Activists standing up for justice in Mexico

Human rights activists in Mexico face life-threatening harassment and attacks, while the government does very little to protect them. Here are profiles of three such activists who in the course of their work have been subjected to threats, acts of intimidation and arbitrary detention. Obtilia Eugenio Manuel The founder and President of the Organization of the Me’ phaa Indigenous People (OPIM) in Guerrero, Obtilia Eugenio Manuel is a longstanding campaigner for the rights of Indigenous people. She has been the target of numerous threats, acts of intimidation and surveillance since the Me’ phaa and Mixteco Indigenous communities started to organize in 1998. The campaign of intimidation against her and the risks to her life became so serious in recent years, Obtilia and her family were forced to relocate to another community. For example, in March 2009, just after a ceremony commemorating human rights defender Raúl Lucas Lucía, who was murdered in February 2009, Obtilia received three death threats by text message to her mobile phone. In January 2009, she was followed on numerous occasions. One time, she recognized one of the men following her. She had reported several earlier incidents involving the same man to the authorities, but they asked her to provide more evidence before they would investigate. On one occasion he leaned out of his car and shouted: “Do you think you’re so brave? Are you a real woman? Let’s hope you also go to prison… If you don’t go to prison, we’ll kill you.” None of the threats or acts of intimidation against her have been investigated. Obtilia, 32, and her partner have two daughters aged 8 and 6 and a son aged 4. Jesús Emiliano Jesús Emiliano is a leading member of the Peasant Farmers’ Democratic Front of Chihuahua, north Mexico, an organization that campaigns for the economic rights of poor rural farmers. Jesús was arbitrarily detained on spurious criminal charges by federal authorities in 2007 on account of his human rights activism and as a way of stopping him from defending human rights. Amnesty International has documented similar abuses against many other human rights activists. Jesús was arbitrarily detained in Chihuahua City on 9 March 2007 and charged with sabotage, a federal criminal offence. He was released unconditionally five days later, after the federal judge dismissed the charges for lack of evidence. The Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office requested Jesús’ detention claiming the charges against him were linked to a demonstration in 2005 on a federal highway. After his lawyer gained access to the files, he discovered the charges were related to Jesús’ participation in a in a different demonstration to demand support for poor small-scale farmers on 20 February 2007 outside the building of the Chihuahua office of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. Such irregularities were acknowledged by the judge who dismissed the case, but no action was taken against the federal authorities for wrongful arrest. Jesús, 42, is married and has six children aged 23, 21, 20, 18, 2 and a 3-month-old baby. Father Alejandro Solalinde “I will never be the same person that I was before I started working to defend the rights of migrants. My family knows that the security risks are big and they have accepted that as have I.” Father Alejandro Solalinde is the Co-ordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Care Centre for Migrants in South-western Mexico and Director of a migrants’ shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, Oaxaca state. Since 2005 Father Alejandro Solalinde has dedicated his life to providing a place of safety for migrants, away from the criminal gangs who exploit and abuse them. He has travelled on the network of freight trains taken by migrants heading to Mexico’s northern border, saying that doing the journey himself was the only way of finding out about the horrors migrants have to face.  On 26 February 2007, he set up the Ciudad Ixtepec migrant shelter next to the railway lines used by travelling Central Americas. Over 400 migrants slept at the shelter on that first night and the flow of people has been constant ever since. Because of his work, Father Solalinde has been continuously threatened and intimidated by local gangs and officials. Last December, he was warned that a criminal gang operating in Veracruz and Oaxaca planned to kill him. Photo copyrights: Obtilia Eugenio Manuel (CDHM Tlachinollan AC) Jesús Emiliano (Private) and Father Alejandro Solalinde (Amnesty International/Ricardo Ramírez Arriola)