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Mexico - Indigenous community counters government-backed highway which will cut their land in halves

All blog posts by marianomachain

Dear colleagues,

 

Greetings from Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz (Services and Advice for Peace, SERAPAZ) in Mexico City. SERAPAZ is a GPPAC member.

 

Let me take this opportunity to tell you more about one of our key areas of work: the rights of Indigenous and campesino communities in the context of unconsulted “development” projects in their ancestral territories.

 

In particular, I would like to tell you about the Otomí Indigenous community of San Francisco Xochicuautla in Mexico State. The state government, originally with the support of the federal government, has sought to impose a highway on the community's land, cutting it in halves. The community rejected the measure through peaceful means, both judicial and political. As the government raised the pressure on them, they sought technical advice to counter the official project with their own alternative proposal. This is far from common in Mexico and elsewhere: very few communities have developed their own alternative projects in the face of imposition. However, the community's efforts to launch a meaningful dialogue with the Mexico state government have been met with resistance on the part of the authorities to accept any of the key elements of the alternative proposal. The alternative proposal reduces the damaging impact of the official project by changing some of its features (eg: by using tunnels and bridges) but without changing the course of the highway. It reduces the negative impact on the environment and the cultural rights of the community.

 

In a significant development for San Francisco Xochicuautla, the UN Working Group on business and human rights has reviewed their case and highlighted it in detail in a report they have just made public: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/35/32/Add.2

 

C. Toluca-Naucalpan highway project

31. The Working Group visited the Otomí-Mexica indigenous community in San Francisco Xochicuautla, State of Mexico, whose members have been resisting an expropriation order that was issued in 2012 without any prior consultation for a project to construct a highway through their ancestral lands. The community has been engaged in a sustained legal dispute with state authorities. In 2013, a federal judge issued an amparo ruling requesting the temporary suspension of the construction of the highway. The community has also petitioned the National Human Rights Commission and the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights; both institutions have requested the State of Mexico to adopt preventive measures to protect the Otomí-Mexica indigenous community.

32. There are several reports of harassment and intimidation of community members who have protested against the project. In June 2015, 21 members of the indigenous community of San Francisco Xochicuautla began to receive protection under the national mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders. In September 2015, a risk assessment concluded that the community members were exposed to extraordinary risk, considering that the aggressions they had been subjected to by employees of the construction company commissioned to construct the highway had put their life at risk.

33. In February 2015, an amparo ruling by a federal judge (amparo No. 771/2015) ordered the definitive suspension of the project. Yet, despite these requests and in disregard of the judicial suspension, construction of the highway continued. On 11 April 2016, the construction company, accompanied by some 800 state police officers, destroyed property, including the house of one of the persons leading the opposition against the highway project — 1 of the 21 community members receiving protection under the national mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders.

34. This incident received considerable media attention, and led the state Government to halt the construction and to engage in further consultations with the community, mediated by the National Human Rights Commission. The Working Group also notes recommendation No. 56/2016, issued by the National Human Rights Commission in December 2016, concerning violations of the right to prior, free and informed consultation of the indigenous communities affected by the Toluca-Naucalpan, and calls on the authorities to ensure implementation thereof in collaboration with the affected communities. The Working Group received worrying information that an assembly of the community had been interrupted by armed state police officers on 3 March 2017, and calls on the Government to avoid the recurrence of these types of events.

35. The Working Group also sought to talk to representatives of the construction company Grupo Higa, but did not receive any reply to its requests. The Working Group notes that this was the single case of a company not being responsive to its request for direct interaction, and that it was difficult to find more information about the policies of Grupo Higa, as it did not have a functioning website.

The Working Group will present its report to the Human Rights Council on 8 June. A Xochicuautla representative will be in Geneva that day to express their own views. On 9 June there will be a side event to discuss the report in detail.

 

The community continues to participate in negotiations with Mexico state authorities in order to claim their right to have a say on a “development” project that will affect their lives. In particular, they aim to persuade the authorities to accept the changes that the community is proposing in relation to the official plan. There will be elections in Mexico state this weekend, and we will have more clarity about the government’s approach in the coming weeks. But so far they have rejected the community’s proposal.

 

We would like to reach out to you to discuss whether you would be interested in joining the Xochicuautla community, SERAPAZ and other accompanying NGOs in our struggle to defend these collective rights. The authorities, whoever they will be, are likely to pay more attention to this issue if it is backed up by international actors.

 

If you are interested in this topic, or would like to hear more, please do not hesitate to contact us.

 

Thanks!

 

Mariano
_____________________________________________________________
Mariano Machain
Coordinador de incidencia internacional / International advocacy coordinator
Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz (SERAPAZ)
Patricio Sanz 449, Colonia del Valle
Ciudad de México, C.P. 03100, México
Tel. (+52) 55 5543 3660, 55 5523 0492
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