On 25 May 2019 PBI organised a meeting between representatives from the international community and organisations that are dedicated to the defence of land and territory rights in Mexico. Two organisations that PBI accompanies attended, Servicios para una Educación Alternativa A.C (EDUCA) from Oaxaca and the Alianza Sierra Madre A.C (ASMAC) from Chihuahua, as well as the Red de Defensores y Defensores Comunitarios de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (Redcom). Additionally, the Australian, Canadian, Spanish, British and Swiss embassies joined the discussion.

The meeting followed up on activities and meetings held at the end of 2017 that were organised to coincide with the publication of In Defense of Life by PBI. The meeting aimed to provide civil society organisations, land and territory rights defenders and representatives from the diplomatic corps with the opportunity to continue their conversation on these important issues.

According to a report produced by the Centro Mexicano de Derechos Ambientales A.S (CEMDA), in 2018 there were 49 registered cases of attacks against land rights defenders and 21 murders of environmental rights defenders. According to the same report “the state of Puebla recorded the highest number [of attacks] with a total of 8, closely followed by Oaxaca and Chihuahua”. The majority of these attacks were linked to the development of national and international economic projects in the areas. The current government’s economic policy tends to favour such economic projects which in turn places land and territory rights defenders at greater risk.

In the south of Mexico, various ‘special economic zones’ have been established, such as in the region of Istmo Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, where a number of large-scale development projects exist and make up the Transismic Corredor. During the meeting, representatives from Redcom expressed their concerns about the poor procedural practices and grave violations of human rights that occurred throughout the indigenous consultation phase of the project ‘Energía Eólica de Sur that commenced in May of this year. “The biggest windpark in Latin America, with 132 turbines owned by the company Vestas (...) built on private and communal land in Jucitán and el El Espinal”.

Similarly, they shared their concerns about the consequences of the mining concessions granted in the state of Oaxaca and the marginalisation, social conflict and illness wrought upon the population by these projects. This phenomena was highlighted during a meeting known as the Tercer Encuentro Estatal de Pueblos, Comunidades y Organizaciones or Third State Meeting of Towns, Community and Organisations, which was part of the campaign “Aquí decimos Si a la Vida No a la Minería, or “Now we say Yes to Life and No to Mining”, where it was reported that 322 mining concessions had been granted in Oaxaca without having previously consulted the indegenous communities that live and work on the land. It is worth mentioning that many of these projects are financed by foreign investors.

ASMAC, an organisation that PBI has accompanied since 2018, works with the people and communities of the Sierra Tarahumara in Chihuahua, ensuring that their right to defend their land and territory is respected. Amongst a number of activites, ASMAC provides legal advice to communities, such as the Rarámuri and Choréachi indigenous groups, that continually experience the raiding of their lands by mining companies, narcotrafficking groups and for the illegal logging of trees.

During the meeting, the representatives from ASMAC reiterated their concerns to members of the international community about companies coming onto their land to engage in illegal logging and mining. For indigenous communities the presence of these external companies brings big cultural changes such as the loss of identity and language, in addition to worrying levels of violence that prevails on their territories. So as to illustrate how vulnerabe these communities are, the example of Julian Carrillo, leader rarámuri from the commuity of Coloradas de la Virgin should be mentioned. Julian was assasinated despite the fact that at the time he was being provided with protective services under the Mechanismo Federal De Protección, a scheme whereby human rights defenders are offered means of protection by state and federal entities in Mexico. Before Julian was assasinated, four members of his family were also murdered – his son in February 2016, two nephews in July 2016 and September 2017, and a son-in-law in July 2018.

The representatives from the attending embassies expressed their commitment to ensuring that human rights are respected in Mexico. They committed to monitor economic investments made by companies from their respective countries and to monitor the implementation of protective measures promised by the Mecanismo de Protección para Personas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos y Periodistas de la Secretaria de Gobernación. A number of the embassies announced that they would attend the seventh review of the round table of the Plan de Contingencia for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists in Chihuahua in July this year.

PBI Mexico again emphasises the importance of drawing attention to the concerning situation that land and territory rights defenders find themselves in, in Mexico. PBI urges the authorities to comply with their duty to protect these populations and calls upon the international community to continue to support the legitimate work of human rights defenders in Mexico.