Last week, CSW’s Latin America Advocacy Officer detailed the culture of impunity that hinders the protection and promotion of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Mexico. In this post we put a human face on the effects of the government’s inadequate response to violations of FoRB, showing what happens to individuals when authorities delay or neglect their responsibilities to protect religious minorities.
Click here to read this post in Spanish.
One case which illustrates the deep rooted culture of impunity that surrounds attacks on religious minorities in Mexico is that of the community of Yashtinin in San Cristóbal de las Casas Municipality in Chiapas State.
Everything began in 2012, when several people converted away from the majority religion. Some members of the community were afraid that this new religion would damage their customs and traditions and negatively affect their children. On 10 June 2012 a large group from the community went to the house of a Santiago Hernández Vázquez, one of the men who had converted, and took everyone that was meeting there to prison, insulting them and threatening them with violence and even death in the process.
After imprisoning 16 men and boys in a space normally meant to hold a single individual, local teachers employed by the government falsified a document stating that the families had voluntarily decided to leave the community. The victims were forced to sign it and given three days to leave. Upon the expiration of the ultimatum, 12 families were expelled after villagers destroyed all of their homes and property. By 2015, a total of 28 families had been expelled.
Seven years later
In February 2019 CSW met with members of the displaced community, who were still unable to return to their village more than six years after their expulsion took place. The relevant authorities were notified and have made multiple promises to rehome them, but even today no action has been taken to achieve this.
For the children of this community, government inaction and the culture of impunity that surrounds crimes like this has had lasting impacts on their education.
“What I would like to do the most is to finish and to have a career… I want to study to be able to teach other children.”
Earlier this year CSW spoke with Florinda, who was just 11 years old when her family was among those expelled from Yashtinin. Florinda was unable to continue with her studies for around two years following her family’s displacement because the paperwork and certificates she needed to enrol in a new school were left behind in Yashtinin. Her family was unable to return to their home to get them because of the threats of violence, and as a result Florinda missed out on vital years of schooling.
Florinda told CSW “What I would like to do the most is to finish and to have a career… I want to study to be able to teach other children.” Unfortunately while the authorities were failing to adequately deal with the FoRB violations that had been perpetrated against her family, Florinda was missing out on her education.
“I want to have a change in my life; that has been my biggest desire; to be able to study, to go ahead and do something in life.”
Florinda’s older brother Delfino was 12 at the time of his family’s expulsion; he was in his first year of secondary school. In February 2019 he told CSW that for four years he was unable to study since he also lacked the necessary paperwork to continue with his secondary school education in the new town. He was forced to start his studies all over again in order to obtain a new primary school certificate, so that he could then finish his secondary school education.
Delfino wants to be a primary school teacher, he said: “I want to have a change in my life; that has been my biggest desire; to be able to study, to go ahead and do something in life.” Like his sister, Delfino’s dreams were negatively impacted because of government inaction in response to his situation and that of his family and community.
Article 3 of the constitution guarantees ‘compulsory’ elementary education and states: “The education imparted by the Federal State shall be designed to develop harmoniously all the faculties of the human being and shall foster in him at the same time a love of country and a consciousness of international solidarity, in independence and justice.” Article 24 guarantees freedom of religion or belief, stating: “Everyone is free to embrace the religion of his choice and to practice all ceremonies, devotions, or observances of his respective faith, either in places of public worship or at home, provided they do not constitute an offense punishable by law.”
Freedom of religion or belief for all is guaranteed under Article 24 of the constitution and education for all is guaranteed under Article 3 of the constitution. Public education is, in theory, available to all children without discrimination. However, both Delfino and Florinda suffered discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs, and were denied access to education for several years as a result.
Make a stand
Despite promises from the state government, the Yashtinin case is still unresolved. While both Florinda and Delfino were eventually able to finish their secondary education, due to a lack of resources they are unable to attend a normal high school and are now both looking for an open high school to continue with their studies. Their stories and those of many others like them illustrate the real and lasting effects of government policies that fail to treat violations of FoRB as the crimes they are.
As long as impunity surrounds such crimes, whole communities remain displaced, and many children are denied their fundamental right to an education.
Every year on 30 April Mexico celebrates El Día Del Niño (Children’s Day). This year as part of CSW’s Faith and a Future campaign, we are going to make a noise that the Mexican authorities can’t ignore by raising the cases of children like Florinda and Delfino with authorities in Mexico City, and we are encouraging others to take action too.
Writing a letter to your Mexican Embassy raising your concerns and calling for children in Mexico to have an equal education is an effective way of demonstrating to the Mexican authorities that Florinda, Delfino and others have not been forgotten, and that the international community is demanding an end to the culture of impunity that surrounds FoRB violations in Mexico.
Full information on the Children’s Day campaign is available here.
By Ellis Heasley, CSW’s Public Affairs Officer
Click here to read part one of this two part piece on Mexico’s culture of impunity.