The concept of self determination is an internationally acknowledged practice that confers to the natives of a country the right to decide on their sovereignty and political status. Mexico has had a long history concerning this concept in allowing its indigenous nationals this right. This has been through respecting the decision making and internal processes of the indigenous people of Mexico. It follows the principle of fairness, equal rights, and opportunities. Self-determination is considered as a cardinal principle in international law. This right is enforced by the United Nations (UN) as per its Charter (Muehlebach, 2003).
Background of self-determination in Mexico
Mexico is a sovereign state located in southern region of North America. It has an approximated population of 120 million people. The country is quite ethnically diverse. A section of Mexicans refers to themselves as ‘Mestizo’ which is a partial disassociation from indigenous culture and Spanish culture. This new identity has aimed at creating a concept of a modern Mexican national identity. The indigenous identity has developed a negative connotation as lacking assimilation in the modern Mexico. The population of Mexicans who self-identify themselves as indigenous and preserve various cultural practices derived from original Mexican ethnic communities is approximately 25 million. Multiple policies since the post-revolutionary era have been geared towards assisting indigenous people to attain the same level of progress similar to rest of society. The literacy rate in Mexico is quite impressive at approximately 97% for youth under 14 years and 91% for ages above 15 years (Franck, 1998).
The push for indigenous autonomy has been there for decades. The first indigenous conference was held in 1974, and it entailed delegations from different Mexican ethnicities. The push for the autonomy of indigenous communities in Mexico has revolved around aspects such as economic, cultural, legal, political and decision making which are associated with the government at the national level.
The Chiapas Conflict is an excellent example of a struggle between indigenous communities and the Mexican Government. It refers to the 1994 Zapatista Uprising in the Chiapas State of Mexico which was a rebellion between indigenous people through a militant group (Zapatistas) and the government for lifting laws that restricted the privatization of native communal land. The Mexican government signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which required Mexico to relax the laws that restricted the sale and private ownership of native communal land. Native farmers feared they would lose their lands and there would be an influx of cheap imports from the USA which threatened their livelihood. This fuelled the rebellion of Zapatistas against the state. This prompted the government to begin negotiations with Zapatistas to quell the violence and initiate a peace process. The conflict culminated in the 1997 Acteal Massacre when the peace negotiations agreed upon collapsed (Polanco, 1997).
The country has signed various treaties regarding the issue. Accords on the Indigenous Rights and culture were signed in the year 1996 by the Mexican government. The traditions and the customs of the natives was the main issue for discussion during the conference of signing the commitment. This accord formed the basis of significant changes in aspects of political participation, indigenous rights, and the cultural autonomy. The major change was the recognition of the pueblo’s Indios who were the main political subjects in the town. The accords supported the validity of the internal governments formed by the indigenous people. The government promised in the accords to establish laws that guarantee the indigenous group to associate freely with other communities. They were also promised in the accord to coordinate and work as indigenous people as well as associating freely with municipalities that are indigenous. The 1996 San Andres Accords is viewed as the first time the Mexican Government acknowledged indigenous rights (Buchanan, 2007).
The current push for indigenous autonomy currently focuses on entrenching indigenous rights into law through legislation and constitutional amendments. This is the only best to ensure the conflicts regarding self-determination get a permanent solution. From the analysis, it can be observed that the Mexican state has historically been adamant in recognizing indigenous autonomy rights, but the trend has since been shifting with time, and the government has begun acknowledging self determination rights. This can be seen through actions such as the 1996 San Andres Accords. Such efforts have been made to re-establish the relationship between the Mexican government and its indigenous nationals. The Mexican constitution supports the rights to self-determination of its citizens which covers issues such as infrastructure, education and anti-discrimination (Polanco, 1997).
Mexico has made substantial progress over time on the issue of self determination. For instance, the San Andres Accord states that the different Mexican States could come up with their own legislation in respect to self determination. However, the journey has not been without resistance. For instance, notable politicians like the former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo opposed some of the resolutions in the San Andres Accord citing that they would lead to the balkanization of the country. He also held the position that Indigenous Mexicans should not be given ‘special rights, ‘ but instead, they should enjoy the same rights as the rest of the citizens. The Mexican government has also demonstrated a sustained campaign of extinguishing the influence of indigenous groups that have in the past formed parallel self-declared governments. Such paramilitary groups have been blamed for some unfortunate incidents such as the Acteal Massacre (Barker, 2005).
However, much more a still needs to be done to address the rights of the indigenous populations. Several problems faced by indigenous communities revolve around natural resources, land, administration of justice, internal displacement, and education, among others. There are still several challenges that face indigenous nationals of Mexico which include discrimination and marginalization. The participation in the political leadership of this section of society is extremely low. Also, the indigenous populations receive undue bias as compared to other people such as harsher and disproportionate sentencing. Women from indigenous communities also experience much more discrimination as compared to other women. The effects of these discriminatory tendencies can be observed in high poverty levels and low developments in areas occupied by indigenous communities (Muehlebach, 2003).
Resolutions to the U.N concerning Self determination and indigenous rights
SUBJECT OF RESOLUTION: SELF DETERMINATION AND INDIGENOUS RIGHTS
SPONSORED BY: MEXICO
THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY,
BEARING IN MIND the importance of the rights of indigenous autonomy and self determination in all countries around the world, the conflicts that have occurred in the past when indigenous nationals feel disenfranchised by their state in fundamental issues, the need to address all forms of discrimination against the citizens of any nation, the need to entrench fairness and equality for everyone,
AWARE OF the existing laws on self determination enforced by the UN as per its Charter, the assimilation of the right as a cardinal principle of international law,
STRESSING the importance of the rights of citizens to decide on the sovereignty, the importance to support autonomous decision-making modes of indigenous populations, the need to eliminate ratio, cultural, social, economic and gender inequalities,
1. CALLS UPON all nations to inculcate the rights of self determination and indigenous autonomy into their respective laws through constitutional means and legislation;
2. URGES all member countries to freely and proactively implement the laws supporting self determination of their citizens;
3. SUGGESTS that the UN steps up into their monitoring role to ensure that all member countries comply with the laws concerning the rights of self determination and indigenous autonomy;
4. PROPOSES that the UN imposes various sanctions on member countries that do not comply with the laws referenced above;
5. CONFIRMS the renewed vigor by the Mexican Government to adequately address the issue of self determination and indigenous autonomy.