In Chiapas, you will be exposed to a human rights battle that poses
entirely different and more basic problems than similar international
situations. Lawyers in Chiapas spend as much time training and educating
the local population about fundamental human rights as they do handling
actual legal complaints.
Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico, and also one
of the poorest regions in Latin America. The population is
overwhelmingly indigenous, coming from many different tribal, ethnic and
linguistic roots. Many indigenous people do not speak Spanish and live
in communities without basic facilities or services. Many communities
are composed of displaced people or refugees from conflict in other
parts of the state.
In January 1994, indigenous people and their
supporters decided to fight back against the abuses of the government,
including those involving land rights, disappearances, domestic
violence, military abuse, and the application of international human
rights treatises. The Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional led the
takeover of a number of small towns in Chiapas. Smaller scale,
low-intensity fighting has continued over the years, provoking an
increased military presence by the government and an international
presence of activists in support of the indigenous people.