'Chilling' religious freedom violations in Mexico

(AP)

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has released a report labelling the rise in religious freedom violations in Mexico as "deeply worrying".

The report was released on 10 December, which also marked International Human Rights Day, and was presented to Mexican federal and state government officials by CSW's partner organisation in the region, Impulso18.

The report points to government inaction and the Law of Uses and Customs, which gives significant autonomy to indigenous communities, as factors contributing to religious discrimination across the country, despite the Mexican constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief to all its citizens.

"In practice religious freedom violations are a common occurrence in certain regions," the report states.

"Many violations occur with impunity because of reluctance on the part of the state to involve itself in 'religious affairs' or to prosecute those responsible for criminal acts linked to religious freedom violations."

"The strict distance between state and religion has frequently extended to failing to protect actively the individual's right to religious freedom."

In addition, because they are granted the freedom to do so by the law, it is not uncommon for local leaders to force members of their communities to follow certain religious practices, "compelling [them] to participate in the religious activities of the majority or face punishment".

This is contrary to the constitution, which asserts that the autonomy of local authority should be exercised in line with human rights guarantees.

The report notes that "violations range in severity", but often "escalate to the point of destruction of property, arbitrary detention, forced displacement and violence".

The report also blames increased violence in Mexico from illegal groups involved in drugs, arms and human trafficking and extortion rackets for threats to religious leaders.

A number of Catholic priests and Protestant pastors have been kidnapped or murdered in the past few years by those who "see churches as an attractive target for extortion and front for money laundering, and their leaders as threats to their influence and aims".

In response to its allegations, CSW has laid out recommendations to the Mexican government for establishing freedom of religious belief in the nation.

These recommendations include "legal guarantees for freedom of religion and belief are upheld for all", and measures to ensure that all laws are "practised in accordance with the Mexican Constitution and its international human rights obligations".

The report goes on to suggest that religious minorities be officially be classified as vulnerable groups, and legal action be actively pursued against those who violate the freedom of religion. The government should also provide protection for church leaders who find themselves under threat.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, has called the increase in religious freedom violations in Mexico "deeply worrying".

Noting that the Mexican government has an important role to play in promoting and protecting religious freedom, he called for an "end the culture of impunity for crimes relating to religious freedom violations".

"Violations of religious freedom are not and should not be a special category of crime that is exempt from prosecution," he stressed.

Thomas said action must be taken to combat the threat of illegal groups "whose targeting of church leaders who refuse to cooperate with them has a chilling effect on religious freedom".

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