In early September 2014, Migration, Refuge, and the Forced Displacement of the Mexican Chapter of the Permanent People’s Tribunal took place in New York City. The session brought together a group of experts, academics, activists, religious actors, journalists, and other members of civil society to discuss the state of current and previous waves of migration. As a central concept, migration led to a discussion of the forced displacements of people in Central America and Mexico. These displacements are a result of neoliberal practices of extraction, precarious labor conditions, and a lack of basic resources and opportunities, as well as high levels of impunity, corruption, and mounting violence in migrants’ countries of origin.
The testimonies of migrants from Central America and Mexico shed light on the importance of discussion and action around the routes through Mexico and around the extreme vulnerability of migrants on their path to the United States. Moreover, the accounts of people who managed to cross the border and who now live in the United States reveal the continuous discrimination, violence, exclusion, and vulnerability of foreign communities living within country. The participants in the discussion in New York had two main purposes in relation to these problems. On the one hand, according to Andrés Barreda, the discussion provided access to the stories and accounts of migrants settled in the United States, allowing academics, journalists, and activists to piece their stories together. What happened at the place of expulsion? What was the experience of the migratory route? What has happened since then? On the other hand, they sought to recognize the complexity and global component of the migratory phenomenon and aimed to work to come together in several places, including the countries of origin, transit, and destination of migrants.
In New York City, the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT or the Tribunal) worked for three days from 4 September to 6 September. This module aims to collect the materials generated by those meetings. The Tribunal sessions consisted of several hours of testimonies, where individuals presented their cases to members of the court, uniting in order to strengthen their claims against the Mexican and US states, transnational companies, and organized crime and criminal groups. The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics did a series of one-on-one interviews with members of the Tribunal as well as with some of the complainants. This compilation of interviews, testimonies, and short texts about migration aims to provide an integral reflection on the current migratory situation in the Americas, while also serving as an archive promoting the principles of justice, visibility, and resistance that the Permanent People’s Tribunal takes as its mission.
What Is It?
The PPT is an international, nongovernmental ethics tribunal. Established as a court, it examines the causes behind violations of people’s basic rights and determines where violations have actually occurred. Following this, the Tribunal proceeds to publicly denounce the perpetrators of said violations. The Tribunal is made up of a diverse group of people from different national origins, disciplines, and ideological horizons. The main mission of the Tribunal is to promote universal respect for the basic rights of peoples, minority groups, and individuals. In accordance with this mission, it focuses on the systematic and flagrant violations of these rights by state actors and other authorities, as well as private groups and organizations. Fights against foreign invasion, dictatorships, systems of economic slavery, and environmental destruction, as well as towards the right of self-determination are some of the social struggles that the Tribunal has supported.
The Tribunal originated as a response to situations in which those in charge of administering justice either fail to do so or are, as in many cases, the perpetrators of injustices against the people. The Tribunal defines itself as an “independent court, able to effectively respond to the sufferings of the people in all realms of society. The suffering the Tribunal responds to is a product of state oppression, but is also perpetrated by industries, businesses, banks, and financial institutions.”
Perhaps the first inspiration for the Permanent People’s Tribunal was the Russell Tribunal, summoned by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre in the late 1960s. The aim of the Russell Tribunal was to judge the crimes committed by the United States in Vietnam during the 60s. Russell and Sartre convened a group of intellectuals, victims, and witnesses of crimes to attend two court sessions that took place in 1967: one in Sweden and the other in Denmark.
After the Vietnam sessions, the same model was adopted to judge human rights violations perpetrated by the military dictatorships in Argentina and Chile. The purpose of these sessions was, as Andrés Barreda, professor of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and part of the Mexican Chapter of the Tribunal puts it, to “[render] visible the crimes committed by South American dictatorships working hand in hand with American transnational companies. These crimes were a response to waves of social protest, democratization efforts, and socialization pressures led by South American workers and resulted in genocide: the massive extermination of more than 100,000 people in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Brazil.”
In 1979, the Italian Senator Lelio Basso, inspired by the Russell Tribunal, formally constituted the Permanent People’s Tribunal. Since then, the PPT has held sessions on topics including the role of human rights in psychiatry, the situations in Iraq and Palestine, and, in 2014, the violation of human rights during the war in east Ukraine.
According to Barreda, the PPT “aims to exercise and promote a universal consciousness around the greatest and most worrisome structural violence issues around the world. Although the PPT is not binding, this consciousness will generate ethical pressure that can help other courts, which are actually binding, adopt the Tribunal’s principles.” Further, “the tribunal does not only aim to render crimes visible, but is also a process, a process in which people come together to think clearly about things that are usually not thought about. In other words, sometimes people who are oppressed tend to believe that thinking about law and justice is unfruitful since the law is co-opted by those in power, since laws are conceived to impede access to justice. This belief leads to the mistaken notion that laws are a question of power, when the truth is that law is a people’s issue, because people produce laws. So the tribunal works based on the idea that there is the possibility of collective and social productions of law that can be triggered when communities get together and discuss their grievances and reflect on what they are entitled to.”
We want that, after the Tribunal, the word Mexico
causes the same reaction as the word Vietnam. In other words,
we want people to understand that what is taking place
there is a holocaust. That is the point.
The Mexican Chapter of the PPT began in 2011 (for a detailed timeline click here). According to Barreda, the intention of this chapter is to generate a broad social platform to denounce the axis of structural violence that reign in Mexico as a result of the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Tribunal is a way of addressing lapses in the current Mexican justice system. It is “a great laboratory to think about those rights that we lack nowadays as a result of the barbarisms of globalization. It is a new space for broader reflection that we hope will heighten the level of national discussion around those issues.”
The Tribunal is an all-encompassing deliberation on the current situation in Mexico, a space to think about issues that range from environmental devastation to the horrific levels of violence that Mexican society is exposed to daily. As Father Solalinde articulates, the Tribunal is based on the firm belief that these issues are not a local phenomenon, but a global issue. This means that the Tribunal must take place in several spaces: South America, Mexico, and the United States.
The Tribunal chapter focused on Mexico was structured around the following issues, each occupying one session:
-Dirty wars, violence, impunity, and the lack of access to justice
-Migration, refuge, and forced displacement
-Femicide and gender violence
-Violence against workers
-Violence against corn production, food sovereignty, and autonomy
-Environmental devastation and rights of the people
-Disinformation, censorship, and violence against communicators
The bishop of the diocese of Saltillo, México, Raúl Vera describes the Tribunal as a set of individual audiences focused on a particular issue, which ultimately come together in one final session. The reason for individual sessions is that the Tribunal works with people who are victims, and therefore only holding sessions in Mexico City would not make sense. Sessions must take place where particular issues have the strongest consequences, requiring multiple places and times. These audiences then come together as a comprehensive archive documenting the facts denounced by the Tribunal: disappearances, murders, imprisonments, genocide, massacres, migratory flows, and femicides, among others. Beyond its role as an archival force, the Tribunal is a space of collaboration between NGOs, witnesses, victims, experts, and all members of the Mexican society.
Interview with Andrés Barreda
Andrés Barreda: Full-time professor of Economics in the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where he has been teaching for the last 32 years. He is an economist and holds an MA in Sociology and a PhD in Latin American Studies. He has specialized his studies on contemporary capitalism, problems of displacement, dispossession, and the accumulation of capital. Beyond his academic work, he promoted the creation of the National Assembly of Environmentally Affected in Mexico. He is part of the Guarantor’s Committee of the Permanent People’s Tribunal, Mexico Chapter.
Interview with Juan Ángel Almendares
Juan Ángel Almendares: Rector of the Autonomous National University of Honduras. He is a trained physiologist, environmentalist, and human rights activist and directs the Center for the Prevention of Torture (CPPRT). In his academic career, he has directed research at prestigious universities and institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and the Cardiovascular Research Institute in San Francisco.
Interview with Alfredo Cepeda
Interview transcript (English):
Alfredo Cepeda: Jesuit priest who lives in the Sierra Norte in Veracruz with indigenous groups of Nahuas, Otomíes and Tepehuas.
Interview with Marcos Saavedra
Marcos Saavedra: Originally from San Miguel Ahuehuetitlán Oaxaca, Marco and his sister Yahaira have been living in the United States for more than 20 years. They have been two of the most committed activists for the rights of undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Interview with Yahaira Saavedra
Interview transcript (English and Spanish)
Yahaira Saavedra: Originally from San Miguel Ahuehuetitlán Oaxaca, Yahaira and her brother Marcos have been fighting for the rights of undocumented immigrants in the United States for years.
Interview with María Elena Aguilar
María Elena Aguilar: Originally from Puebla, Mexico, she is member of the Worker’s Justice Project and founder and member of the Apple Eco-cleaning Cooperative, a woman-run, environmentally conscious, and worker-owned house cleaning cooperative that provides services in New York City.
Interview with Alejandro Solalinde
Alejandro Solalinde: is a Mexican Catholic priest and human rights champion. He is the coordinator of the South Pacific Human Mobility Ministry of the Mexican Bishopric and director of Hermanos en el Camino, a shelter that provides Central American migrants with humanitarian aid and education.
Interview with Raúl Vera
Interview transcript (English)
Raúl Vera: is the Bishop of Saltillo, Mexico and a prominent human rights defender. He founded the Centro Diocesano para los Derechos Humanos Fray Juan de Larios (Fray Juan de Larios Diocesan Centre for Human Rights) in Saltillo. He has supported coal miners in defending their labor rights and Central and South American migrants, encouraging the creation of two migrant centers: Casa Emaús in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila and Belén Posada del Migrante in Saltillo, Coahuila.
Interview with Garifuna Woman