Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Mexico Chapter of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal: Free Trade, Violence, Impunity and Peoples’ Rights

            Legal systems are established to deliver justice to wrongfully injured parties.  Nevertheless, in societies around the world, the law is frequently used to impede, rather than to facilitate, access to justice.  In such situations, the State might use its attributes and powers to benefit private interests that are contrary and prejudicial to public interests.  The Mexico chapter of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) characterizes this phenomenon -- of private interests’ co-opting a State and diverting the State’s resources to private, rather than public, needs -- as “desviacion de poder”: that is, “misuse of power.”[1]

            The concept of “misuse of power” is the central concern of the Mexico chapter of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT).  The Tribunal does not simply affirm legal rights, but also highlights the incompatibility of the free trade economic model with universally recognized rights.[2]  In the Mexico chapter of the Tribunal, the Tribunal’s main theme is “Free Trade, Violence, Impunity, and Peoples’ Rights.”

General Structure of the Mexico Chapter of the Tribunal

            To understand the Tribunal’s work in Mexico, one must understand the Tribunal’s structure.  The Tribunal consists of different audiences and pre-audiences throughout Mexico.  The audiences include (i) a general introductory audience; (ii) seven thematic audiences; and (iii) a final audience. 

The Tribunal held a general introductory audience during May 2012 in Ciudad Juarez in the state of Chihuahua.  At this audience, the Tribunal listened to communities and organizations present evidence on the destructive relationship between free trade policies and the seven thematic audience topics.  The Tribunal issued a finding at the end of the general introductory audience about the results of the hearing and initiated the seven thematic audiences.[3]

The seven thematic audiences will continue until the Tribunal adjourns in 2014.  These separate audiences, which are the Tribunal’s “work groups,” cover the following topics: (i) dirty war; (ii) violence against migrants; (iii) violence against women; (iv) violence against workers; (v) violence against food sovereignty; (vi) environmental devastation; and (vii) violence against the media.

Each thematic audience will involve a hearing devoted to one of these topics, considered in relation to the structural violence produced by a free trade, neoliberal economic model.  For example, the Tribunal’s judges will hold a separate hearing on the violence inflicted on women by this economic model.  The Tribunal’s judges will also hold a separate hearing on the environmental devastation caused by free trade neoliberal policies. 

During the separate thematic audiences, the goal is to reveal the relationship that each theme has to violence generated by free trade neoliberal economic policies.  The Tribunal encourages the presenting of witnesses’ testimony at each audience, but does not require it.  Each thematic audience lasts about a day and a half or two days.  The judges issue a finding that is made public at the end of the audience.  Because the Tribunal is a public opinion court, the findings do not legally bind the State or individuals.  Nevertheless, grassroots movements and organizations may use the findings as part of their overall strategies for engaging in civil resistance.

After the seven hearings for the different thematic audiences, the Tribunal will conclude with a final audience.  In the final audience, the judges will use the information collected and the findings issued in the other hearings to discuss free trade’s adverse impact on the rights of the people, to indicate those responsible for violating the people’s rights, to publicize the violations, and to shed light on the relationships between free trade, violence, and the judicial system.[4]

Structure of the Thematic Audiences and Pre-Audiences

Although the work done in each thematic audience is notable, the bulk of the grassroots component of the Tribunal arguably occurs during the pre-audiences. 

The next article in this series will examine the pre-audiences, their structure, their importance to the Tribunal’s mission, and their role in organizing communities practicing civil resistance.

[1] Silvia Ribeiro, Desviación de Poder, La Jornada, July 28, 2012, at

[2] Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos, Boletín Informativo No. 3, at  

[3] Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos, Dictamen de la Audiencia General Introductoria, May 27-29, 2012, at

[4] Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos, Boletín Informativo No. 3, at   

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