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30.06.2012

PBI Mexico: Meetings with HRDs and authorities in Coahuila; disappearances and violence against migrants are the most highlighted HRs violations

Mexico City.- In response to requests by civil society to monitor the respect for human rights in different regions of Mexico, PBI began an exploratory mission early this year to identify the risk faced by defenders in other states, amongst them Coahuila. The Mexico Project visited two cities, Torreon (La Laguna region) and Saltillo1, where meetings were held with local human rights organizations and state authorities.

Coahuila is one of six states located on the border with the United States. Within a context of strong presence of organized crime, it appears among the states with the highest rates of violence in the country. Coahuila, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Durango, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Guerrero and Veracruz  accounted for 70% of the deaths linked to organized crime in 2011, according to figures from the Attorney General's Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) released in January 2012. In order to reduce violence in Torreón2 and the La Laguna region, the state and the federal governments have set up Operation Laguna Segura (Safe Laguna).

The context of organized crime has a strong impact on human rights defenders, particularly on those who defend migrants and families of disappeared persons, because their work affects the interests of organized crime3. Harassment aimed at stopping defenders from protecting and promoting fundamental rights generates a situation of continued insecurity for defenders in Coahuila.

The Human Rights Center “Juan Gerardi” publicly denounced a break-in by police and Army officers into their offices in Torreon without a search warrant on February 9, and the questioning of two of its members on the activities of the organization. In Saltillo, staff from the Migrant Shelter “Belen Posada del Migrante” has suffered harassment and threats in recent years, causing the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to order precautionary measures in their favor in 2010. Due to constant attacks, harassment and threats, members of the Migrant Shelter "Frontera Digna" in Piedras Negras have had protective measures granted by the three levels of government.

In the coal's mining region, the Pasta de Conchos Family Organization (Organización Familia Pasta de Conchos, OFPC) also has faced similar attacks. Problems regarding mine workers hygiene and safety stand out in the area, a situation that caught public attention after the case Pasta de Conchos4. The National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) issued in November 2011 a Special Report on the Health and Safety Conditions in the coal's mining region of the state of Coahuila, which indicates that work in the mines is not carried out under satisfactory conditions or in accordance with national law and international instruments. There is a lack of effective actions to ensure the integrity of the miners.

Disappeared relatives

PBI could observe at first hand some of the main human rights issues in Coahuila and obstacles faced by defenders there. As a result of interviews and research, PBI can highlight some strong concerns of the civil society in Coahuila. The current phenomenon of disappearances, for example, has been a tragic reality for the past four years. Despite the difficulty to provide an exact number of disappearances, estimates by the state government point to about 1600 people.

The governor of Coahuila, Ruben Moreira, has publicly acknowledged this problem and his administration has accepted the UN Working Group on Forced Disappearance recommendations. Currently, the government is working on a state program intended to create search protocols and provide attention to the families. In addition, a Special Attorney's office has been recently created to deal with cases of disappearance. An initiative by the families belonging to United Forces for Our Disappeared in Coahuila (Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en Coahuila, FUUNDEC), and with the Human Rights Centers "Fray Juan de Larios" and "Juan Gerardi" playing an advisory role, has led to the establishment of a working group comprising FUUNDEC members and government representatives.

However, families have faced enormous difficulties to find their relatives. FUUNDEC has been an important space for families who demand justice: “we have been getting stronger, for the love we have for our children. We do not want a war or more disappearances. It hurts every time a new family joins us”. According to the families, their goal is the immediate search for the disappeared. Despite having achieved direct dialogue with the state Executive, they believe there are still major structural gaps that prevent effective action. For example, you can not file a complaint until 72 hours after the disappearance and there are no specific measures in place according to the length of time the person has been missing. Similarly, cases in the early stages do not receive appropriate, specialized attention. The local Human Rights Commission and the Executive's Human Rights Office have recognized this as a weakness that must be overcome.

Migrants in transit

Coahuila is a strategic state in the migrating route to the U.S., resulting in the daily arrival of hundreds of Central Americans in transit through Mexico. PBI had the opportunity to know the work of the Migrant Shelter “Belen Posada del Migrante” in Saltillo, and the Day Center “Un Paso a la Esperanza” in Torreon. The latter, which celebrated its first anniversary in May, arises from the need to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants, previously offered by the parishes. The HRC "Juan Gerardi" is closely involved in the functioning of the Centre. Moreover, the Migrant Shelter “Belen Posada del Migrante”, while also providing humanitarian assistance, plays a vital role in documenting the attacks and abuses suffered by migrants, allowing them to pursue strategic litigation work which is rare in the rest of the country.

Father Pedro Pantoja, from the Migrant Shelter “Belen Posada del Migrante” and a leading migrant’s rights defender in Coahuila, explained to PBI the difficulty to raise awareness, both amongst society and the authorities, about the dignity of this sector of the population. Hostility is not only directed against them, but also to those who defend their rights. As a consequence of the attacks against migrants in the shelter, its staff is beneficiary of precautionary measures ordered by the IACHR and the CNDH. However, they have expressed the need for greater protection for all migrant defenders, because their work can be adversely affected by the continued intimidations and attacks.

Protecting aquifers

PBI also spoke to Laguneros por la Paz, an environmental rights organization based in the region of La Laguna who is supported by the HRC “Juan Gerardi”. Their work focuses on promoting the sustainability and preservation of the local aquifers. They expressed their intention to raise awareness amongst the population about the importance of water resources, and to convince industries of the conscious use of water and respect for the legal extraction limits. Water contamination by arsenic has been one of the main consequences of industrial activity in the region

PBI thanks the availability and attention of the defenders in Torreon and Saltillo. In particular the members of the HRC "Juan Gerardi", the HRC "Fray Juan de Larios" and the Migrant Shelter “Belen Posada del Migrante”, three referent organizations in the promotion and defense of human rights in Coahuila, as well as in supporting the work of other organizations and human rights defenders in the region.

 

More information

Human Rights Center "Fray Juan de Larios"

Human Rights Center "Juan Gerardi"

Migrant House Saltillo

United Forces for Our Disappeared in Coahuila (Fuundec)

Laguneros por la Paz

Pasta de Conchos Family

 

1In Torreon, PBI met with Centro de Derechos Humanos "Juan Gerardi", Laguneros Por La Paz, Ciudadanía Lagunera por los Derechos Humanos (Ciladhac), Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en Coahuila (FUUNDEC), researchers from the human rights departament in IberoAmericana University, Centro de Desarrollo Integral de la Mujer Santa Escolástica (Cedimse), members of Centro de Día “Un Paso a la Esperanza” and SAn Judas priest Father José María Castillo. In Saltillo, PBI met with Centro de Derechos Humanos "Fray Juan de Larios, FUUNDEC, Casa del Migrante Saltillo “Belén Posada del Migrante”, Father Pedro Pantoja, Alianza Cívica, Voluntades Por Coahuila and Bishop Raul Vera of Saltillo. PBI also met there representatives of the Human Rights Secretary, Regional Federal Police chief, Human Rights Commission in Coahuila and Minister of state Public Security.

2Accordign to PGR, Torreon, Coahuila, is the third municipality in organized crime-related deaths, after Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and Acapulco, Guerrero.

3See Cuaderno sobre Secuestro de Migrantes de la Casa del Migrante Saltillo (Spanish)

4“Siniestro ocurrido el 19 de febrero de 2006, en el que murieron 65 trabajadores mineros y 11 resultaron lesionados en la mina de Carbón Pasta de Conchos, ubicada en el ejido Santa María, municipio de San Juan Sabinas, Coahuila”. (CNDH, 2011).

 

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