MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

Tlachinollan, Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña

Guerrero State, Mexico | 2008 Award Recipient

Protecting the Rights of the Vulnerable in Mexico

The state of Guerrero, in southwestern Mexico, is best known for Acapulco and other famous tourist sites. But it is also home to some of the nation’s poorest people, many from indigenous groups (Tlapaneco, Nahua, and Amuxgo).

The region has a violent history. Guerilla activity in the 1970’s spurred an aggressive military intervention and, through the 1990’s, Guerrero had the highest number of forced disappearances of any part of Mexico. The recent expansion of opium-poppy cultivation and the drug trade has led to renewed militarization and repression.

Thirteen years ago, a group of academics and activists came together to combat the exploitation of indigenous people and systematic abuse of human rights in the region. Tlachinollan, the Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña, is now one of Mexico’s leading human rights organizations.

Tlachinollan takes an integrated and strategic approach to its advocacy work. It offers leadership and administrative services, educates local people about their rights, provides legal assistance, runs a national communications campaign, and collaborates with national and international rights organizations.

Tlachinollan litigates high impact cases to promote the reform of abusive practices by the army, police, or government authorities and thereby the well-being of local people. Access to justice, territorial rights and natural resources; and the social and economic rights to healthcare, education, and housing are persistent themes. In 2006, Tlachinollan intervened in more than 1,300 such situations with legal assistance or strategic counseling. Where possible, the organization promotes constructive engagement with the authorities to promote change through dialogue and negotiation.

Many of Tlachinollan’s cases have received widespread publicity or been referred to regional bodies. The case of Felipe Arreaga Sanchez, an environmental activist accused of murder, was championed by international conservation and human rights groups, and Sanchez was honored by both Amnesty International and the Sierra Club. In 2007, Tlachinollan presented the case of two Tlapanecan women raped by soldiers to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; the case will likely be heard by the Inter-American Court.

Communication is a key part of Tlachinollan’s work. It publishes a weekly column in El Sur, the region’s leading newspaper, runs a weekly radio program, and receives coverage in national papers. Each year, Tlachinollan produces an annual report covering the human rights situation in Guerrero and documenting the cases it has investigated and litigated.

Tlachinollan has helped build alliances to promote human rights and was a key player in establishing Red Guerrerense de Organismos de Derechos Humanos (the Guerrero Network of Human Rights Organizations), made up of six peer groups and now the most influential rights coalition in the region.

By defending indigenous minority communities and bringing the violators of human rights to justice, Tlachinollan is strengthening Mexico’s civil society and making it more truly inclusive.

Tlachinollan will use its $350,000 award to build new advocacy campaigns grounded in litigation, expand its work to additional states in Mexico, and build partnerships with state and local government.


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