In the past month the Peoples’ Permanent Tribunal (PPT) and the Mexican people have started out on the road to achieving justice, holding a ‘pre-hearing’ in Temacapulin, Jalisco State, dedicated to the issue of dam construction and forced evictions across Mexico.
A brief history of the PPT
The People’s Permanent Tribunal is an international, non governmental, ethical opinion tribunal founded in 1979. Based on a “Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples” this ‘people’s court’ has presided over human rights cases from across the globe, including areas of consistent abuses such as Tibet, Colombia and Canada. In each of these areas, the PPT has heard the cases of minority and Indigenous populations who have little or no political voice and poor access to systems of justice.
Though it cannot pass legally binding judgements the tribunal has been able to positively address the struggles of the people, lending them it’s own voice and authority, legitimizing affected peoples claims and their advocacy. The tribunal’s findings are submitted to the United Nations and other relevant international and national authorities, creating a platform for pressurization and the recognition of social injustices and human rights abuse.
The efficacy of these methods is perhaps best demonstrated by the PPT’s successful role in establishing the international ‘Charter on Industrial Hazards and Human Rights.’ This was adopted in 1996, due, in no small part, to the PPT’s visit to Bhopal, India in 1992.
The PPT in Mexico
The PPT’s current area of focus is Mexico where it is to reside until 2014 to hear the claims of Mexican civil society. During this period, the tribunal stands to expose the Mexican governments crimes against human rights, a lack of democracy, gender inequalities, environmental destruction and the devastation wrought by ‘free’ trade agreements with the US, Europe and others. Such issues will be addressed through a number of themed hearings on corresponding subjects and a full resolution will be presented in 2014.
It is hoped that this process will aid civil society in being heard by key decision makers, encouraging responsibility, action and governmental focus on Mexican citizens rather than corporate interests.
Temacapulin Pre-Hearing on Dam Affected Communities
In the past month the PPT and the Mexican people have started out on the road to achieving justice, holding a ‘pre-hearing’ in Temacapulin, Jalisco State, dedicated to the issue of dam construction and forced evictions.
Since 1973 the Mexican government has pursued a number of huge dam building projects which have violated and continue to violate the human rights of Indigenous peoples and small scale farmers. Evidence of transgressions related to the construction of twelve of these dams, spanning seven states, was brought forth by eight affected communities, represented by MAPDER (Mexican Movement of People Affected by Dams and in Defence of Rivers). The case was heard by the panel, made up of national and international experts on dams, between November 5th and 6th.
The hearing opened with the showing of a video entitled “How to destroy a 140 year old community in 15 days” from which the visitors were able to see the negative impacts of the damming projects and the numerous ways in which mandatory democratic processes have been abused.
Through this production, Gustavo Castro, a MAPDER member, was able to offer the PPT a summation of injustices suffered, stating that “dams have been built with imposition, with repression and violent evictions of Indigenous and campesino communities from their lands.”
This insight–and further evidence presented across the two days–spoke clearly of the kind of intimidation and inadequate compensation felt by Mexican minority groups. This is an experience shared by many peoples struggling against large scale, high tech ‘development’ initiatives the world over.
A consistent feature and problem in their struggles is flagrant governmental disregard for international law and the UNDRIP in particular; An offence that first-hand testimonies given at the hearing accuse the Mexican authorities of customarily observing.
One dispossessed woman provided the panel with a clear example of the authoritarian denial of a communities right to block construction unless free, prior and informed consent is given, relating how “they (federal authorities) used weapons and bullets to stop us from getting the community assembled”.
Compounding these international rights violations, the actions of the Mexican authorities involved in dam building were demonstrated by MAPDER to be illegal according to the national constitution, vindicating the complaints of those affected peoples who are not considered Indigenous.
As the hearing came to a close MAPDER representatives submitted a set of demands on behalf of affected groups, identifying clearly the areas in which the government has failed the people and where it must improve. Demands included:
- A new independent socio-environmental assessment of the impacts of ongoing projects with community participation.
- An independent consideration of dam alternatives.
- An end to the impunity of officials responsible for HR violations in relation to dam building.
- The cessation of all dam building activities that violate community wishes e.g the Jalisco Dam.
- Proper compensation for those communities who have already lost their lands.
- An end to the criminalisation of protest.
Hearing Verdicts and Fall out
Having heard the case of dam-affected communities, the tribunal retired to consider its judgements, re-emerging on the 9th of November to release a statement asserting that the forced displacement of communities by damming projects ‘attacked the spirit of democracy.’
The PPT’s verdict went on to criticize the Mexican governments long-term failure to observe international human rights law and its own constitution. It called for the authorities to cease the construction of the five dams still being built and fully compensate communities. Furthermore, it accused the National Water Commission and other federal authorities of corruption after they vetted dam construction despite community opposition and environmental concerns.
It is an assessment that makes damning reading for the powers-that-be in Mexico; but it has also provided hope for those impacted by the dams. They have welcomed the outcome of the hearing with open arms and their resolve to push home their advantage was demonstrated this past Monday when members of MAPDER submitted the PPT’s findings to the Mexican authorities.
MAPDER’s response is one that demands the Mexican government recognizes community and human rights to exist. It denounces federal impunity and the abuse of democracy, as well as challenging the logic of building the Jalisco dam (and others) in light of likely and proven negative impacts and the existence of viable alternative strategies for water capture and provision.
Mexico’s government must rise to the challenge of responding adequately to this pro-active affront from civil society if it does not wish to be widely known as the serial violator of human rights this hearing has proved it to be. It must show that it favours the well-being of its own people over “the profits of transnational companies that generate electricity” which, according to Gustavo Castro and the PPT ruling, it has placed first for almost half a century.
A Good Start
The positivity of this pre-hearing’s favourable verdict and the energetic response of civil society bodes well for the next few years of the PPT’s stay in Mexico. It is hoped that major reforms could follow the tribunals’ visit as they did in 1996. The people of Mexico have thus far made the most of the PPT’s presence, using it to vocalize one key message included in MAPDER’s video: “We are here because you have not respected our rights. Not as Mexicans, not as citizens, not as humans.”