), Tu’un Savi (Mixtec), Naua (Náhuatl) and Nn’anncue Ñomndaa (Amuzgo) indigenous peoples. It is one of Mexico’s poorest and most-marginalised regions,1 in which indigenous people have historically faced structural discrimination from institutions, impeding their access to basic rights such as health, food and education. Because of the poor productivity of the land and the lack of employment, the only survival option left for many is to migrate, be it to the agricultural areas in Mexico’s north or to the United States. Remittances from migrants are a significant income source for many communities in this region.
However, the economic crisis in the United States has had a negative impact on remittances from migrants, which are relied on by most families in the region. On the other hand, restrictions on movement have complicated the situation for traders, who cannot make the journey to municipal seats to sell their products. Since the beginning of the pandemic, prices of basic products have shot up 100% in many communities. This loss of income and the destabilisation of the local economy have dramatic consequences for a population already living in extreme poverty. Despite this, authorities have limited themselves to promising that social programmes will be maintained, without offering additional financial or food support to guarantee the slimmest means of subsistence during the COVID-19 crisis.
Across Mexico, levels of violence have remained at historical highs since the beginning of the health crisis. In states like Guerrero, where organised crime has a substantial presence and there are high rates of impunity, the medical situation has become a catalyst for acts of aggression against HRDs and journalists. In addition, the closure of some public institutions because of the coronavirus lockdown has further complicated coordination between institutions and between levels of government, potentially leading to HRDs and journalists not receiving adequate protection at this difficult time. Civil society organisations have reported that the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Mecanismo de Protección para Defensores de Derechos Humanos y Periodistas), coordinated by the Interior Ministry, has been too overwhelmed to attend to urgent situations and to oversee beneficiaries’ protection measures. As a result, HRDs and journalists could now be easy targets.2
As of August 7th, 11,963 cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in the state of Guerrero; of these, 1,457 people had died from the virus3, representing a fatality rate of 12.2%, higher than the national average of 10.9%. Following the logic of diffusion from centers to the periphery on a global scale, as the pandemic spreads through the Montaña region it is particularly affecting Tlapa de Comonfort, the capital. The lack of medical infrastructure in general, and the difficulty accessing testing materials has led to a significant level of underreporting of cases. Due to a lack of opportunities, ‘jornalera’ (seasonal agricultural worker) families continue to migrate between their communities and states in the North, without adequate mitigation measures implemented by the authorities. Thus, cases have been significantly rising in recent weeks, with grave consequences for the local population, already affected by dengue, diarrhoea and malaria on top of the factors mentioned above.
The COVID-19 crisis and the measures adopted to combat it are clearly disproportionately affecting the most-vulnerable sectors of the Mexican population, such as indigenous communities, human rights defenders and journalists, and the victims of serious human rights violations such as enforced disappearance. It is essential that the Mexican state take the necessary measures, within the context of the coronavirus emergency, to protect and attend to those who most need it.
We therefore ask that the competent authorities guarantee that the response to the COVID-19 crisis prioritizes a human rights focus in line with the United Nations Essential Directives to Incorporate a Human Rights Perspective in the COVID-19 Pandemic Response (Directrices Esenciales para Incorporar la Perspectiva de Derechos Humanos en la Atención a la Pandemia por COVID-19).4 This will provide guarantees for the population, protect the rights of groups which disproportionately face the pandemic’s impacts, and keep open the civic space used by the region’s HRDs and journalists.
1 Poverty by municipality 2015, Guerrero, National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Consejo Nacional de Evaluación de la Política de Desarrollo Social, CONEVAL): https://www.coneval.org.mx/coordinacion/entidades/Guerrero/Paginas/pobreza_municipal2015.aspx
2 For more information, see http://espacio.osc.mx/osc-personas-defensoras-y-periodistas-llaman-a-respetar-el-derecho-a-defender-derechos-humanos-y-el-ejercicio-de-la-libertad-de-expresion-durante-la-pandemia-provocada-por-el-covid-19/
3 Statistics from August 7th, 2020. Official statistics can be accessed at http://i.guerrero.gob.mx/uploads/2020/05/07-de-agosto-2020-Listado-de-Municipios-casos-positivos-11963-defunciones-1457.pdf