The militarization of indigenous territories is one of the main driving factors in conflicts, and often leads to the displacement of indigenous people or to situations very close to a state of war that endanger people’s lives, according to The United Nations Working Group about Indigenous People. This development can be observed in Chiapas, Mexico.
“They don´t consider our rights as indigenous people, they don´t ask if we want the National Guard. The municipal, state and federal governments made the decision to place the National Guard in our municipality.”
Member of the Community Government of Chilón
The municipality of Chilón in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, is populated by almost 128000 people and 98% are indigenous people (INPI; 2015), mostly Tzeltal, but also communities from the Tsotsil and Ch’ol people.
The establishment of the National Guard facilities in Chilón was suggested for the first time by the local government led by Leonardo Girao (2012-2015), but the construction was suspended thanks to the opposition of the Tzeltal people living in the territory.
In 2019, the construction was retrieved by Carlos Jiménez Trujillo (mayor in Chilón 2018-2021 from the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico), who argued at the time that “the citizens need this kind of security in order to have a peaceful and reliable society”1. Nevertheless, the construction was suspended, but a year later, on January 18th, 2020, when the Governor of the State of Chiapas, Dr. Rutilio Escandón Cadenas visited the municipality of Chilón, he announced the construction of the National Guard facilities in Chilón2.
In September 2020, the construction of the National Guard facilities began in the community of Jucultón, located by the road that connects the municipal capital of Chilón, with the ejido (An Ejido is a communal ownership of land recognized by the federal laws in Mexico) San Sebastián Bachajón. A year after the start of the construction of the National Guard headquarter the presence of both the National Guard and Secretary of National Defense (SEDENA) officers increased in the Chilón and in San Sebastián Bachajón.
The United Nations Working Group about Indigenous People describes the risks of militarization of indigenous territory as follows:
One of the main sources of conflict, which often leads to the displacement of indigenous people or to situations very close to a state of war that endanger people’s lives. The State frequently uses its power to «extinguish» Aboriginal land titles to meet national security needs and allows the armed forces to initiate national defense projects on indigenous lands, including, in particular, the construction of military bases and the land clearance for testing and maneuvers3.
Indigenous people have a series of collective rights recognized by both the United Nations Protection System and the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights. These include, among others, the right to self-determination4 , the right to autonomy and self-governance5, the right to a prior, free and informed consultation, the right to collective property6, and the right to have their own legal systems.
If the indigenous people in question carry out activities to improve the protection and guarantee of human rights they must be considered as human rights defenders, and therefore also hold the rights as recognized by both the Universal and Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights. Thus, the impacts of militarization on indigenous territories must be considered as violations of both individual and collective rights.
Both the United Nations and the Organization of American States, affirm in their Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous People that, “no military activities shall be implemented on the lands or territories of indigenous people, unless its justified by a relevant public interest, agreed with the indigenous people or at their own request”7. The United Nations’ Declaration adds that “States shall consult with the indigenous people concerned, by appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, before using their lands or territories for military activities”8.
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has, on more than one occasion, expressed concerns about Mexico’s public security policies and their compatibility with the Inter-American human rights standards. Already in 2016, IACHR pointed out how the interventions of the armed forces, when realizing internal security work, is followed by violence, serious human rights violations, and impunity for the perpetrators9. In their latest report they confirmed that:Although the National Guard was implemented as a civilian body with police functions, its composition with military personnel and structure questions its civilian nature and the demilitarization of public security”10.
In the case of Chilón, there was never a process of free and informed consultation with the indigenous population prior to the construction of the National Guard facilities. Rather, according to the Center for Indigenous Rights, A.C (CEDIAC) which is based in Chilón, asserts that between February and March 2020 the ejido authorities, imposed by the local mayor at the time, Carlos Jiménez Trujillo, held apocryphal assemblies to approve the distribution of a percentage of the ejido land as a donation for the construction of the National Guards facilities. People from San Sebastián Bachajón report that the land of almost two hectares, that was arranged for the construction of the facilities, was sold by the Ejidal Commissariat and the municipal authority without consulting the Ejidal Assembly11. Later, the municipal and ejido authorities made agreements with commanders of SEDENA and the National Guard, as well as with the State Police, and the construction was launched.
The construction, in addition to violating the right to peace, security and protection12, has created divisions in the communities.
It’s important to highlight that there are several civil society organizations in the territory of Chilón, among them, the Community Government, a community organization of the Tseltal people and communities from Chilón, who’s committed to exercise their right to self-determination through self-governance. Representatives of the Community Government reject the militarization of their territory and calls it “an imposition on their territories, carried out without consulting the community authorities, women and ejiditarios”13.
In September 2020, the Tseltal people from Chilón began to organize themselves against the construction of the National Guard facilities. Among others, under the argument that the ejido authority violates the agreements of the internal regulations of the same. On October 15th , hundreds of people held a peaceful demonstration to show their standpoint against militarization, an action that was confronted with violence by the authorities14.
According to the Human Right Center Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (Frayba), around 300 municipal policemen, the Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection and the National Guard, participated in the repression of the mobilization in the Temó area where at least 13 people were injured and two deprived of their liberty15. The course of events stated above should be considered as criminalization of social protest, as it violates the right to demonstrate16, as well as the right to personal integrity and safety17.
José Luis Gutiérrez Hernández, 46 years old originally from Bahuits Guadalupe and César Hernández Feliciano, 30 years old originally from San Martin Cruztón in the municipality of Chilón were arbitrarily deprived of their liberty on the occasion of the demonstration and indicted.
According to Frayba, who assumed on the legal representation of the two human right defenders, the process against them has so far been characterized by irregularities. First of all, the arrest was characterized by cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatments18. On October 17th 2021, two days after their arrest, José Luis and César were transferred to CERSS No. 14 (“El Amate” in the municipality of Cintalapa, Chiapas, 270 kilometers from Chilón19 . That same day the hearing was held, in which the judge declared that the arrest was legal and imposed pre-trial detention for the two human right defenders until the next hearing. On October 22th 2020, the hearing in order to formulate charges took place and they were then indicted for the crime mutiny by the Control Court and Prosecution Courts of Region 01 in Cintalapa, Chiapas, supervised by the control judge Roberto Ramos Cuellar.
On November 1st, 2020, the hearing and change of precautionary measures was held before the control judge and the precautionary measures off pre-trial detention were adjusted, implying that José Luis and César are not able to leave the area of Ocosingo and Chilón as they have to sign that they are physically present in the area every 15 days at the control court in Ocosingo.
Successively, on March 22 th, 2021, the intermediate hearing was held in which the judge admitted that the evidence was illicitly obtained by the public prosecutor’s office, binding the accused to oral trial20.
Finally, the appeal filed against the resolution was declared unacceptable as it didn’t fulfill the jurisprudence from the Supreme Court of Justice regarding the exclusion of evidence. Jose Luis and César, a year after their arrest, are still subject to the legal process and meanwhile the construction of the National Guard facilities is about to be completed.
3 Extracto de “Los Pueblos Indígenas y la Resolución de Conflictos” , Documento de trabajo presentado por el Sr. Miguel Alfonso MartÌnez, miembro del Grupo de Trabajo sobre las Poblaciones IndÌgenas, al 22º período de sesiones del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Pueblos Indígenas de Naciones Unidas (E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.4/2004/2), o
4 El artículo 1.1 común del PIDCP y PIDESC, establece que “[t]odos los pueblos tienen el derecho de libre determinación. En virtud de este derecho establecen libremente su condición política y proveen asimismo a su desarrollo económico, social y cultural”.
5 Corte IDH. Caso Pueblo Indígena Kichwa de Sarayaku Vs. Ecuador. Fondo y reparaciones. Sentencia de 27 de junio de 2012, párr. 165 y siguientes.
6 Corte IDH. Caso Pueblo Indígena Xucuru y sus miembros Vs. Brasil. Excepciones Preliminares, Fondo, Reparaciones y Costas. Sentencia de 5 de febrero de 2018. Serie C No. 346, párrs. 115 y siguientes.
7 Artículo 30 de la Declaración de las Naciones Unidas sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas; artículo XXX de la Declaración Americana sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas
8 Artículo 30, acapite 2 de la Declaración de las Naciones Unidas sobre los derechos de los pueblos indígenas
9 Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (2016). Informe sobre la situación de los derechos humanos en México. Disponible en: https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/informes/pdfs/Mexico2016-es.pdf
10 Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (2019). Informe de seguimiento de 2019. Disponible en:
12 Establecido por: artículo 30 de la Declaración de las Naciones Unidas sobre los derechos de los pueblos indígenas; artículo XXX de la Declaración Americana sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas (2016)
16 Artículo 21 del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos
17 Artículos 4 y 5 de la Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos