The Rights of Indigenous People and Women in Mexico

The Rights of Indigenous People and Women in Mexico

Both indigenous people and women are groups that in Mexico have suffered historically from violence and discrimination. Combined with the harsh socio-economic situation and the conflicts derived from the war between the drug cartels, the state of their rights has worsened, while levels of abuse have increased. The generalized impunity associated with the multiple cases of aggression against women and indigenous communities has been openly discussed and documented internationally. However, there has been no significant advance in solving these cases but rather to the contrary; hostility and murder have become more common.


The situation for Indigenous people

The list of pending issues regarding indigenous rights that the current administration of Peña Nieto must face is long. Indigenous communities suffer deep gaps in health, education, and infrastructure, as well as being subjected to local political and land conflicts. The poverty in which most of the 6.6[1] million of indigenous people live, placing them at the poorest socioeconomic level in Mexico, further contributes to their marginalization. In addition, there are currently tens of cases of intense conflict between transnational companies seeking to exploit natural resources and indigenous communities fighting to protect their territories. These problems are aggravated because indigenous people often lack access to the Mexican justice system due to poverty and lack of knowledge of the Spanish language.


Justice for all

Under the General Law for Linguistic Rights of Indigenous people, Mexico has an obligation to respect and recognize indigenous languages. However, there are multiple cases where public institutions violate these legal rights. A sad example are the thousands of cases where legal procedures took place without the proper translation required by those who do not speak or understand Spanish. According to the National Commission of Human Rights (2012, CNDH) the process of justice has been inefficient regarding language access for around 8,530 indigenous prisoners.[2]

There are well known cases, like the one of Jacinta Francisco,[3] where indigenous people were charged of serious crimes without having access to a translator, being ultimately found innocent after years of unlawful imprisonment. Usually, there is no compensation or recognition of the failures committed, even when false evidence and testimonies, or confession under torture, were employed by the authorities involved.[4]


Assault on natural resources

In the last few years, intensification of natural resource exploitation has led to discontent in those indigenous communities where the government has granted permissions for exploitation to international companies without respecting the right of these communities to be consulted on the use of natural resources present in their land. The disputes between companies, local authorities and federal government on one side and indigenous communities on the other have even led to forced occupation of indigenous territories and violent encounters, such as in the villages of San Dionisio del Mar or San José del Progreso in Oaxaca where respectively a wind farm and a mine are being planned; or the mountains of Guerrero where ecologists have tried to protect their woods from foreign exploitation, and where there have been numerous victims of murder, aggression and eviction. The latest news (November 2012) about the assassination of Juventina Villa Mojica, an ecological activist form Guerrero, and her 10-year-old child reminds us of the terrible consequences of these conflicts. [5] Currently there are around 50 conflicts of this nature in which indigenous communities are fighting against the invasion and exploitation of their natural resources such as water, sacred territories, and forests.[6]


Organizations, violence and impunity

The struggle of the indigenous communities, in search of their self-determination and autonomy has been a long one. Organized in collectives and social movements, the demand for their rights to be respected has led to several encounters with paramilitary groups, police and military forces. This has had grave consequences for the members of these organizations, community leaders and their families, such as rapes, forced disappearances, political imprisonment, intimidations and unsolved murders; as well as hundreds of displaced people who are forced to migrate in fear of their lives or for the safety of their community. The continued search for justice and resolution of these crimes has led to armed clashes, like the cases of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Chiapas among others. The internationally known case of the assassination of the activist Beatriz Cariño who, along with the international observer Jyri Jaakkola, was murdered by paramilitaries in 2010 when a humanitarian convoy tried to reach an indigenous community in Oaxaca, draws attention to the risks to which organizations and activists are exposed.[7]

In spite of continued harassment, indigenous organizations will continue their fight for justice and respect of their rights. Peña Nieto will therefore face strong demands and criticism, such as voiced in the latest press releases by the EZLN that heavily criticizes recent social policies. Also, the political turmoil associated with the recent change of government will likely spur the reactivation of other indigenous organizations, reminding Peña Nieto of the many pending matters in terms of social justice.


Violence against women: rape, murder and disappearances


Violence against women in Mexico is a human rights issue that has reached unprecedented levels in the last decade. Systematic and incidental aggression against women of all ages and every social background are a constant problem, and as has been widely publicized, every year many women are either assassinated or disappear in different regions of the country. In the last year, almost 4 thousand disappearances[8] and hundreds of murders were recorded.[9]

Worse of all, rape and sexual abuse are not only common crimes but are also said to be used by military and police forces as a weapon of intimidation and oppression, particularly directed against members of social movements and protesters[10]. As an example, Atenco’s case that left in 2006 in Mexico State, a dozen of women tortured, abused, raped and illegally detained, under a police operative ordered by Peña Nieto and that are still claming justice. Or the large number of indigenous women raped by military corps in Guerrero, Veracruz or Oaxaca.[11].

Victims and justice

In addition to the tragedy represented by the loss of a loved one, organizations claim that family members in search of justice often face extortion, intimidation or harassment by authorities during the criminal investigations.[12] The same occurs for women that report sexual harassment or rape. At the same time, the involvement of the police seldom leads to the apprehension of a suspect and is hence of little value.

The lack of compliance with the laws and regulations related to women’s rights, creates bizarre situations in which the family or even the victims perform the investigations themselves, or pay private investigators or bribes to the police to bring the perpetrators to justice.[13] The number of murders of women activists fighting for justice is also on the rise, adding to the myriad of problems facing women in Mexico.[14]


Challenges of the new government


What do human rights organizations in Mexico expect from Peña Nieto in terms of women and indigenous rights? After 100 days of this new government some organizations still doubt if real actions to improve human rights situation have been taken.[15] There is general skepticism about the ability of the new government to go beyond expressions of wishful thinking and unproven campaign promises[16]. It remains to be seen if there will be progress in the general human rights situation in Mexico or in the resolution of several pending cases of human rights violations.[17] However, it needs to be pointed out that two important events pushed by national and international organisms have been achieved during the last month: The approval of the reform to the General law of Victims, which was originally proposed by national organizations.[18] And, Mexico’s vote in favor of the latest reforms within the Inter-American commission of human rights, which is considered to be “a victory for human rights and free expression in America continent”.[19] These are good examples of how actions proposed by local and international organizations were taken up by the government. Society will likely continue pushing important measures in search of justice and respect to human rights during the president’s term. In end, there is little time to waste for achieving real change in the women’s and indigenous rights situation and Peña Nieto and his government have an enormous task in this matter.


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On line articles and websites cited:



1. INEGI National Institute of statistics, geography and informatics webpage, Census 2010 (Spanish)


2. Inefficient, justice for 8 thousand 530 indigenous prisoners: National Commission of human rights, by the editors, PROCESO Magazine, August 2012, México. (Spanish)


3. Reparations for Jacinta Francisco Marcial. By Luis Arriaga Valenzuela, Director, Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, 2010, Mexico (English)


4. I am not Florence. By Carlos Beas Torres. Newspaper La Jornada, February 2013, Mexico. (Spanish)


5. Juventina Villa Mojica, Environmental Activist, Shot And Killed In Mexico, By Olga R. Rodríguez. The Huffington Post, November 2012 (English)


6. There are in Mexico “52 conflict points” between indigenous communities and transnationals: expert, Newspaper Vanguardia, November 2012, Mexico (Spanish)


7. Mexico: Human rights defender Ms Bety Cariño tragically killed in violent paramilitary attack in Oaxaca. Posted: 2010/4/29 Frontline defenders webpage (English)


8. From January 2011 to now, 3 thousand 976 disappeared women in Mexico by Melissa del Pozo Newspaper Milenio, November 2012, Mexico (Spanish)


9a. National feminicide citizen’s observatory webpage (Spanish)


9b. Everyday 6 women are murdered in Mexico, By Juan Luis Ramos, 24 Horas Newspaper, November 2012 (Spanish)


10. Sexual violence and military control by Sara Lovera, e-oaxaca, December 2011, Mexico (Spanish)


11a. Mexico: Indigenous women and military injustice by Amnisty International, Index Number: AMR 41/033/2004 Date Published: 23 November 2004 (English)


11b. Preliminary report on the actions taken in the case of the violent events occurring in the Municipalities of Texcoco and San Salvador Atento, Mexico State, by the National Commission of Human Rights, May 2006, Mexico (Spanish)


11c. Alternative inform: Indigenous women and violence in Mexico: Indigenous women observatory against violence by CIARENA, A.C., Alianza de Mujeres Indígenas de Centroamérica y México, Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indígenas-FIMI  2012 (Spanish)


12. May our daughters return home web page:


13. Do you want to find your daughter? Find her yourself, mam, by Pablo de Llano. El País Newspaper, March 2012 (Spanish)


14. Violence pushes human rights defendors on exile, by Gladis Torres Ruiz, Periodismo humano magazine, February 2012 (Spanish)


15. Peña Nieto: One hundred days waiting for real advances on human rights, by Amnisty International, March 2013 (English)


16. Demand to Peña Nieto: to pass form discourse to acts in human rights matters, by La Jornada newspaper, December 2012, Mexico (Spanish)


17. Human rights, after 100 days of Peña Nieto, by Analisis_Prodh_Friosj, Sididh Centro de Derechos Humanos Pro. March 2013 (Spanish)


18. Senate approves Victims law, by Andrea Becerril and Victor Ballinas La Jornada Newpaper, March 2013, Mexico (Spanish)


19. At OAS, a victory for human rights and free expression, by Carlos Lauría, Committee to Protect Journalists Blog, March 2013 (English)

[1] INEGI, 2010.

[4] See Miguel Juan Hilaria’s case:



[7] For details about this case see:

[8] According to the organization Catholics for the right to decide Mexico, from 2011 to November 2012.

[9] According to the National feminicide observatory between 2006 and 2011 1,003 women were murdered. See also:

[10] See “Sexual violence and military control” see also footnote 11.

[12] Activist Marisela Escobedo from the organization: May our daughters return home. She was killed in December 2010.

[13] Example of the path that victims’ families have to take:

[18]Movement for peace, justice and dignity (MPJD) and Mexico SOS organizations. See: