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Report alleges state terrorism against protesters in Oaxaca

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OAXACA, Mexico - The violence and repression leveled against the primarily indigenous protesters in Oaxaca last year was premeditated, according to findings recently issued by an international human rights commission. (The state of Oaxaca is home to more than 600,000 indigenous people of several different tribes.)

The International Civil Commission for Human Rights Observation released its preliminary conclusions and recommendations on Oaxaca in a report in late January. The 20-member team conducted more than 420 interviews since the conflict erupted in May 2006. These gatherings included sessions with protesters - both in and out of prison - families of disappeared citizens, civilians, military, police, government officials, jurists, lawyers, doctors, health care workers, indigenous leaders, journalists, and local and national human rights observers. Their final report will be delivered to the Mexican Legislature and other governmental institutions throughout Europe and Latin America on March 1.

For now, the commission has been publishing most of its findings on its Web site,; and when contacted, an ICC spokesman encouraged the early publication of the conclusions report.

''The Commission considers that the events occurred in Oaxaca form part of a juridical, police and military strategy, acting on a psychosocial and community level, whose goal is to control and intimidate the population in areas where community-based or nonpartisan social movements are unfolding,'' the report states in the first section.

Among the community groups affected are several indigenous organizations, the largest of which represents Zapoteco peoples.

The total number of dead connected to the conflict is 23, according to the report, which contradicts the attorney general's tally of 11 and that of the Mexican National Human Rights Commission, which has acknowledged 20 deaths. Furthermore, the ICC ''has knowledge of further deaths of persons who have not yet been identified.''

Among those who have not been identified are some of the disappeared. The report noted that ''there is well-founded evidence as to the existence of disappeared persons.'' However, due to the fact that the families and associates of some of the disappeared have not come forward to make a formal complaint, the commission cannot finish its study of those particular disappearances.

There are, however, other leads in the investigation that can be followed according to the last two sections on deaths and disappearances. In line with the commission assertion of state terrorism are the following accusations:

''Deaths and disappearances took place during a parallel rise in violence and confrontations as a result of coercive operations designed and implemented with the goal of eliciting more violence. The latter are the work of several intellectual and material authors,'' the report states, without naming those suspected of these actions; and,

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''Homicides have been perpetrated both in the city of Oaxaca as well as in other communities,'' the report continues. ''In both areas we witnessed a significant increase in violence as well as military presence and attacks against civilians. The vast majority of these civilians are members of various indigenous communities.''

In the last part of the 10-page summary report are sections devoted to specific groups affected by the conflict; these allegations fall under the general category of legal violations, of which there are many.

Under the heading of ''As regards indigenous individuals and communities'' are these findings: ''Indigenous persons for whom Spanish is not their first language have not been assisted by interpreters in legal and judicial hearings and the Law in Defense of Indigenous Peoples and Communities has not been applied. The Commission attests that many of the indigenous persons detained and held prisoner have denounced being the object of ethnic discrimination on behalf of public functionaries. ... These include discrimination due to denied communication with family members in the penitentiary in Nayarit due to a prison worker's lack of knowledge of their native language and suffering insults and humiliating treatment for not speaking Spanish well.

''In the Central Valleys and in the Mixtec, Isthmus, Southern Sierra, Coastal and Triqui Regions of Oaxaca, there has been an increased military presence, as well as the appearances of armed civilian groups. In some cases these groups are under the commands of local political bosses and municipal presidents [such as the unpopular prefect Ulises Ruiz, who has been the object of several large demonstrations by people who demand his resignation or dismissal.] They have assaulted, assassinated, kidnapped, har-assed and issued death threats among the population (including towards women and children). These actions have resulted in the displacement by entire communities, entailing social fissures and family disintegration.''

The effects of all of these violations - which include rape, torture and different types of assault - have been ''seriously damaging to individuals, families and communities'' as stated in the part entitled ''As Regards Psychosocial and Health Violations.''

The report's description of symptoms echoes those of other victims of war, including soldiers and indigenous communities in Colombia among other places.

''Characteristic effects and symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and social trauma have been detected. The most prevalent include permanent re-experiencing of traumatic events, sudden sleep interruptions, fear of particular sounds and voices, fear of being alone, psychological reactions to both external and internal stimuli, hypersensitivity to feeling watched and a fear of persecution. There are also general perceptions of random or unjust treatment, of defenselessness and loss of control over certain situations and over peoples' own lives. We attest to victims' inability to fully verbalize all of their lived experiences.''

The report goes on to assert that medical attention has been ''tardy and insufficient.'' The commission also claims that police have entered hospitals to imprison wounded individuals as well as to place arrested minors in adult prisons. The psychological effects on families, communities and others are also explored in the report's findings.

In the final section of the report, the ICC makes its recommendations regarding all facets of the investigation, including issues relating to indigenous peoples in Oaxaca.

''To attend to the demands of the indigenous peoples, taking care to avoid all forms of discrimination and respecting their political, economic, social and cultural rights. It is important to guarantee the respect and implementation of laws pertaining to indigenous communities and to favor the development of policies of inclusion of these communities through participatory and protective mechanisms and according to their own means of organization, government and through 'traditions and customs' [since 1995, traditions and customs is a legal means of election of local public officials in the state of Oaxaca, most prevalent among indigenous municipalities].''