Mexico's Indigenous Peoples

The United Nations Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights reports on the Indigenous Peoples living in Mexico.

Fifteen percent of the population of Mexico identifies itself as Indigenous. In the southern state of Oaxaca, for example, 56% of the people consider themselves Indigenous, and are divided among 16 ethnic and linguistic groups.

The UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay visited Oaxaca recently and said that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “inspires and motivates movement towards a world in which the basic human rights of indigenous peoples are respected.”

However, she pointed out that “it is one thing to have proclaimed the Declaration, and it is quite another to see it implemented.” She added that “while some progress has been made towards its implementation, much remains to be done.”

According to Pillay, “Indigenous women suffer two types of discrimination, as indigenous people and as women.” She stressed that “indigenous peoples also need to give women a more prominent role.” She urged Mexico’s indigenous leaders “to renew your commitment to improve the situation of women and promote their political participation and their leadership.”

Under the Mexican Constitution, Indigenous peoples have the rights to self-determination, which includes, among others, the right to autonomy, education, infrastructure, and no-discrimination.

However, each Mexican state has its own constitution and can establish new legislation. In some cases, the UN report says that local legislation has limited the provisions for Indigenous peoples recognized in the national constitution. As a consequence, the protection of indigenous people’s rights varies greatly from state to state.

According to several Indigenous organizations, the main problems suffered by indigenous peoples in Mexico are linked to land and territories, natural resources, administration of justice, internal displacement, bilingual education, language, migration and constitutional reforms.

Another UN official, Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, warned that 19.5 million Mexicans, approximately 18% of the population, are food insecure, an overwhelming majority of them in the rural areas, with a disproportionate number of Indigenous peoples among that number.

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