70% of defenders killed in Mexico in 2020 defended territory and the environment[i].
On January 23, 2021, the lifeless body of Fidel Heras Cruz was found [ii] with gunshot wounds inside his truck at the entrance to the La Esperanza community, Jamiltepec municipality. Previously, the defender had received threats for his work defending the Río Verde. Two days earlier, on January 21, he received an anonymous letter with death threats.
The events take place in a context of conflict over the defense of the Río Verde stemming from the extraction of stone material by local businessmen. This exploitation of the river's natural resources was publicly denounced by Fidel Heras Cruz and the Paso de la Reyna community. The defender also participated actively in the fight against the Paso de la Reyna Hydroelectric Project and the Río Verde Hydroelectric Project.
Oaxaca is the most dangerous Mexican state for environmental defenders. Between 2012 and 2019, 85 attacks were recorded[iii].
This attempt on Fidel's life provoked a multitude of reactions at the national and international level. More than 1,200 [iv] people and groups signed the urgent action demanding #JusticiaParaFidel. Also, the OHCHR [v] and the Diplomatic Corps [vi] made swift declarations of condemnation, urging to initiate a thorough investigation and protect members of COPUDEVER, an organization to which Fidel belonged. Likewise, European Member of Parliament Soraya Rodríguez from the Renew Europe group requested[vii] Mexican authorities to investigate so that this crime does not go unpunished.
It is worrying that a month later, the Oaxaca State Attorney General's Office has not made arrests[viii] of the material and intellectual authors of the crime and that adequate protection measures have not been implemented for Fidel's family and other community defenders. It is urgent that the Mexican authorities take immediate action in line with their duty to protect defenders in Oaxaca.
Recently, the UN Rapporteur on the situation of defenders presented her latest report to the Human Rights Council. In it, she warned of the increase in murders of human rights defenders in Latin America and concluded that, due to a lack of political will, many governments were failing to comply with their moral and legal obligations to prevent the murders. The fight against impunity is key to curbing the wave of murders, which is why PBI supports Rapporteur Mary Lawlor's recommendation to create commissions of inquiry when there is a sustained number or significant increase in murders of human rights defenders[ix]. However, it is crucial that they are made up of independent experts and that their members have the support of Mexican human rights organizations.
During the Interactive Dialogue with the Rapporteur Mary Lawlor, PBI and Consorcio Oaxaca, we warned [x] of the worrying increase in attacks against defenders during the COVID19 pandemic and the continuity of criminalization processes and defamation campaigns. Likewise, we emphasized the differentiated impacts of the attacks on women defenders. The report places Mexico as the third country in Latin America with the highest number of murders between 2015 and 2019 with 151 defenders killed. The Permanent Mission of Germany expressed its deep concern over the figures
PBI calls on the diplomatic corps and the EU Delegation in Mexico to meet with the organizations COPUDEVER and EDUCA in order to follow up on the murder case of the environmental defender Fidel Heras Cruz. We acknowledge the difficulties arising from the health emergency and we encourage the diplomatic corps to find creative ways of responding to current challenges in the implementation of the EU Guidelines for the Protection of Defenders.
[i]Situación de la defensa de derechos humanos y la libre expresión en México a partir de la pandemia por COVID-19