CSW - everyone free to believe


Supreme Court rules in favour of displaced indigenous minorities

14 Jul 2020

CSW welcomes a ruling by Mexico’s National Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN) which grants reintegration and protection to a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were expelled from their homes in the state of Jalisco on account of their religious beliefs.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, who belong to the Wixáritari (also referred to as Huichol) indigenous group, were expelled from their homes in Tuxpan de Bolaños, Jalisco, on 4 December 2017 because they refused to participate in certain community activities due to their religious beliefs. Several Protestant Christians were also expelled from the community.

The group of Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed to the SCJN in response to their expulsion, and a ruling was delivered in their favour by the Second Chamber of the SCJN, who also considered a second appeal in the case of a family who were expelled from their community in Oaxaca for refusing to comply with the customs of their ethnic group. The rulings are the first to provide protections for indigenous communities whose rights have been violated by village authorities through an abuse of Mexico’s Law of Uses and Customs.

In both cases, the court decided that the affected parties must be reintegrated into the territory of their communities and ordered the state authorities to guarantee safety in this process. However, the court also ruled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses must be relocated to another plot within their territory, stating that “it is legitimate that their rights and obligations as members of this [community] are taken away from them, as they no longer share an essential element, their religion.”

The court said that “although the communities had the right to expel them to protect their culture, religion and subsistence as differentiated, this cannot go to the extreme of removing them from the territory of the community, since that would violate their right to the minimum conditions for life, leaving them without decent housing, belongings and livelihoods.”

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW welcomes this ruling which sets an important precedent for freedom of religion or belief and human rights in Mexico. However, we remain concerned that the court considers it ‘legitimate’ that these Jehovah’s Witnesses should be stripped of their rights as members of their communities. This may embolden those who commit crimes in their efforts to harass and intimidate religious minorities and who are rarely held to account. We urge the state governments of Jalisco and Oaxaca to guarantee the safe return and reintegration of these families. We also call on both federal and state governments in Mexico to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief and to ensure just outcomes for all other religious minority communities residing in temporary accommodations as a result of being expelled from their communities on account of their religious beliefs.”

Many Mexican traditional authorities mandate community uniformity in terms of religious practice and belief, compelling all members of the community to participate in the religious activities of the majority or face punishment. On 28 July 2019, four Protestant Christians were forcibly displaced from their home in Cuamontax community in the state of Hidalgo for refusing community work and financial contributions associated with the traditional Xantolo religious festival, a tradition linked to celebrations of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. The Protestant Christians have not been able to return to the community and are currently living in temporary accommodations, with no access to work.

Notes to editors:

1.       Mexico’s Law of Uses and Customs gives significant autonomy to indigenous communities to implement and maintain their own social and cultural norms. Whilst the Law of Uses and Customs is meant to be exercised in line with the individual rights guaranteed in the constitution, in reality the government at both the state and federal level does little to enforce this.

2.       The appeal in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is case number Amparo en Revisión 1041/2019, and the other appeal is case number Amparo en Revisión 777/2019.



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