Mexico: Indigenous human rights defenders still unfairly imprisoned despite government promises to UN

By continuing to hold five indigenous human rights defenders on fabricated charges, the Mexican authorities are disregarding the human rights commitments made to the UN Human Rights Council less than a month ago, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty International’s statement came as the cases of five members of the Guerrero-based Me’ phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (OPIM), currently detained in a Guerrero state prison on charges of murder, await a decision by a federal reviewing court regarding their possible release.

“Less than a month ago, Mexico made a commitment at the UN Human Rights Council that it will protect the life and physical integrity of human rights defenders in the country,” said Susan Lee, Americas Programme Director at Amnesty International. “Supporting the legitimate work of the OPIM is something they can immediately do towards fulfilling that promise.”

On 20 October 2008, a federal review judge ruled there was insufficient evidence against four of the detainees and ordered their release. However the four continue to be imprisoned as Mexico’s Federal Attorney General’s Office has filed an appeal against the ruling – despite not providing further evidence in the case.

The fifth detainee, Raúl Hernández, was denied an injunction by the federal judge on the grounds that two witnesses had testified to his presence when the victim was shot. However, other eyewitness testimonies that Raúl Hernández was not present at the time of the murder have been disregarded. Raúl Hernández has appealed against the decision to deny an injunction in his case.

“Amnesty International has established that the case against these five prisoners of conscience has been brought in reprisal for their work promoting the rights of their community and exposing abuses by a local political boss and local authorities.”

“When social activists are punished for the legitimate work they do, the authorities are sending a message that protecting and promoting human rights carries a high price.”

Amnesty International today called on the Mexican authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the five Indigenous human rights defenders who have been held in prison for nearly a year despite the lack of evidence against them.

Background Information On 17 April 2008, Manuel Cruz, Orlando Manzanarez, Natalio Ortega, Romualdo Santiago and Raúl Hernández were detained and charged with the murder of Alejandro Feliciano García on 1 January 2008 in the town of El Camalote, Guerrero. The five members of the OPIM were stopped and taken into custody while crossing a routine military checkpoint in the area. Arrest warrants for another ten OPIM members have also been issued in connection with the murder, but have not been acted on.

The Me’ phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (Organización del Pueblo Indígena Me’ phaa, OPIM) was founded in 2002 to defend and promote the rights of the Me’ phaa (Tlapanecas) Indigenous People in Mexico. The southern state of Guerrero, which is home to some 116,000 Me’ phaa Indigenous People, has one of the highest levels of marginalization and some of the lowest indicators of human development in the country.

Amnesty International has documented a pattern of harassment and intimidation against members of Indigenous rights organizations in Guerrero state such as the OPIM over a number of years. Most recently, the Secretary and President of the Organization for the Future of Mixtec Indigenous Peoples (Organizacion para el Futuro de los Pueblos Mixtecos, OFPM) were found dead late at night on 20 February in Tecoanapa municipality, Guerrero State. The bodies of the two men were unearthed thirty minutes drive away from where they were abducted by armed men seven days earlier. Both of the bodies have been identified by their families who report that they show clear signs of torture.  

For more information, please see: Promoting Indigenous Rights in Mexico: Me’ phaa Indigenous People’s Organziation (AMR 41/040/2008);

Urgent action on the recent case of the death of two members of the Organization for the Future of Mixtec Indigenous Peoples:

A short web-clip with footage of the 5 prisoners of conscience and an interview with one of the wives of the detainees is available on:

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For further details or to arrange an interview, please contact: Josefina Salomón P:+44 207 413 5562, M:+44 7778 472 116, [email protected]