Mexican Authorities Must Help Community Under Siege by Armed Group

Written by Amnesty International
Thursday, 13 May 2010 19:06
Amnesty International has called on the Mexican authorities to protect an Indigenous community blockaded by more than 30 paramilitary gunmen with links to one of the country’s main political parties.

The 700 people living in San Juan Copala, in the Indigenous Triqui region of Oaxaca state, are virtually cut off from the outside world. They have restricted access to food and electricity and the armed group has also cut their water supply. Those trying to break the blockade have been threatened, attacked or killed.

The paramilitary gang, known as Ubisort, is reportedly connected to the governing political party in Oaxaca, the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI). A local human rights defender and an international human rights observer were killed by Ubisort gunmen last week while on their way to help the community.

“The residents of San Juan Copala are being denied their basic human rights and the authorities must take action to ensure their safety and access to essential services, including food and water,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International’s Americas deputy director.

“The government needs to halt the violence of the armed groups operating in the area which have targeted the community in reprisal for its efforts to establish a measure of self-government separate from the main political parties in the region which it blames for years of violence and neglect.”

San Juan Copala, is one of the communities of the Indigenous Triqui group, one of the poorest and most marginalized ethnic groups in Mexico, declared itself an autonomous municipality in 2007. This means it governs itself through the traditional indigenous practices and does not recognize the authority of existing public officials.

Members of Ubisort, who in part come from a neighbouring Triqui community, have repeatedly fired rounds into and over San Juan Copala to terrorise the population. On 17 April, a local man was killed by members of Ubisort and the siege has intensified since.

Only the older women in the community are allowed to leave to fetch food on foot from the nearest town, while all vehicles have been turned back since early April.

The insecurity has prevented teachers and medical staff reaching the local school and health clinic, severely restricting access to education and health services.

According to reports, Ubisort also prevented damaged electricity cables from being repaired and broke the pipe delivering the community’s water supply, forcing residents to use a contaminated water source.

On 27 April a group of human rights defenders, political activists and journalists tried to reach San Juan Copala to raise awareness of the siege and bring supplies of food and water.

Just outside San Juan Copala, 30 armed members of Ubisort ambushed them, killing one woman, local human rights defender Alberta Cariño, and a man, Finnish national Jyri Antero Jaakkola.

Despite repeated calls for the local and state government to take action, the siege has not been broken and no members of Ubisort have been brought to justice. In order to rescue other activists caught in the attack, the state government reportedly held discussions with the well-known leader of Ubisort,,who remains at large.

Ubisort have denied reports accusing them of being perpetrators of violence.

On 5 May, Mexico’s Human Rights Commission called for protection measures to be issued on behalf of the residents of San Juan Copala.

“The Mexican federal authorities must ensure that the San Juan Copola community has access to basic supplies and prevent human rights abuses, such as killings, attacks and threats, committed by members of Ubisort,” said Guadalupe Marengo.

“The armed group’s links to members of Oaxaca’s governing party, the PRI, must also be fully investigated”.

URGENT ACTION

COMMUNITY UNDER SIEGE IN MEXICO

The community of San Juan Copala in southern Mexico is surrounded by paramilitaries. Those trying to break the siege have been threatened, attacked or killed. Despite media attention on the area since a local human rights defender and an international observer were killed, the federal and state authorities have not taken action to end the siege

The 700 Indigenous Triqui inhabitants of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca state, declared it an autonomous Indigenous municipality in 2007 in an effort to unite the Triqui peoples. As it governs itself, it does not recognize the authority of existing public officials in the main non- Triqui towns of the region. For several months, members of an armed group called Ubisort have blockaded the community, in apparent reprisal for the declaration of autonomy. According to residents, Ubisort broke the water pipe into the community, forcing residents to use a contaminated water source, and have prevented damaged electricity cables from being repaired. Only a few residents are allowed to fetch food on foot from the nearest town. All vehicles have been turned back since early April. Shots have been been fired into the community from the surrounding hills and on 17 April, José Celestino Hernández Cruz, a man from San Juan Copala, was killed by Ubisort. Since then the siege of the community has intensified.  Teachers and medical staff cannot enter the community, restricting access to education and health services. Ubisort is linked to the governing political party in Oaxaca, the Revolutionary Institutional Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI).

On 27 April a group of human rights defenders, activists and journalists accompanied by international observers tried to reach San Juan Copala to raise awareness of the siege and bring aid. Armed members of Ubisort ambushed them, killing one woman, local human rights defender Alberta Cariño, known as Beatriz or Bety, and a Finnish man, Jyri Antero Jaakkola (see UA 101/10, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR41/035/2010/en, and update).

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in Spanish or your own language:

n  calling on the federal and state government to take immediate action to protect the residents of San Juan Copola, and ensure that they have access to adequate supplies of food and water; as well as all necessary health care;

n  urging them to end the siege of the community by the Ubisort armed group, so that residents can move freely, communicate with the outside world and receive visits from humanitarian missions without fear of attack or reprisal;

n  calling for an investigation into the death of José Celestino Hernández Cruz, with the results made public and those responsible brought to justice;

n  calling on the federal authorities to prevent human rights abuses committed by members of Ubisort against local residents, and to investigate the group’s links to members of the PRI, the governing party in Oaxaca, with all those implicated in human rights abuses brought to justice;

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 18 JUNE 2010 TO:

Minister of the Interior

Lic. Fernando Francisco Gómez-Mont

Secretaría de Gobernación

Bucareli 99, 1er. piso,

Col. Juárez, Del. Cuauhtémoc,

México D.F., C.P.06600, MEXICO

Fax: +52 55 5093 3414

E-mail: secretario@segob.gob.mx

Salutation: Señor Secretario/Dear Minister

Governor of Oaxaca

Lic. Ulises Ruiz Ortíz

Gobernador del Estado de Oaxaca

Carretera Oaxaca-Puerto Ángel, Km. 9.5, Santa María Coyotepec,

Oaxaca C.P. 71254, Oaxaca, MEXICO

Fax: +52 951 502 0530

(ask for the fax: “el tono de fax, por

favor”)

E-mail: gobernador@oaxaca.gob.mx

Salutation: Dear Governor/

Señor Gobernador

Copies to:

NGO

Centro de Apoyo Comunitario Trabajando Unidos – CACTUS

Jazmín 31, Fraccionamiento Jardines del Sur

Huajuapán de León, Oax. C.P. 69007

Mexico

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives of Mexico accredited to your country. Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

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