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Bolstering Human Rights in Mexico

  • In the spring of 2019, staff members in the Carter Center’s Latin America and Caribbean Program traveled to Mérida, capital of Mexico’s Yucatán state, to present a report about Mexico’s human rights system. (Photos: The Carter Center/S. Umstaddt)

  • The report, created with local consultant group Elementa Human Rights, maps the federal government entities responsible for implementing human rights policies. It highlights duplications and gaps that need to be addressed to better protect victims of human rights violations. The report also is a tool that human rights defenders like Silvano Cantú, executive director of the Innovation Laboratory for Peace, can use to help guide them through the process of engaging with government institutions to support victims.

  • Mexico’s war on drugs, which began in 2006, touched off what many call a human rights crisis. More than 200,000 people have been killed and another 40,000 have disappeared, according to the report, which focuses on gross human rights violations, particularly forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture. Both the cartels and the government are guilty of human rights violations. (Photo: iStock.com/vichinterlang)

  • The situation in Yucatán is different. It is Mexico’s safest state, largely free of the drug-related violence that plagues other states. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own human rights issues.

  • The Carter Center and Elementa chose Yucatán as one of two states in which to replicate its federal mapping study at the state level (the other is violence-stricken Baja California). The goal is to empower victims and defenders to work within their local systems to redress their rights. The team spent time listening and learning during a series of meetings that included two focus groups with human rights defenders. Some common themes emerged.

  • Many in the focus group called discrimination against indigenous people one of the biggest problems in Yucatan. The state’s large Mayan population has long lived on protected lands. But increasingly, those lands are being taken from them, or destroyed by nearby construction projects or commercial farms. Sara Aribas Pinero works for Muuch Cambal, an organization whose name means “Let’s Work Together” in Maya. The group helps Mayan communities wage legal battles to preserve their lands and ways of life.

  • Yucatán has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the country. The Center for Justice for Women in Mérida, a state-operated entity that provides shelter, health care, and other services to female victims of crimes, handles about 650 cases each month.

  • Gay, lesbian, and transgender people in Yucatán regularly face discrimination and abuse. Abigail Trillo founded Yucatrans, a nonprofit that works to empower and protect trans citizens. She told the focus group about discrimination in education, in healthcare, and in the workplace. This can lead to unemployment, forcing trans people into dangerous sex work. The police who should be protecting them are often part of the problem. Trillo spoke of four cases of trans people murdered in jail, their deaths made to look like suicides.

  • Discrimination against people with disabilities is another common concern. Josefina Larrain helped found Cedi Down in 2010 as a way of helping people with disabilities. The organization helps connect families with needed services and lobbies for better care and access. Mexican law doesn’t do a good job of protecting people with disabilities. As a result, insurance companies won’t insure them, as she learned when her son was born with Down syndrome. Schools don’t offer special education plans for them. Many buildings are not accessible, and public buses won’t even stop for people in wheelchairs.

  • The focus groups and upcoming state-level report are valuable, said Angeles Cruz, director of the Center of Human Rights Studies at the Autonomous University of Yucatan, where the groups met. “We are facing a lot of human rights issues in Yucatan peninsula. There are many relevant actors, relevant organizations, but we don’t have research about the context. We are very grateful, because with this study, we will be able to know this context and use it to benefit the community. We need to work as a team.”

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