Mexico: Protestants Cut Off From Basic Services

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Chiapas, Oaxaca and Hidalgo are all home to some of the largest and most varied indigenous populations in Mexico. Unfortunately, this diversity sometimes provokes division, and the three states have some of the highest numbers of documented violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in the country, with the number of documented cases highest in Chiapas.

In Mexico, state and federal governments have a designated office to deal with religious affairs, a responsibility to address violations of religious freedom and to actively mediate a solution to religious conflicts. However, the officials are almost always distinctly under-resourced and lack training in human rights – especially religious freedom.

At best, state and municipal governments are unable or unwilling to protect the religious freedom of their citizens and to address these human rights violations. At worst, they are passively or actively complicit in the violations. A particularly concerning way FoRB is violated in these states is through the cutting off of basic services, like water and electricity, to Protestant families by the local authorities – as is often the case, the violation of one right leads to others

One of the most striking aspects of the cases Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has profiled in its latest report is the lack of official intervention to resolve them – apart from a few exceptions, for most of the people affected, little has changed.

Chiapas

In May 2016, the local authorities of Barrio de San José, in the Teopisca municipality of Chiapas, decided to cut off the water of 15 Protestant families. As of Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW’s) most recent visit to the village in March 2017, these families remain without water. Additionally, earlier in 2016, five families were targeted in the same way, this was because authorities wanted to force them to cooperate with a local Roman Catholic Festival. A further 80 Protestant families in the community were threatened with having their basic services cut off or being fined if they did not cooperate.

 “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights” – Article 1.1, General Comment No. 15 on the Right to Water

Violations such as these are widespread in Chiapas. On 11 February 2014, village authorities cut off the water to 25 Protestant families in Unión Juárez in the La Trinitaria Municipality. This case was not resolved until April 2016 when the government paid an illegal fine to the community authorities to re-establish the services to the families in question. The fact that the state paid this fine despite it being illegal is concerning as it may set a precedent which could be used to justify future discrimination motivated by financial gains.

In August 2014, 42 Protestants from Cuahutémoc Cardenas in the Palenque Municipality had their water cut off, a situation which had not changed as of CSW’s visit to the community in March 2017. In November 2016, 12 families in El Encanto in the Las Margaritas Municipality experienced the same, again this remains unresolved.

This has also been observed in Bolantón in the Comitán Municipality, where José Gabriel García García has remained without access to water since his conversion to Protestantism in 2016. Mr García García’s mother has also had her access to water cut off, and the electricity supply to her house was stopped on 15th May 2016. Four other Protestant families from Bolantón also had their water supply cut off, and it was only restored when they paid a fine of 5,000 pesos (approximately $250 or £200).

Oaxaca and Hidalgo

In the state of Oaxaca, Lauro Núñez Pérez from La Chachalaca in the Santiago Camotlán Municipality has been arrested on numerous occasions since July 2015 due to his conversion to Protestantism. When Mr Núñez Pérez visited his mother in March 2016, he found that her water and electricity services had been cut off, and her doors and windows had been broken. His mother had fallen ill at the time. Also in Oaxaca, Protestants in the community of San Juan Ozolotepec, who have experience extreme violence and acts of persecution over the last five years, told Reverend Alonso Silva that their water services had been cut off in early March 2017. Reverend Silva was forcibly displaced from the community in 2013 after he was illegally imprisoned and tortured for days and threatened with lynching by the municipal mayor who remains in office.

Protestants in the Tacuatitla community in the state of Hidalgo were threatened with having their water supply cut off in April 2016. Although this has not yet happened, the families have been removed from the community list, effectively making stripping them of their rights as citizens, and excluded from other activities. Their situation could deteriorate if the government does not address the situation swiftly.

This practice of denying access to basic services for people on the basis of their religion is one of the many ways FoRB is violated in many Mexican states. It should be acknowledged that this is not an issue in every state – Mexico is not lacking in good laws concerning freedom of religion or belief, but enforcement is low and levels of impunity are high. It is essential that those responsible for upholding these laws do not absent themselves from the issue.

“Mexico is not lacking in good laws concerning freedom of religion or belief, but enforcement is low and levels of impunity are high. It is essential that those responsible for upholding these laws do not absent themselves from the issue.”

It is impossible to justify the government’s failure to address and resolve serious violations of religious freedom targeting religious minorities, considering that they have occurred on a widespread basis in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Hidalgo since the 1970s.

In November 2002, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment No. 15 on the right to water. Article 1.1 states that “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights”. By cutting off the water supply to Protestant families, the local authorities of Chiapas, Hidalgo and Oaxaca are denying these families their human rights, a practice which must be stopped immediately.

Click here to read CSW’s “Mexico: Assignment Report”, March 2017

By Ellis Heasley, CSW’s Latin America Advocacy Assistant 

The Power of Personal Testimony: A Mexican Delegation Visits Congress

Casto Hernandez Hernandez and Fidel Lopez Hernandez are from indigenous ethnic groups in Mexico, speak Spanish as second language and live in remote, subsistence farming communities. Both were forcibly displaced because of their religious beliefs. This year, they made an unprecedented trip to Washington DC, facilitated by CSW, to give their testimony to Congress in person – the first time victims of similar offences from Mexico have done so.

Their stories are depressingly similar. Fidel Lopez Hernandez was one of a group of 47 protestant Christians violently expelled from their village by the Roman Catholic majority in July 2012. In March 2015 the group were able to return to their homes and only then under an agreement which included a fine of 10,000 pesos per family (equivalent to 530 US dollars). Additionally, in their absence, the villagers had used their homes as rubbish dumps and the government did not follow through with promised funds to restore their houses.*

Casto’s case will be familiar to regular readers of this blog; read more about him here and here. Casto and his cousin were illegally arrested in their town in Hidalgo State in March 2015 by the local authorities and held for 30 hours with no water, food or access to sanitary facilities in an effort to pressure them to renounce their faith. Although an agreement established by the Hidalgo State Public Ministry allowed the men to return home in February 2016, they, like Fidel, are still subject to illegal restrictions on their right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in their hometown.

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Mexico: Going Home – Casto’s Case Update

Casto Hernandez and his pastor2                                               Casto Hernández Hernández (right) with his pastor

Casto Hernández Hernández and his cousin Juan Placido Hernández Hernández were first imprisoned and then forcibly displaced in March 2015 after they refused to renounce their Protestant beliefs. Despite the open admission by a village leader in early court hearings that he had attempted to force the men to change their religious beliefs, the case dragged on for almost eleven months, with the Public Ministry repeatedly cancelling or postponing hearings [See more].

Agreement on religious freedom allows the men to return home

On 2 February, the Public Ministry in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, reached a decision and put in place an agreement between Casto Hernández and Juan Placido Hernández and authorities from the village of Chichiltepec.

The agreement – drafted by the lawyers affiliated with CSW’s Mexican partner Impulso 18 and endorsed by the Public Ministry – guarantees total freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in the village of Chichiltepec and Casto and Juan Placido’s right to return, with their full religious rights recognised.

According to the director of Impulso 18, Jorge Lee, the village authorities came to the meeting prepared to fight. When they realized they were ‘one step away from going to jail’, however, they changed their position, signed agreement and promised to uphold religious freedom in Chichiltepec.

While none of the village authorities spent any time in prison despite their criminal actions, we, and most importantly Casto and Juan Placido, feel that this agreed outcome is the right course of action.

It establishes their constitutional rights in a very clear way but also allows them to re-join their community in as harmoniously a way as possible. The concern was that if the authorities were thrown in prison, the levels of hostility would be so high, and the rupture in the indigenous community network so profound that it would be impossible for the two men to ever return home.

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Casto’s Choice: Forced Conversion or Forced Displacement

Casto sat at the table with other Christian leaders from the Huasteca region of Mexico. In April he had been talkative and his face had been animated. Now, in October, he was quiet and rarely looked up. One of the other leaders approached me privately and expressed concern about him. During the five-hour road trip to attend the workshop, he had told the other participants that he was so depressed that he hadn’t been able to attend church in a month.

This was the same man who, seven months earlier, had energetically defended his right to practice his religious beliefs at great cost. In March, he was summoned from his fields to appear at his community assembly in the village of Chichiltepec. Casto stopped his work and went to the assembly, accompanied by his cousin Juan. There, the village delegate (leader), Jesús Domínguez Hernández, told him to sign a document obligating him to renounce his Protestant beliefs – in violation of Mexico’s constitution, which protects freedom of religion or belief, and its international obligations, including the Inter-American Covenant on Human Rights which explicitly upholds the right to maintain or change ones religious beliefs.

Casto refused and Juan stood with him. The community assembly took the two young men by force and put them in a rustic jail cell carved into the side of a hill, with the bars of the door open to the chilly and damp weather. The two men were held there, with no sanitary facilities, for 30 hours. Casto was removed periodically to see if he would sign the document. He continued to refuse.  Finally the village delegate realised their pressure tactics were not going to work, released the men,  and gave Casto eighteen hours to leave the village – declaring it to be a ‘Catholic-only village’.

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