Mexico: Protestants Cut Off From Basic Services



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.


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 

Enforced Disappearance: No Answers, No Accountability

widows Donatilda and Adalgiza.jpg

Widows Donatilda and Adalgiza


Ten years ago I sat in a small, hot room in Trujillo, Peru with a colleague and three women each clutching a folder. They held the folders as if they contained a fortune, and we leaned forward as one by one they carefully opened their folder to show us the precious contents. There were a few old photographs and scores of documents peppered with government stamps. When they finished, each woman closed her folder, looked at us, and said “I still don’t know where he is.”

The three women were talking about their husbands, victims of enforced disappearance. Some twenty years earlier the police had taken their husbands somewhere, making assurances to their young wives that they just needed to ask them a few questions and they’d soon be home. Days, then weeks, then years went by and their husbands did not return. The women went from police station to police station, then to the prisons, the hospitals and morgues but no one could tell them where they went, or rather, where they had been taken.

As we listened to them, I watched the way they treated the folders, holding them close to their chests, caressing the documents and photos as they showed them to us. I realised why the folders were so precious t them. It was because this was all they had left of their husbands. Without them, it was as if they had never existed at all.

Torturous Hope

Enforced disappearance is one of the cruellest human rights crimes.

There is the crime against the primary victim – who has disappeared – and this is compounded by the crime committed against their families and loved ones who endure years and even decades of wondering what has happened to them.

Read More

The Lawyers That Were Left

What trouble are we causing

It has been a year since over 300 human rights lawyers, activists, as well as those connected to them (including their friends and family), were detained by the Chinese government. That’s equivalent to one person harassed or disappeared every day since last July. Some of these lawyers have since vanished into China’s prison system. Others were released, but have lived with the threat of re-arrest hanging over them ever since.

disappearing lawyers email header

For the lawyers that are left, what remains of their lives and careers? Read our story of Li Jing, a young lawyer watching the events of the July crackdown unfold around her.

This composite case study is constructed from real accounts. Similar things have happened, but we have changed the details.

Click here to read the story

From the Darkness into the Light: the Hope for Justice in North Korea

Today, marching, singing and dancing will flood the capital of one the most notoriously secretive and closed nations in the world. 15 April is the “Day of the Sun” in North Korea, one of the most important national holidays in the country because it venerates the late founder and perpetual leader, Kim Il-Sung.

Despite the awesome displays of colourful dance events and firework displays to celebrate Kim Il-Sung’s perceived achievements in creating the ‘revered’ nation, the reality is far from being a day in the sun, but more a descent into darkness.

The ‘Great’ Leader Who Founded a Despotic Regime

Kim Il-Sung, the ‘Father’ of North Korea, was highly instrumental in establishing one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world. Between the late 1940s and early 1990s he oversaw the creation of a country ruled by fear. The Workers’ Party he founded crushed dissent, abducted foreign nationals, created an extremely discriminatory and hierarchical ‘songbun’ caste system, and forcibly detained hundreds of thousands into a hidden prison system, which still subjects North Koreans to forced labour, torture and even execution. Both his son, Kim Jong-Il, and his grandson, Kim Jong-Un have continued the brutal legacy.

Human Rights Violations Committed with Impunity

The 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea concluded that the leadership of North Korea has and continues to commit “systematic and appalling human rights abuses against its own citizens on a scale that is unparalleled in the modern world.” These abuses are tantamount to crimes against humanity and include public executions, torture, forced labour, sexual violence, food deprivation, incarceration in political prisoner camps (kwan-li-so), and the denial of the freedom of expression, thought and religious belief.

The songbun and prison camp systems are key features that maintain these human rights violations. Songbun classifies North Korean citizens into three classes, the “core”, “wavering” and “hostile”; it determines all aspects of one’s existence in North Korea, such as education, housing and employment.  Once citizens are deemed “wavering” and certainly “hostile” they are forcibly removed from society and plunged into the hidden and torturous conditions of the prison camps.

Citizens who believe in or are found to be practicing a religion or belief are classified as part of the hostile class. Christians are especially singled out and commonly incarcerated in the infamous and remote kwan-li-so prison camps. The families of Christians are subject to “guilt by association”: whole families, up to three generations, can disappear into these camps. Hundreds of testimonies have painfully recalled the appalling conditions and human rights violations they are subject to, including forced labour, torture, starvation, and rape.

Shining a Light on Injustice

The COI’s landmark report is a tool for the international community to usher in the dawn of justice in North Korea. The UN Human Rights Council, UN General Assembly and the European Parliament have passed resolutions endorsing the Inquiry’s recommendations, and the Security Council has had formal discussions about North Korea’s human rights abuses. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has opened a field office in Seoul, as recommended by the COI. It aims to “strengthen monitoring and documentation of the situation of human rights as steps towards establishing accountability in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” and to “maintain visibility of the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea including through sustained communications, advocacy and outreach initiatives”.

Despite these efforts, there is more to be done by the international community to change the situation in North Korea, as the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, highlighted in January 2016. A referral to International Criminal Court is necessary to establish accountability and work towards justice. The international community must work together with determination and cooperation towards action. Nevertheless the dawn of justice has arrived and a concerted effort will enable North Korea and its citizens to truly enjoy a day in the sun.

By CSW’s North Korea Desk Officer