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.
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
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
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.
While Mexico’s drug trade is far from vanished, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) recently stated that “there is no longer a war.” He has a new strategy. The president says they are no longer trying to arrest drug lords, but instead want to look at the causes of violence.
“We have not detained the bosses [of criminal gangs] because this is not our main function. The government’s main function is to guarantee public security…What is important to me is lowering the number of homicides, robberies, that there are no kidnappings. This is what is essential! Not the spectacular, because we lost a lot of time in this and it resolved nothing.”
To achieve this, AMLO appears to be looking
to religious groups.
Me parece muy extraño que al crecer en una familia, o en una cultura, donde la muerte es un tabú, donde la gente tiene miedo de hablar de ello, en el otro lado del mundo, en México, la muerte está profundamente arraigada en su cultura y en su gente.
En la literatura y el arte mexicanos hay una fijación con la muerte. El célebre poeta y diplomático mexicano Octavio Paz escribió: “Para el habitante de Nueva York, París o Londres, la muerte es la palabra que jamás se pronuncia porque quema los labios. El mexicano, en cambio, la frecuenta, la burla, la acaricia, duerme con ella, la festeja, es uno de sus juguetes favoritos y su amor más permanente […] la contempla cara a cara con impaciencia, desdén o ironía.”
Growing up in a family, in a culture even, where death is taboo, where people are afraid to talk about it, it seemed strange to me that on the other side of the world, death is deeply ingrained in Mexican culture and in the Mexican people.
In Mexican literature and art there is a fixation with death. The celebrated Mexican poet and diplomat, Octavio Paz, wrote “To the inhabitant of New York, Paris or London, death is a word that is never uttered because it burns the lips. The Mexican, on the other hand, frequents it, mocks it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favourite toys and his most enduring love […] he looks at it face to face with impatience, disdain or irony.”
Many newspapers across the world today have chosen as their main image a photograph of a five year-old Syrian boy who has just survived an airstrike. Like that of another little Syrian boy called Aylan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last year, the image has gone viral.
It appears that once again the image of a Syrian child has pricked the world’s collective conscience, igniting renewed efforts to alleviate the suffering of Syrian civilians.
The Syrian conflict has a prominent sectarian aspect for which the battle for Aleppo is almost a microcosm, with the government and Shi’a militia on one side, and the largely-Islamist armed opposition groups on the other.
Within this complex picture, civilians from all sides are increasingly vulnerable as none of the warring parties have shown commitment to or respect for international humanitarian law, especially in terms of non-combatants, freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) and other human rights.
Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria used to have 4 million inhabitants. Today nearly half are displaced, either internally or externally.
The city has been a battlefield since 2012, and as the overall situation in Syria has deteriorated relentlessly, attention on the suffering of its inhabitants has ebbed and flowed dependent on fresh atrocities.