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19 December 2019

International Observation Mission to Río Metlapanapa Concerned About the Security Situation for Human Rights Defenders in Santa María Zacatepec

Mexico City, 19 December 2019 – Front Line Defenders, Información sobre Empresas y Derechos Humanos (CIEDH), el Centro de Derechos Humanos “Zeferino Ladrillero” and la Red Nacional de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos “Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos” organised an International Observation Mission to the Nahua indigenous community in Santa María Zacatepec in the municipality of Juan C. Bonilla, Puebla, with the goal of documenting human rights violations committed against members of the community in retaliation for their defense of the Metlapanapa River.

The participating organisations in the mission received information about the conflict that prevails in Zacatepec (and that also affects surrounding communities), which derives from the intention to forcefully construct sanitary sewer and storm sewer systems. The community has refused this project and has become a strong resistance movement that demands respect for its fundamental rights as an indigenous community, mainly its right to self-determination.

In addition to dialogue with human rights defenders (HRDs) and leaders from Zacatepec, the Mission visited the area adjacent to the Ciudad Textil Industrial Park, where there is now an industrial waste dump and also toured the site where the pipeline installation work continues for the sewage system.

The Mission observes:

  • Zacatepec and surrounding communities have expressed their refusal of the construction of the project and oppose its installation; the continuation of the work violates the community's right to self-determination.
  • The construction has generated a number of violations of the individual and collective human rights of the Zacatepec community, which culminated in the events October 30, when police elements from the state of Puebla and the National Guard launched tear gas, fired rubber bullets and beat human rights defenders and community members who were protesting against the progress of construction.
  • The Mission learned about the aggressions, harassment, discrimination and criminalization against HRDs and community leaders by various public officials. Due to this adverse climate, at least 8 people have been threatened, some have received death threats. The Mission expresses special concern about the threats of disappearance and violence against one of the youngest defenders in the community.
  • Zacatepec Community Radio has been a means of communication, as well as a vehicle for community organization. We express our concern about the threats of state officials to request the withdrawal of the broadcast concession granted to the community, as well as the subsequent visit of the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) to make a review. As an autonomous body, the IFT must act independently of the interests of state government and companies.
  • The community and its legal representatives provided information on the actions of various companies involved in the construction and implementation of the project. As a result, the Mission has contacted companies that have participated in human rights abuses, and raised the issue of their failures of responsibility.

The Mission is preparing a report on its observations regarding the violation of individual and collective human rights of the community of Zacatepec. This report will be launched in January.

We call on the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists and the state authorities to take the necessary measures to guarantee the safety of community members to defend the rights of the community.

The human rights organizations that comprise the Mission will monitor the next actions of the municipal and state government.

International Observation Mission to Río Metlapanapa:

Front Line Defenders
Business and Human Rights Resource Center
Centro de Derechos Humanos “Zeferino Ladrillero”
Red Nacional de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos “Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos” (Red TDT, conformada por 86 organizaciones en 23 estados de la república mexicana)