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CEMDA and AIDA Present Report to Inter-American Court of Human Rights: Environmental Advocates Are Key to Protecting Human Rights and Are At-Risk in Mexico

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Sept. 15, 2010
Juan Carlos Arjona Estévez, CEMDA (Mexico) +52-55-5286-332,, Skype: juancarlosarjonaestevez
Jacob Kopas, AIDA, (Bogota) +57-1-338-1277,, Skype: jacobkopas
Mexico City, Mexico – On September 10, 2010, the Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA) and the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) presented information about the important work of environmental advocates in protecting human rights, and about the trend of increasing attacks against such advocates in Mexico. In a "friend of the court" brief submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Cabrera Garcia and Montiel Flores v. Mexico, the two organizations demonstrated how attacks against Teodoro Cabrera and Montiel Flores relating to their work as environmental advocates impedes effective environmental protection.
"In Mexico, it is still very difficult to protect the right to a healthy environment due to the lack of, or in some cases, the ineffectiveness of judicial protections," emphasized Juan Carlos Arjona Estevez, coordinator of CEMDA’s Human Rights and Environment Program. "This makes the pattern of aggressions against environmental advocates even more troubling—it affects the rights of everyone in Mexico."
In 1998, Mr. Cabrera and Mr. Montiel founded the Organization of Peasant Ecologists of the Sierra de Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalán (OCESP), to protect the forests in Guerrero state from uncontrolled and illegal timber extraction. A year later, they were victims of arbitrary detentions and torture due to their work as environmental advocates. Despite being released in 2001, they had to leave their community because of continued threats. Nine years after their release, the Inter-American Court heard Montiel and Cabrera’s claims against Mexican authorities for failing to compensate them for harms or to guarantee their personal safety.
The ineffectiveness of the legal system for protecting the environment in Mexico led Mr. Cabrera and Mr. Montiel to found their organization, OCESP. However, the threats and harassments they suffered, and the lack of response from authorities, created a generalized fear that prevented them and others from defending their community’s right to a healthy environment. Later, this pattern grew to include attacks against environmental advocates throughout Mexico. This situation forced Mr. Cabrera and Mr. Montiel to limit their work as environmental advocates and curtail the work of OCESP.
Jacob Kopas, a lawyer with AIDA considers that "This case is emblematic for the region, and highlights the need for governments to recognize the value and importance of the work done by environmental advocates, and to also guarantee protection for their rights."
"With this report, we are seeking to help strengthen protection of the right to a healthy environment in Mexico and safeguard the people who defend this human right" said Samantha Namnum, director of CEMDA’s Mexico City office. "This is why we asked the Inter-American Court to recognize the important work of environmental defenders and to declare that Mexico, in addition to other human rights, also violated Mr. Cabrera and Mr. Montiel’s right to freedom of association as a result of the arbitrary detentions and tortures they suffered and the impunity surrounding those events."
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