We first entered Mexico shortly after the Zapatista uprising in 1994 when we received requests for an international civilian presence in Chiapas.
Following a series of exploratory missions, we officially opened the Mexico Project in 1998. Although accompaniment requests had been received largely from organizations in Chiapas, our initial goal was to work in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero.
In these states the presence of international organizations was more limited whereas Chiapas already had representation from a wide variety of organizations and groups, all with different mandates and goals.
In Guerrero, we began by accompanying “The Voice for Those Without a Voice” Human Rights Committee which was a centre that launched the conversation on human rights issues in Mexico. Since then, we have accompanied numerous organizations in Guerrero and several organizations in Oaxaca.
These regions are where our team in Mexico still works today.
Not wanting to forget about Chiapas, we also decided after careful analysis that we could best have an impact in this state by participating in SIPAZ (International Service for Peace), a coalition of international organizations.
Over the last few years we have been following cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), including those of the indigenous Me`phaa women who were tortured and raped by Mexican soldiers in 2002.
These cases have been brought forward by members of the Organization of the Indigenous Me`phaa People (OPIM). Two of these women are Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú. They have both been searching for justice and compensation for eight years.
Before the courts it was argued that these women show the recurring problems in Mexico such as the lack of access to justice for female victims of violence, abuses due to the lack of public control over the Mexican army and the systematic persecution of those who organize themselves to defend indigenous rights.
We recognize that the conflicts in Mexico are complex and long lasting, and that there are profound social and regional inequalities in the country. Many of these conflicts are due to disputes over land and natural resources, often involving multinational companies and state-sponsored businesses.
Our work in making sure that human rights workers in Mexico are safe and that human rights are protected would not be possible without the work that we do in Canada.
Here at home, through volunteer recruitment and the formation of political support networks with local communities, organizations and government representatives, we work to build awareness of the threats against both human rights themselves and the defenders we accompany in the field. We also strive to inform the public about the effectiveness of non-violent strategies for addressing conflict.
As is the case with other Peace Brigades country groups, PBI-Canada is an “anchor” from which the organization’s political and educational work is undertaken. Our work is a necessary compliment to the work of PBI volunteers in the field.
Our presence in places like Mexico discourages violence against human rights workers because our field volunteers are the symbolic representation of a global movement. This movement includes individuals, organizations and governments who care about what happens to those who work in favour of human rights and will respond to any threats against the personal safety and security of those activists.