For Immediate Release
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Ceremony Honors Abel Barrera Hernandez of Mexico
WASHINGTON - Abel Barrera Hernandez, Founder and Director of the Tlachinollan Center received the 2010 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award for his courageous defense of the rights of rural and indigenous peoples living in Guerrero State in southern Mexico.
Since 1992, Mr. Barrera and his colleagues at the Tlachinollan Center have put their lives on the line to accompany indigenous communities in their struggle to bring justice to some of Mexico's most marginalized communities. The Tlachinollan Center's record of accomplishment under exceptionally dangerous working conditions is a testament to the relentless determination of Mr. Barrera and his entire staff.
Tlachinollan has created an independent police-monitoring organization, worked to establish the first state law on forced disappearance, secured the release of numerous illegally detained people, forced a mining company to pay fair rent for the land it utilized, and with the strength of rural farmers, stopped the construction of a dam that would have displaced tens of thousands of people. By leading the courageous journey of survivors of military and police abuses, Tlachinollan and partner organizations have achieved precedent-setting decisions by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, most recently in the cases of Valentina Rosendo and Inés Fernández, two indigenous women who suffered rape and torture at the hands of the Mexican military in 2002.
A year into his presidency, President Calderon deployed the army throughout the country as the central component of his war on drugs. From 2007 to date, reports of human rights abuses have increased almost 1,000%. The approximately 4,300 reported abuses include cases of theft, rape, torture, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions committed by members of the military.
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Mr. Barrera is an outspoken critic of militarization in Mexico and the resulting disregard for human rights and lack of civilian jurisdiction in criminal matters involving military personnel. He and his colleagues have called on the U.S. to stand in solidarity with the Tlachinollan Center in denouncing these abuses.
Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy presented Mr. Barrera and the Tlachinollan Center with the 2010 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in a ceremony attended by Ms. Kerry Kennedy and other members of the Kennedy family. Mr. Barrera joins 42 RFK human rights laureates in 25 countries as the recipient of the 27th annual prize.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Barrera vowed to continue the struggle for justice. "In the same way as the indigenous people of Guerrero, we will raise our voices to stop the war, to stop the criminalization of the human rights defenders' fight for justice, to prevent any more innocent blood from spilling, and to stop the asylum of impunity."
"Mr. Abel Barrera Hernández inspires us with his unrelenting determination to bring justice to the marginalized people of Mexico. His example challenges all of us to do more. His courage speaks to our better angels," said Ms. Kerry Kennedy, Founder and President of the RFK Center during her remarks.
In his keynote remarks, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Democracy and Labor, Michael Posner, spoke of the realities facing human rights defenders in Mexico. "Human rights defenders are threatened with death and subject to arbitrary arrest, disappearance and executions." He went on to state that despite these challenges, "Abel has given his community a voice, he has appealed their cases before the courts, and he has provided for their basic needs."
"The situation is critical for those, like Abel, who stand against impunity in Mexico. 107 human rights defenders in the state of Guerrero have been issued protective measures by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, including every member of Tlachinollan, yet they are still threatened." said Monika Kalra Varma, Director of the RFK Center for Human Rights. "We look forward to working alongside Abel and his courageous colleagues to further Robert Kennedy's vision of real justice for all persons."
The Center for Human Rights was created to carry on the partnership formed through the Human Rights Award. The human rights champion and the Center for Human Rights commit to a multi-year partnership dedicated to addressing a specific set of issues relevant to the defender's mission and country situation. The Center works under the direction of partners on the ground, former winners of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, using innovative tools to achieve sustainable social change, including litigation, technical initiatives, advocating with governments, UN and other international entities and NGOs, and launching consumer awareness campaigns aimed at fostering corporate responsibility.