In the context of social conflict in Oaxaca, PBI urges the Mexican authorities to respect the right to free assembly, prioritise dialogue with the teachers union and to guarantee the integrity of teachers and human rights defenders
Mexico City, 21 June, 2016
In recent months, social mobilisations convened by the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE) in the state of Oaxaca have intensified, in order to demonstrate opposition to the education reform, culminating in an indefinite strike. Since 15 May, an occupation camp was installed in the historic centre of Oaxaca and in the offices of the Oaxaca State Public Education Institute (IEEPO) in order to request that a dialogue space be established with authorities.
As a response from authorities, in recent weeks large deployments of police elements have been observed. As the climate of social tension increased, PBI manifested it's concern for the deterioration of the situation to state and federal authorities as well as to representatives of the diplomatic corps. This deterioration became particularly evident on 11 June, when a mixed operative of more than 800 elements removed the CNTE occupation camp from the IEEPO installation, with the use of tear gas by police forces and resulting in clashes between the two sides.
The events in Nochixtlán confirm an escalation of violent confrontations between police forces and striking teachers, which have been replicated across the country.
The events described coincide with the 10th anniversary of the conflict that devastated Oaxaca in 2006 in which 373 victims of grave human rights violations were registered. The previous conflict also began with the attempted removal of teacher's occupation camp with the use of violence. According to the recent report by the Oaxaca Truth Commission – an independent entity installed in order to clarify the facts surrounding 2006 – violations included forced disappearances, extra-judicial executions, and the systemic and generalised use of torture. The report emphasises that, despite the creation of a special prosecutors office in 2012, of 27 investigations opened, only 2 have been remanded.
As a response to civil society petitions after the 2006-2007 conflict, PBI maintains a permanent field office in Oaxaca, due to the risk situation faced by human rights defenders in the state.
In 2013, President Enrique Peña Nieto presented Education Reform, including a series of reforms which originated in the “Pact for Mexico”. Presented by the federal government as a measure to improve the education system through evaluation of teachers, it was interpreted by the teachers union as a labour – rather than education – reform, which accelerated the firing of specific teachers and included first steps towards privatising education in Mexico. The teacher's reaction didn't take long, and several protests were immediately organised throughout the country to demand that the reforms be abolished.
After the governments response to the protests, Oaxacan CSOs denounced the “criminalisation of the teachers union” through several arbitrary detentions. Later, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions considered that several detentions were directed at human rights defenders and were carried out under arbitrary conditions.
Following the events of 19 June, national and international actors expressed concern, demanding that the state and federal government resolve the conflict. The Oaxacan Civil Society Space published an urgent action, in which is called on the state and federal government to cease the “use of wrongful and disproportionate force and repression against teachers and the civil population who were exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly” as well as the immediate installation of dialogue spaces with the teachers union. At the same time, The Front for Freedom of Expression categorically condemned the violence and demanded that state and federal authorities “[put] an immediate end to acts of repression, and guarantee medical attention to any person hurt during these events”. The Red TdT, made up of 80 human rights organisations from across Mexico, demanded that the state and federal authorities “respect the exercise of rights and civil protest”.
Since the clashes of 19 June, the Oaxacan Human Rights Ombudsman's Office (DDHPO) has issued precautionary measures to ensure the integrity of seven disappeared persons. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) also issued precautionary measures and reinforced its presence in Oaxaca as well as Tabasco, Chiapas, Guerrero, and Michoacan, other states where similar conflicts have occurred.
Amnesty International reiterated that, although authorities have the obligation to control public order and take measures to prevent, investigate and sanction those responsible for violence, “these measures should be proportional and adhere to international human rights standards. At the same time, they should also assure the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association”. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) sustained that the Federal Police response to the protests in Nochixtlan “shows a tendency by Mexican police forces to utilise excessive force against demonstrators”.
Representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights arrived in Nochixtlan in the afternoon of 20 June in order to collect testimony and information on the events that occurred on 19 June.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, without directly mentioning events in Oaxaca, made a statement on follow up to his mission to Mexico and underlined that “progress in [the country] has been insufficient in it's protection of the right to life” and that extrajudicial executions and excessive use of force are a common practice among police forces.
In the current context of violence, PBI expresses special concern for the security situation of human rights defenders who observe the protests, especially members of those organisations accompanied by PBI, among them: Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Equity Oaxaca (Consorcio), del the Committee for the Integral Defence of Human Rights Gobixha (Código-DH), the “Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño” Regional Human Rights Centre (Barca-DH), the Brothers on the Path Migrant Shelter, and Services for Alternative Education (EDUCA). In this sense, PBI calls upon the competent state and federal authorities to guarantee their security and the free exercise of their legitimate work in defence of human rights.
Considering these events, Peace Brigades International urges the Mexican Authorities at the state and federal level to:
Respect the rights to social protest, freedom of expression and of assembly of the teachers union and Mexican civil society
Prioritise dialogue with the teachers union in order to seek a pacific solution to the conflict
Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of protesters, as well as those HRDs that accompany the teachers union and observe the protests
Guarantee the right to due process of detained persons, and report on the location of detention and the judicial situation of non-located persons
Investigate the events of 19 June in Nochixtlan and sanction those responsible
Implement the recommendations of the Oaxaca Truth Commission and investigate the crimes of 2006, the current impunity of which favours the repetition of grave human rights violations
At the same time, PBI calls on the diplomatic corps and the international community to:
Express concern to state and federal authorities regarding the risk of repetition of violent clashes and urge them to protect the physical and psychological integrity of the teachers as well as HRDs that observe the protests
Publicly express support for the installation of a dialogue space between the teachers union and political authorities, and publicly call for the respect of fundamental liberties