Mexico: demand justice for murdered environmentalist!

Portrait of Simón Pedro Pérez López, Mexico Simón Pedro Pérez López (© Otros Mundos Chiapas)

Environmental and human rights campaigners in Mexico face extreme danger in their day-to-day work. On July 5, activist Simón Pedro Pérez López was the victim of a drive-by shooting, murdered in front of his son in the middle of the Simojovel market in Chiapas. Please support our petition demanding justice for Simón Pedro.

Call to action

To: the President of the United Mexican States, Andrés Manuel López Obrador

“The murder of the environmentalist Simón Pedro Pérez López must be investigated and his killers brought to justice.”

Read letter

Simón Pedro Peréz López, father of seven children, lived to be only 35 years old. As a member of the indigenous human rights organization Las Abejas de Acteal, which he chaired until recently, he campaigned for the rights of indigenous people and the preservation of nature.

He supported indigenous communities affected by dam and mining projects and protested the ongoing structural violence in the highlands of the Mexican state of Chiapas via the MAPDER and REMA networks.

In the far south of Mexico, in indigenous communities such as Aldama, Chalchihuitán, Chenalhó, Chilón and Pantelhó, residents complain of frequent shootings, power outages and roadblocks. The people are suffering under the Mexican state’s inability to put an end to the violence, lawlessness and chaos.

Armed groups rule the region, controlling the drug trade and other illegal activities such as human and arms trafficking. Many inhabitants have been displaced from their land or have had to flee in the face of violence. Police and authorities largely turn a blind eye, or are in some cases complicit with the organized criminals.

Simón Pedro supported and encouraged residents to organize against the violence in their villages. Now he has become a victim himself. The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders have reported on his murder and recommend writing to the Mexican authorities to call for an investigation and clarification.

Back­ground

Complex context of the conflict driven by extractivism

On July 7, two days after Simón Pedro was murdered, nearly three thousand people in Pantelhó, Chiapas, were forced from their homes and had to seek refuge in neighboring communities.

This is not an isolated case: In December 2020, the civil observation mission in Chiapas documented the pattern of forced evictions, land expropriations, threats and harassment that the communities in this region are facing due to the presence of armed groups.

In May 2021, 30 members of Las Abejas were able to return to Colonia Miguel Utrilla, Los Chorros, in the municipality of Chenalhó, after being displaced for 21 months due to violence in the area. The work of Simón Pedro was the key to this success.

A National Defense, National Guard and State Police presence was recently established and some people have started returning to their communities in hopes of normalizing their lives and activities. During their absence, a homemade bomb reportedly exploded in a village, destroying several homes.

The indigenous organization Las Abejas de Acteal, however, believes that this militarization of the region is in the government’s interest, as it aims to control the area and facilitate access for companies that want to build mega-projects such as the highway from San Cristóbal to Palenque, the Mayan Train and the Transisthmic Corridor.

The Acteal Massacre

Las Abejas de Acteal is a Christian and pacifist group that emerged in 1992 as a result of a conflict over the use and ownership of land in the municipality of Acteal in the Chenalhó district of Chiapas state. The group strongly rejects the militarization of the highlands of Chiapas and advocates for the rights of the indigenous Maya Tsotsil and Tseltal, for their ancestral lands and for the establishment of peace and justice.

In 1997, 45 of its members were killed by a paramilitary group using weapons otherwise used exclusively by the Mexican army in the so-called Acteal Massacre, perpetrated as part of the official policy to break the bonds between the closely-knit indigenous peoples of Chiapas, who had been demanding the establishment of their own government. The direct and indirect responsibility for the massacre was never clarified.

The current situation is very alarming, as it is very similar to what happened back then. Las Abejas continue to demand justice for the victims of Acteal and now also for Simón Pedro, people who lost their lives because they stood up against the logic of extractivism. The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, A. C. (Frayba) Human Rights Center released an official statement on the matter. Frayba has issued several warnings in recent weeks.

Nature defenders in danger

In its 2020 report, Global Witness documented a total of 212 murders of activists working to stop the destruction of nature over the course of 2019. Two-thirds of the deaths occurred in Latin America, the world’s hardest-hit region.

At least 18 environmental and human rights defenders were killed in Mexico in 2020. 12 activists have been killed in Mexico so far this year. In the area in question, 12 people were murdered between March and July, including one child.

Escazú Agreement

In April 2021, the so-called Escazú Agreement for the regions of Latin America and the Caribbean came into force. It is the first in the world to include specific provisions for persons defending human rights in relation to environmental issues. The agreement notes that instruments that allow for the protection and security of environmental activists should be created, recognizing that there is a serious problem in this regard and that comprehensive measures are needed.

Further information (in Spanish):

Comunicado de las Abejas de Acteal: Hoy ya no sólo luchamos por justicia para los Mártires de Acteal, sino también por justicia para nuestro hermano Simón Pedro

Acoso de grupos criminales a zonas indígenas de Chiapas, acusan tras asesinato de líder de las Abejas de Acteal

Simón Pérez López, el activista que predicaba la no violencia y fue asesinado a sangre fría

Rechazan militarización

Chiapas: Continúa desplazamiento forzado en los Altos por violencia e inseguridad

Letter

To: the President of the United Mexican States, Andrés Manuel López Obrador

Dear Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hereby call on the Chiapas state authorities and the Mexican federal authorities to mobilize the full range of resources needed to ensure an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation of the murder of Simón Pedro Pérez López, a member of the Abejas de Acteal and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI).

The message the killers want to convey is that no one is safe and that the terror will never end. Identifying those intellectually and materially responsible for the murder, bringing them before a competent, independent and impartial court, and sentencing them to the penalties provided by law is urgently necessary.

As established in international human rights law, the investigation should prioritize the hypothesis that this crime is related to Simón Pedro Pérez López's activities in defense of human rights.

I also urge you to take the necessary measures to protect the lives, physical and psychological integrity of the relatives of the murder victim, as well as the safety of the members of the Las Abejas de Acteal organization.

It is also necessary to prevent violence against indigenous peoples and communities in the state of Chiapas, especially in the municipalities of Aldama, Chalchihuitán, Chenalhó, Chilón and Pantelhó. Ensure that all forms of harassment against defenders of land, territory and human rights in the state of Chiapas and Mexico cease immediately.

As a signatory to the Escazú Treaty (1), a regional agreement on access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters in Latin America and the Caribbean that entered into force in April 2021, Mexico has formally committed (2) to protect defenders of nature.

It is time to act decisively and put an end to the impunity that prevails in Mexico.

We await your prompt response on the steps you intend to take to comply with applicable Mexican law and the treaties signed by your country.

Yours faithfully,


(1) https://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/43595/1/S1800429_es.pdf
(2) http://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5607130&fecha=09/12/2020

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