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Tribunal to evaluate polemic Jalisco dam

November 6, 2012

An international tribunal is set to review the construction of a controversial dam in northern Jalisco next week, in the first of many hearings to take place in Mexico over the next three years.

Built at a cost of 2.4 billion pesos, the Zapotillo dam will provide water for 2.4 million inhabitants of 14 municipalities in Jalisco and Guanajuato state over the next 25 years. Work on the dam is over 53 percent complete, while construction of a 6.87-billion-peso aqueduct linking the resultant reservoir with the city of Leon will begin this month.

Both projects are due for completion in 2013, with Mexico’s Supreme Court having dismissed a petition by inhabitants of Temacapulin, Acasico and Palmarejo – communities that will be flooded by the reservoir – to halt the project.

Residents have been given the option of selling their houses for market value, being relocated to a new town being built nearby, or having their homes expropriated with minimum compensation. Many appealed against the project, claiming authorities had refused to acknowledge the huge environmental and social impacts of the dam and failed to properly consult them.

After five years of vocal opposition from civil society, representatives of the federal government and the National Water Commission (Conagua) held talks with the local communities last year. Yet the authorities declined to act on their complaints and pressed ahead with construction.

With the government now completely ignoring the objectors, an international organization known as the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) has stepped in to draw attention to the situation.

The PPT was founded in 1979 in Bologna, Italy by Senator Lelio Basso to investigate human rights violations and crimes against humanity around the world. It was based on the Russell Tribunal, which was established in 1966 by British philosopher, activist and pacifist Bertrand Russell, to investigate war crimes committed by the United States in Vietnam, and then crimes against humanity committed by U.S.-backed dictatorships in Latin America.

The PPT is an ethical tribunal which aims to generate a new dynamic of citizen participation; promote universal respect for the fundamental rights of peoples, minorities and individuals; and push via public opinion for the creation of legislation protecting those rights.

Although they are non-binding, the PPT’s verdicts are based on international law and legal precedent and take into account the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. It has held sessions in some 40 countries and over the next three years it will examine possible crimes committed by the state against the Mexican people.

The PPT’s Mexico chapter will focus on seven major areas of concern: the dirty war, violence, impunity and lack of justice; migration, refugees and forced displacement; femicide and gender violence; violence against workers; damage to maize, food sovereignty and autonomy; environmental destruction and the rights of native peoples; and misinformation, censorship and violence against the media.

The first case will be a pre-trial on dams, peoples’ rights and impunity, taking place in Temacapulin on November 5 and 6. The hearing will not focus solely on the Zapotillo dam, but also on similar works in Cerro de Oro, Paso de la Reina, La Parota and El Naranjal.

The pre-trial jury will be made up of former United Nations (UN) officials, lawyers and academic researchers from Mexico, the United States, Canada and India. They will hear evidence of the threatened and forced displacement of local residents; alleged environmental and human rights violations; and testimony outlining the implications of the privatization of water and land.

The jury’s ruling will be announced in Guadalajara on November 8 and delivered to Mexico’s Supreme Court the following day.

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