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Indigenous and farming communities say Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver Mines is responsible for environmental contamination and increased violence in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Heavy rains caused the overflow of a tailings dam operated by Canadian company Fortuna Silver Mines in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca on Sunday, October 7, contaminating the Coyote Creek and threatening the primary source of water for farming communities in the Central Valleys region.

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Authorities of the Indigenous Zapotec town of Magdalena Ocotlán informed that on the morning of October 8, residents observed a stream of white water in the tributary of the Coyote Creek that passes through their community, located 5 kilometers downriver from the “San José” gold and silver mine in the neighboring community of San José del Progreso. Local officials insist that the source of contamination is a tailings dam where the Vancouver-based precious metals producer stores waste from its underground mine, in commercial production since 2011.

The affected creek passes no more than ten meters from the primary drinking water well in Magdalena Ocotlán, and ultimately flows into the Atoyac River, the most significant tributary in Oaxaca City. Agrarian and municipal authorities of Magdalena Ocotlán, where the majority of residents earn a living through agriculture and cattle-raising, expressed alarm at the possible environmental and health impacts of the spill.

On Monday they presented water samples and photographs to Mexico’s Federal Bureau of Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) in the hopes of initiating an investigation, and on Tuesday the Bureau sent a “verification brigade” to assess possible contamination. Local officials say the brigade met with management of the Cuzcatlán mining company, Fortuna Silver’s 100%-owned Mexican subsidiary, but did not seek out a meeting with representatives of the community. On Friday, PROFEPA confirmed that mud and fine mining waste from the San José tailings dam had overflowed directly into the Coyote Creek.

THE NEWlawyers 2As the United Nations prepares to review Mexico’s human rights record in November, civil society organizations in Oaxaca publish their own evaluation, from one of the states with the highest number of violations in the country. In the following series Educa, a contributor to the report, summarizes its main findings:

Between 2016 and 2017, the UN argued that Mexico’s legal, political and institutional framework was not sufficient for the protection of Indigenous rights, including land rights, access to justice, and the rights to free determination, political participation and consultation.

This is certainly the case in Oaxaca, where violations of Indigenous peoples’ rights have intensified alarmingly in recent years, primarily due to the imposition of extractive, energy and infrastructure projects, as well as the implementation of the Special Economic Zone in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

In terms of energy projects, in Oaxaca there are plans for 68 hydroelectric projects, with some riverbeds facing the construction of up to 14 dams. One example is the “Paso de la Reina”

hydroelectric project on the Coast of Oaxaca, which would affect over 1,097 members of the Mixtec, Chatino, Afro-Mexican and Mestizo communities.

Between 2006 and 2013, 24 wind farms were installed in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. These projects have been detrimental to landowners, since contracts grant companies ownership of the land for 30 years, with the possibility of renewal for another 30.

In the case of extractive projects, 322 mining concessions have been documented in 90 municipalities. These permits—which are valid for up to 50 years and cover a surface of nearly 463 hectares, or almost 5% of state-owned territory—have resulted in 41 mining projects, two of which are at the commercial exploitation stage. In the case of the “San José” project operated by Fortuna Silver Mines, conflicts related to the mine caused four murders and eight firearm injuries between 2010 and 2012.

The main impacts of these projects include the dispossession of land, environmental degradation, social conflicts, and the criminalization of land defenders. Mexican laws on energy, mining, hydrocarbons and the Special Economic Zones have favored industrial land use while failing to provide affected communities with adequate information about the scale and possible impacts of projects. The consultation processes established in Oaxaca have not taken international standards into account and have only served to legitimate projects.

 

 Download: Under attack. Human Rights in Oaxaca 2013-2018. Citizen report (PDF, 32 pp.)

As the UJournalists imgnited Nations prepares to review Mexico’s human rights record in November, civil society organizations in Oaxaca publish their own evaluation, from one of the states with the highest number of violations in the country. In the following series Educa, a contributor to the report, summarizes its main findings:

Oaxaca is the state with the third highest number of attacks against journalists, preceded only by Veracruz and Mexico City. The organization Article 19 documented 15 homicides of journalists between 2000 and 2017, while the Human Rights Ombudsman of Oaxaca initiated 168 complaints of attacks against reporters from 2015 to 2017 alone, with the most frequent grievances being threats, harassment, surveillance, intimidation and physical aggression. Many of these attacks took place while journalists were on the job.

Last year, the Omsbudsman documented 144 attacks against journalists, including 37 against female journalists who were often also the victims of gender-based discrimination. It is alarming, though not surprising, that the main aggressors were public sector employees, with 45 attacks perpetrated by municipal and state employees, police, trade unions and even the Attorney General’s Office.

The impunity rate for these cases is 90%, and last year protective measures were granted to only 17 journalists and one media outlet. Moreover, media companies in Oaxaca are often owned by—and complicit with—political elites, who take advantage of journalists’ paltry wages and lack of a basic social safety net by using bribery and suppression.

In short, despite changes in the political parties governing Oaxaca and the adoption of new mechanisms for the protection of human rights, journalists continue to perform their indispensable labor in fear.

 

 Download: Under attack. Human Rights in Oaxaca 2013-2018. Citizen report (PDF, 32 pp.)

Infographic: Oaxaca Citizens' Report

BAJO ATAQUE Los derechos humanos en Oaxaca 2013 2018 Informe ciudadanoAs the United Nations prepares to review Mexico’s human rights record in November, civil society organizations in Oaxaca publish their own evaluation, from one of the states with the highest number of violations in the country. In the following series Educa, a contributor to the report, summarizes its main findings:

From 2015 - 2017, 137 complaints of torture have been registered by the ombudsman for Human Rights of the people of Oaxaca. Although in most countries this and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment are strictly forbidden and considered serious human rights violations, in Mexico state agents put them into practice daily, normalizing their use.

Moreover, this official data fails to account for cases of torture in prisons and other carceral institutions. According to civil society organizations such as Asilegal, Oaxaca’s Indigenous population is the most vulnerable to torture, with approximately 50% of Indigenous prisoners being victims of torture.

In 2013, the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of human rights in Mexico submitted 10 recommendations addressing the use of torture as an investigative tool by official state institutions. This along with the denunciations of civil society groups have led the Mexican State to implement a “General Law to Prevent, Investigate and Punish Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” (LGPIST) on June 26, 2017.

One limited success of the Law are the few sentences for torture it has achieved so far on a national level, although the sentences have been minimal and none of them was in Oaxaca.

Yet despite this small achievement, the General Law against Torture leaves too much open to interpretation. The law is confusing as it legitimates the use of force during investigations, which opens a window to justifying torture. This is irreconcilable with the goal of acquiring valuable information and evidence since evidence obtained under torture is inadmissible. Moreover, the law perpetuates impunity, since the same authorities accused of torture are supposed to investigate their own crimes, both on the federal and the national level.

Plans for establishing a National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture are in process though the state of Oaxaca is not interested in observing the agreements that will contribute to its implementation.

 

Download: Under attack. Human Rights in Oaxaca 2013-2018. Citizen report (PDF, 32 pp.)

Infographic: Oaxaca Citizens' Report

thumbnail under attack infografia generalAs the United Nations prepares to review Mexico’s human rights record in November, civil society organizations in Oaxaca publish their own evaluation, from one of the states with the highest number of violations in the country. In the following series Educa, a contributor to the report, summarizes its main findings:

In 2012, the Mexican government passed a series of contested structural reforms in sectors as diverse as telecommunications, energy and education. In Oaxaca, where opposition to the educational reform has been particularly strong, the government’s favored strategy for quelling resistance has been the criminalization of social protest. 

In May 2013 teacher protests broke out in response to the reform, which experts say is in fact a labor reform that violates the rights of educational workers. Oaxacan authorities responded by targeting protestors with arbitrary detentions and fabricated legal charges.

Human rights defenders and social movement leaders have been charged with generic accusations such as kidnapping, participation in organized crime, money laundering, criminal association and possession of firearms. This tactic is particularly divisive given an increase in organized criminal activity that has led to a climate of social polarization.

The accused are often transferred to maximum-security prisons far from their places of origin, which makes family visits, legal defense and solidarity actions difficult. Moreover, human rights groups have documented the government’s bribery of media to promote smear campaigns against arrested activists.

The Nochixtlán protests in June of 2016 provide a glaring example of these tactics. State and federal police used the pretext of clearing a highway to attack protesting teachers, students and civilians, leading to 8 deaths and 226 injuries, including 84 firearm injuries. The government denied that their agents were armed and to date no one has been held accountable.

This situation has been exacerbated by Mexico’s recently approved Homeland Security law, which grants the military even broader powers to silence resistance, especially in areas with territorial conflicts. Currently a bill to restrict the right to protest is present to the State Congress. If this bill passes, it will exacerbate social polarization and the excessive use of power.

 

Download: Under attack. Human Rights in Oaxaca 2013-2018. Citizen report (PDF, 32 pp.)

Infographic: Oaxaca Citizens' Report

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