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In Death Do We Part? Finnish Activist Murdered In Mexico

by Brian Maguire, Brussels, 08 May, 2013 UPDATED 16:22 PM GMT+0100

It should have been different. Mexican, Betty Cariño and Finnish national Jyri Jaakkola were on their way to San Juan Copala, Mexico, with a humanitarian convoy. The ‘Triqui’ indigenous people, had declared their commune autonomous in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, the Triqui were enduring paramilitary assaults. Cariño and Jaakkola’s convoy was supporting the Triqui when it was itself attacked. Cariño, and Jaakkola died in a hail of paramilitary bullets.

The Mexican PRI government did nothing to arrest the offenders. Several months after the attack, an opposition alliance won federal state elections and took control of the government. The current Governor, Gabino Cue, now aims to solve the case.

A European Parliament Green Group delegation visited Mexico this month, led by Green MEPs Ska Keller and Satu Hassi, the Greens having maintained a strong interest in the murders. When the two human rights activists were killed in 2010, the case drew international attention, but to date, there has been no prosecution. The case is symptomatic, say Keller and Hassi, of the wider situation in Mexico; an increasing rate of violence, especially against women, journalists and political activists is accompanied by an alarmingly high impunity.

The Cariño / Jaakkola case is only one of uncountable, unpunished murders of human rights activists in Mexico. Keller argues that though it seems at first instantance, perhaps unreasonable to focus on one case case so intensively, it is worth it - only when the Green delegation or other members of the European Parliament visit Mexico is there progress in the investigation. The Green’s maintain that: “If we did not generate public interest and take a closer look at the people responsible probably nothing would happen.”

Keller and Hassi assert that the fact that Jaakkola was a European citizen gives certain legal rights to his home country Finland and the European Union. They argue that: “…among the people who suffer from impunity in Mexico the case of Jaakkola seems to have a very important signal value. If the case of Jaakkola is solved, it brings justice to Bety Carino also, and it gives hope to many others. The Mexican government is extremely concerned about its ‘human rights image’ – this can be used as a lever …not least maybe progress in the Jaakkola case can positively affect further cases of impunity and human rights violation.”

Since 2010 Ska Keller and Satu Hassi have been to Mexico several times to request the Mexican government and the body of public prosecutors, to solve the case and to gain information about other cases of human rights violations. Prior to the delegation’s May visit, the Greens held a press breakfast to explain their EU-Mexico Joint Parliamentary Committee in Mexico.

Speaking at the event, Mariano Machain, Head of the Amnesy International, Mexico Research Team, London, said: “After five months of governemnt and almost six of transiton. we have come to the conviction that the Pena Nieto administration has not understood the gravity of the problem (the existing human rights crisis). There is a lack of political will – other issues seem more pressing.“

“One example is a report from the United Nations Committee on Torture, released last November. It was welcome by the transition team, but nothing happened. Amnesty international criticises: arraigo (long lasting preventive detention); torture; extrajudicial executions; high level of crimes committeed by members of the security forces; a current public security crises; and among the worst forms of human rights violations - those committed against migrants.“

 “Add to this, that defenders of migrants' rights are under serious threat. Amnesty International has [handled] three urgent actions on migrants' rights defenders in only four weeks. This amount alone is more than worrying. An additional problem is the situaiton in the Istmo in Oaxaca, where social conflict levels around wind power construction are very high. President Calderón did very little to improve human rights records. His successor Pena Nieto has not shown so far that he has an understanding of the issue. Harrassments and threats continue to exist at very high levels.“

“Pena Nieto has not understood the complexity of the human rights issue, and has not been pushing for structural measures. The above mentioned laws have not yet got resources and have not been translated into implementation laws at state level (Mexico is a federal state). Justice reform is still very slow and very much delayed. Even in those states where it has been introduced, its terms are not well defined. And many judges don't apply the justice reform.“

Ironically, Machain notes: “Mexico is the country which spend most money establishing human rights commissions and committees, but they are not effective. Police reform is underway, but if human rights are not at its centre, the new police will reproduce the old problem. The new “Gendarmerie“ will  absorb many soldiers, which is a point of concern.“

“Police training is important, but the security forces have had many, many training opportunities. They are not effective, as long as there are no accountability systems in place, and if here is no control. For instance, in any deployment, it should be clear: who is responsible; how many bullets have been shot: is there a comparable protocol?“

The Green delegation report following the October 2012 visit notes that the advocate dealing with the case, David Peña, had positive news. Just few days before the delegation arrived in Mexico in October, the prosecutors of Oaxaca had issued arrest warrants against twelve members of the paramilitary group UBISORT, who are suspected of involvement in the attack. However, to date, none of the arrest warrants have been executed; and only one person is in jail - this person had been arrested previously, in May 2011, for other reasons.

The process against this detainee, now focused on the issue of the Cariño / Jaakkola killings, will begin between September and October 2013. The Greens view this as good and bad news - if no other suspect is imprisoned until then, the judicial process will be much weaker, and witnesses may be ready to talk once the main perpetrators of the crime are in jail.

The Green Group said: “Considering that there usually is almost no investigation against people responsible for attacks on opposition members - this is progress in itself; though it can probably be attributed to the delegation's visit as well as Satu Hassi and Ska Keller communicating clearly that they will keep following the solution of this case. The Finnish community is also watching; the arrest warrants have been a headline event in Finland.”

Hassi and Keller remarked: “We got the impression that there is a genuine will by the authorities to implement the arrest warrants, but we do not know if the authorities are able to do this, because the area is controlled by UBISORT.”

“In our talks with justice and government, we always commented on all the other cases we had been approached with. You cannot say there is no awareness for the existence of these problems. We noticed, happily, the common admission: "Yes, we do have a problem here." That is at least a first step, although it gives no information about the will and capacity to solve these problems.”

Contact the Editor Responsible for this Story:

Brian Maguire - brian.maguire@europeanbusinessexpress.com

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