Friday, December 8, 2017

Overcoming Impunity—Mexico's Special Challenge

According to Mexican authorities, impunity in the country is as high as 98–99 percent…I am particularly worried by the situation of indigenous children and youth, in such a context of extreme poverty, violence and impunity…
-          Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, after her mission to Mexico last month

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Impunity…a word that most Canadians have probably never used in their lifetime. And perhaps many of us aren’t even sure just what it means. Yet every Mexican not only understands the concept; he or she knows that impunity is an everyday part of the lived reality here.

The Cambridge Dictionary gives a definition that is as good as any: Impunity is freedom from punishment or from the unpleasant results of something that has been done. In other words, whether I am a government authority, a police officer, a corporate executive, or a member of a drug cartel or organized crime, I can be pretty sure that I will never be punished if I break the rule of law.
The Special Rapporteur with family members of the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa
Last month Mexico received a visit from Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an indigenous leader from the Philippines and the present United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She included the Mountain of Guerrero in her agenda; here she spoke with numerous indigenous persons and groups. In an interview afterwards, she said that she knows of no other country in the world where there is such a high level of impunity as in Mexico.

Out of all the Latin American countries, Mexico ranks first in the 2017 "Global Impunity Index". So few crimes in Mexico are punished that it is believed that upwards of 92% of crimes committed are not even reported. Why bother if nothing is going to happen? The situation is even worse for the indigenous peoples. In her initial report after her mission to Mexico, the UN Special Rapporteur mentioned that special difficulties of the indigenous peoples include “the physical distance from justice administration institutions, language barriers, lack of adequate legal assistance, lack of adequate economic resources to adequately pursue a case, fears of reprisals if a complaint is filed, and the lack of appropriate protection mechanisms.”
Abel Barrera Hernandez, Director of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain,
and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
There are institutions that try to assist the indigenous people in protecting the human rights of the people. The Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain is a great example. Nevertheless, as the Special Rapporteur notes in her report, these organizations “are subject to any kind of stigmatization, harassment or attacks for performing this role.”

All of this occurs in a generalized context of violence. Earlier this year Bloomberg’s Marc Champion published an article called Mexico Now World's Deadliest Conflict Zone After Syria: Survey. This level of violence may be a surprise to many because, to quote John Chipman, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, “Mexico is a conflict marked by the absence of artillery, tanks or combat aviation.” The impoverished indigenous peoples aren’t surprised. And besides this violence (and corruption), the indigenous peoples face the all-too-usual “serious pattern of exclusion and discrimination” (quoting the Special Rapporteur).

The Special Rapporteur being welcomed in the village of Tlatzala
There are antidotes to this situation of impunity. The 2017 "Global Impunity Index" offers three suggestions: “1) a democratic State that promotes economic development with a social approach; 2) ensuring that any citizen has access to justice regardless its social condition; 3) and a vibrant society that demands the respect of human rights and fully enforces its liberties.” The same Index adds: “A free and vibrant press, researchers committed to understand society’s big issues and organized groups that promote and defend human rights are fundamental to counter impunity.”

Mission Mexico’s partners in the Mountain of Guerrero are striving to transform this reality. Education plays a major role. The different projects supported by Mission Mexico respond to both the immediate needs of the impoverished peoples and the long-term efforts to “create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:15; see Revelation 21:1). I thank all of the Mission Mexico donors for your solidarity with the impoverished indigenous peoples in Mexico. You are helping to “make everything new” (Rev 21:5).
The Special Rapporteur listening to testimonies of the indigenous peoples of the Mountain

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