Seeking Justice On Dams and Human Rights in Mexico

Monti Aguirre

I am honored to have been invited to be a judge at a pre-hearing of the Permanent Peoples Tribunal (PPT) on environmental destruction, which will take place November 5-6th in Temacapulín, Mexico, the town where Rivers for Life 3: The Third Meeting of Dam-affected People and Their Allies was held in late 2010. Temaca, as it’s affectionately called by its residents, is a small but committed town fighting inundation from El Zapotillo Dam. (Learn more about the struggles to save Temaca and stories from Rivers for Life 3 for background on why this place is the perfect setting for the PPT event.)

I am furthered honored to be on this panel with distinguished judges that include Miloon Kothari, Ex-Special Rapporteur for Housing Rights of the UN; Maude Barlow, President of the Council of Canadians; Patricia Avila, researcher at the Laboratory on Political Ecology and Society of the Ecosystems Research Center of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a judge at the Latin American Water Tribunal; Francisco Lopez Barcenas, indigenous Mixtec lawyer and expert on indigenous rights; and Carlos Vainer, a sociologist and professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

The Permanent Peoples Tribunal is an international ethical non-governmental tribunal established in Italy in 1979, that examines the violation of the fundamental rights of the people, and determines if violations have been committed. While the PPT does not pass legally binding judgments, it presents the findings of its research and hearings to the public for their own opinion to be given. Ethical tribunals like PPT and the Latin American Water Tribunal illuminate the gaps in the national and international judicial systems and the politicization of those systems. Furthermore, tribunals like these make prominent the legitimacy of the expression of the sovereignty of peoples (particularly indigenous peoples and minorities) and civil society organizations.

Temacapulin, the site of the pre-hearing, during Rivers for Life 3
Temacapulin, the site of the pre-hearing, during Rivers for Life 3

In many Latin American countries, governments continue to cede power to lobbyists and the economic interest of corporations judicial systems are dwindling, heavily pressured to give in to these powerful forces. “The Commons” and Nature are often the very areas that governments will sacrifice instead of protect. Ethical tribunals like the PPT work to promote universal respect of the fundamental rights of peoples, minorities and individuals, and for the creation of legislation that protects those rights.

For the next three years, the PPT in Mexico will delve into and judge the crimes against humanity committed by the Mexican State. The Mexican chapter of the PPT intends to provide ample evidence of the massive violations of human rights and environmental destruction linked to the devastating consequences of the free trade agreements with the US, Europe and others regions; and resource extraction projects. The pre-hearings will deal with issues related to violence, impunity and access to the justice system; feminicides and violence against women; and violence against migrants, laborers, maize, the environment and journalists. These thematic hearings will also examine issues of the absence of democracy, crisis in the Mexican judicial system, indigenous peoples, and forced displacement.

Communities fighting La Parota Dam on the River Papagayo float hand-made boats down the river as part of the International Day of Action for Rivers
Communities fighting La Parota Dam on the River Papagayo float hand-made boats down the river as part of the International Day of Action for Rivers
Photo by Consejo de Ejidos y Comunidades Opositores a La Presa La Parota

Italian organization HIC-AL is coordinating the pre-hearing on the environment in Temacapulín, which will examine the construction of dams and reservoirs in Mexico. We will review documentation and hear from dam-affected or threatened peoples from El Zapotillo, Cerro de Oro, Paso de la Reina, La Parota and El Naranjal dams. The results of the pre-hearings will be presented at a final hearing in front of the Tribunal in Mexico in early 2014.

For many years I’ve been working on issues related to the impacts of dams, visiting communities and helping provide them with tools to defend themselves. In reading over the documentation provided on the pre-hearing cases, I foresee that the greatest challenge will be to come out with a resolution that can provide effective and realistic recommendations to ensure the protection of rights and also instill the great need for politicians and decision-makers to listen to the voices of the people. A government’s job is to respect, protect and take into account the needs of people, not corporations.

While the outcomes of these PPT hearings is unknown, I hold out hope that the process of people coming together to hold their government accountable is another step in the direction of protecting a healthy environment, free-flowing rivers, and human rights.

Check back for more updates on the pre-hearing in Temacapulín, Mexico.