Congress introduces a Sense of Congress Resolution on human rights in Chiapas
from Mexico Solidarity Network, Oct 14, 1998
On Friday, October 9, both Houses of Congress finally introduced a Sense of Congress Resolution on human rights in Chiapas. In the Senate, the resolution (S. Con. Res. 128) was introduced by Senator Leahy, along with 15 co-sponsors: Dodd (senior Democrat on the Western Hemisphere subcommittee) Feinstein, Bingaman, Jeffords, Feingold, Kerry (MA), Wellstone, Bumpers, Boxer, Kennedy, Durbin, Murray, Wyden, Harkin, and Mikulski.
In the House, H. Con. Res. 347 was introduced by Representative Pelosi, along with 37 co-sponsors. They are Lantos, Bonior, Torres, Yates, Rush, Barrett (WI), Blagojevich, Brown, G., McGovern, Oberstar, Minge, Sabo, Hinchey, Kleczka, Markey, Engel, Farr, Delahunt, Olver, Kilpatrick, Meehan, Stark, Frost, DeLauro, Jackson (IL), Sanders, Rivers, Waters, Leach, Price, Eshoo, McDermott, Woolsey, Slaughter, Millender-McDonald, Lofgren, and Davis (IL).
This is a major victory, thanks in large part to all your work! Leahy and Pelosi went ahead with the resolution despite the active opposition of the Mexican government, which even sent the "coordinator for dialogue and negotiations in Chiapas," Emilio Rabassa, to Washington to discourage the resolution's introduction. And even though Congress will be adjourning soon, both Leahy and Pelosi have said they will consider reintroducing the resolution next year if things remain largely unchanged.
If you would like to take action on the resolution, please call your Senators and Representatives before the end of the week to encourage their support. Otherwise, we hope to have your active support in gathering additional congressional sponsors next year if the resolution is brought up again.
The resolution has changed slightly since we first began discussing it. Below you will find the final version, as well as statements made by Senator Leahy when he introduced it.
If you have any questions, please feel free to call us. We look forward to working with you next year on the Resolution and possibly other congressional initiatives on human rights in Mexico. Thanks for all your hard work!
Eric Olson, Senior Associate
Final Text of the Resolution & Senator Leahy's Statements from the Congressional RecordWhereas the United States and Mexico have a long history of close relations and share many economic and security interests;
Whereas a democratic and prosperous Mexico is in the interest of the United States;
Whereas the United States is providing assistance and licensing exports of military equipment to Mexican security forces for counter-narcotics purposes;
Whereas the Department of State has documented human rights violations by Mexican security forces and paramilitary groups;
Whereas the conflict in Chiapas, Mexico has resulted in the deaths and disappearance of innocent civilians;
Whereas the lack of progress in implementing a preliminary peace agreement signed in 1996 and the presence of tens of thousands of Mexican soldiers, as well as paramilitary and other groups, have contributed to increased political tension and violence in Chiapas and the absence of basic human rights protections;
Whereas the persistence of political tension and violence has exacerbated the impoverished conditions of indigenous people in Chiapas;
Whereas thousands of indigenous people in Chiapas have fled their homes as a result of the violence and are living in deplorable conditions;
Whereas despite President Zedillo's calls for negotiations and repeated visits to Chiapas, efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the conflict have been unsuccessful and the National Mediation Commission was dissolved after the resignation of its President, Bishop Samuel Ruiz, due to the lack of progress in the peace process; and
Whereas the summary expulsions of United States citizens and human rights monitors from Mexico raise concerns about the commitment of the Government of Mexico to freedom of movement, association and expression. Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that the Secretary of State should--
(1) take effective measures to ensure that United States assistance and exports of equipment to Mexican security forces--
(A) are used primarily for counter-narcotics purposes; and
(B) do not contribute to human rights violations;
(2) encourage the Government of Mexico to reduce political tension and violence in Chiapas by disarming paramilitary groups and decreasing its military presence there;
(3) commend the Government of Mexico for inviting the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Mexico to discuss the Chiapas conflict;
(4) encourage the Government of Mexico and the Zapatista National Liberation Army to take steps to create conditions for good faith negotiations that address the social, economic and political causes of the conflict to achieve a peaceful and lasting resolution of the conflict, and to vigorously pursue such negotiations;
(5) support efforts to provide relief assistance to displaced persons in Chiapas and adequate monitoring of such assistance; and
(6) seek a commitment from the Government of Mexico to respect the rights of United States citizens and human rights monitors in Mexico in accordance with Mexican law and international law.
Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I am today submitting a Concurrent Resolution expressing the sense of Congress regarding measures to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the state of Chiapas, Mexico.
This resolution is cosponsored by Senator Dodd, who is the ranking member of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee and among the most knowledgeable Members of Congress on Mexican affairs, Senator Feinstein, Senator Bingaman, Senator Jeffords, Senator Feingold, Senator Kerry of Massachusetts, Senator Wellstone, Senator Bumpers, Senator Boxer, Senator Kennedy, Senator Durbin, Senator Murray, Senator Wyden, Senator Harkin, and Senator Mikulski.
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is today introducing an identical resolution in the House of Representatives.
Mr. President, the purpose of this resolution is to convey our support for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Chiapas that has been simmering since the Zapatista uprising in 1994. Since then, and despite attempts at negotiations, the situation remains explosive. Scores of innocent people, mostly impoverished Indians, have been killed. Thousands have fled their homes and are living in squalid conditions, made unbearable by the recent flooding.
This resolution does not attempt to take sides or to dictate an outcome. The situation in Chiapas is a complex one that has social, ethnic, economic and political dimensions. It is a manifestation of years of Mexican history. It is for the Mexican people to resolve.
But despite its complexities, there is no doubt that the indigenous people of Chiapas have been the victims of centuries of injustice. Most do not own any land and they live -- as their parents and grandparents did -- in abject poverty. The Zapatista uprising was a reflection of that injustice and despair, and the political tension and violence of recent years has only exacerbated their plight.
To his credit, President Zedillo has called for a resumption of negotiations and has visited Chiapas several times. Recently, his government invited Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, to visit Mexico to discuss the Chiapas situation. I welcome that. But there remains a deep distrust between the two sides, and no sign that the government's strategy is working. This resolution calls on our Secretary of State to encourage the Mexican Government and the Zapatistas to support negotiations that address the underlying causes of the conflict, to achieve lasting peace.
Mr. President, this resolution is not meant to embarrass or interfere. It is to convey our concern about the people of Chiapas, and the urgent need for concrete progress to resolve a conflict that has cost many innocent lives and which threatens the economic and political development of our southern neighbor.
Many Senators may not know the history of the Chiapas conflict. After the 1994 uprising, the Zapatistas and the government tried to resolve the conflict peacefully. Those negotiations collapsed in 1996 when the Mexican Government walked away from a partial agreement which would have given the inhabitants of Chiapas greater rights.
Since then the situation has gotten worse. Last December, Mexican paramilitary forces killed 45 unarmed civilians in the village of Acteal. In June, two police officers and eight villagers died when Mexican soldiers and police clashed with Zapatista supporters. There are now tens of thousands of Mexican soldiers who patrol the roads in and out of Chiapas in armored vehicles. They patrol the skies in low flying helicopters. They surround the impoverished communities of Zapatista supporters, who, not surprisingly, see the government as their enemy. On top of that, there are armed paramilitary groups who have been responsible for some of the worst atrocities.
The dissolution of the National Mediation Commission after the resignation of its President, Bishop Samuel Ruiz, has further impeded efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully.
I regularly receive reports of violence or harassment directed against human rights monitors, including American citizens, who have been summarily expelled from Mexico for activities that amount to nothing more than criticizing the policies of the Mexican Government.
One case I have followed closely involves an American priest who lived in Chiapas for some 19 years. He was arrested, driven to the airport, accused of engaging in illegal political activity on the basis of anonymous, unsubstantiated allegations, and summarily expelled. Efforts by myself, the American Ambassador, and the Department of State to correct this injustice have been entirely unsuccessful. The Mexican Government has consistently misrepresented the facts in his case.
Despite President Zedillo's repeated calls for renewed dialogue with the Zapatistas and their supporters, and despite the fact that the Zapatistas do not pose a credible threat to the Mexican Government, the Mexican Government's actions have not improved the situation. The government seems to believe that it can solve the problem by simultaneously threatening and holding out promises to Zapatista supporters, even though they live in the same miserable conditions as their parents, their parents' parents, and their grandparents' grandparents, and they deeply distrust the government.
Mr. President, the United States and Mexico share many interests. We have worked together to address concerns on both sides of the border. I have no doubt that the government and the Zapatistas can solve this problem, if they want to. But we must also recognize that violence and instability in Mexico directly affect United States economic and security interests, and human rights abuses, wherever and however they occur, deserve our attention.
This Resolution reflects a balanced approach. Neither side in the conflict is blameless. To resolve it peacefully, both must want peace and be willing to take steps to create the conditions that make it possible for good faith negotiations to succeed, and then sit down at the table together.
The Resolution urges the Secretary of State to ensure that the United States is not contributing to the political violence, by reaffirming current law which limits assistance and exports of equipment only to Mexican security forces who are primarily involved in counter-narcotics activities and who do not commit human rights abuses.
It calls on the Mexican Government to respect the rights of American citizens and human rights monitors in Mexico.
Mr. President, some may ask why we are submitting this Resolution today, when this conflict has been simmering for years. One reason is that after all this time the problem is no closer to being solved. It has gotten worse, not better. The recent flooding has caused an urgent, humanitarian crisis among displaced people in Chiapas who are struggling to survive. And last week's elections showed, not surprisingly, that fully half the people in Chiapas have no faith in the political process.
In short, the status quo is unacceptable. The violence is unacceptable. The lack of any meaningful peace process is unacceptable. There is no reason why so many civilians have died. There is no reason why the causes of the conflict cannot be openly discussed and effectively addressed.
This Resolution sends a message to the Mexican Government, the Zapatistas, our own administration and the international community that an intensified effort is needed urgently to resolve the conflict peacefully.
Mr. President, I want to thank the other Senators who have cosponsored this resolution.
For more information, contact:
Mexico Solidarity Network
4834 N Springfield
Chicago IL 60625
773-583-7728 or e-mail
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