DePaul University College of Law > Academics > Study Abroad > Chiapas, Mexico > Program


Educational Program

Since its inception in 1999, the Chiapas Human Rights Practicum has provided invaluable experiences to DePaul law students. The primary goals are to provide direct experiences in a ground-level human rights struggle and to promote the recognition of equal rights of the indigenous.

Class Program

Prior to traveling to Chiapas, you learn the history of this ever-changing human rights struggle during a semester-long class program, helping to develop the legal and political skills needed to better understand the complex situation. Topics include the Mexican legal system, Mexican political and colonial history, introductions to international human rights law, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights land the North American Free Trade Agreement. Sessions consist of assigned reading discussions, required films and video viewings. Outside speakers also are invited, and attendance is mandatory.

10-Day Program

Upon arriving in Chiapas after spring semester final exams, you meet with a wide variety of human rights organizations and have the opportunity to visit at least one indigenous village. The majority of visits take place within San Cristobal, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) capital of Chiapas. Each year the group is invited to visit at least one indigenous village to speak with the people and learn about the issues facing the community. Participants also meet with primary antagonists in the present conflict: the Mexican government and the Zapatistas. The trip also focuses on analysis and reflection; students are invited to share their thoughts in moderated discussions each evening to develop understanding of the speakers and activities.

The 10-day program ends before summer classes begin. Open to first and second year students; Spanish is not required for the 10-day program. (2 credit hours mandatory)

More about the 10-Day Program

The program consists of a very large number of meetings and visits. Typically, the group visits Oventic, which is one of the Zapatista centers (caracoles), Acteal, a village where many inhabitants were massacred by paramilitaries in 1997, and Abasolo, an indigenous village engaging in sustainable development projects.

In San Cristobal, the program typically works with many of the following groups:

Centro de Investigaciones Económicas y Políticas de Acción Comunitaria (CIEPAC), the Center for Economic and Political Research for Community Action, provides access to an alternative analysis of current events throughout Chiapas. CIEPAC assists communities with decision making and communicates the issues in Chiapas to national and international audiences.

SIPAZ, a program of international observation, began in 1995 following the Zapatista uprising. Today SIPAZ supports the search for nonviolent solutions that contribute to the construction of a just peace through building tolerance and dialogue among the actors in Chiapas as well as, increasingly, in other areas in Mexico.

Fundacion Leon XIII works with a wide number of indigenous communities to design projects for sustainable development, provide technical assistance, and obtain loans for projects such as educational initiatives or rebuilding homes. Fundacion also has a number of programs aimed to ensure that basic rights such as health, food, housing, work and education are made available to women and children.

Melel Xojobal runs a children’s project in San Cristobal, which includes two components: a children’s day care center and a street program. The cay care center, open to children up to age 5 whose parents cannot afford child care, provides two meals and basic education to stimulate their mental and physical development. The street program uses alternative educational processes to work with the youth population working or living on the streets of San Cristobal.

Jolom Mayaetik is a cooperative of 350 Tsotsil- and Tseltal-speaking indigenous women weavers from 6 different highland communities in Chiapas. Its focus is economic and political autonomy for indigenous women, and community literacy, education and health. The cooperative provides its members with economic and learning opportunities.

Union Majomut is a coffee collective made up of over 1,700 coffee-growing families from 5 Tsotsil and Tseltal communities in the Chiapas Highlands. Majomut sells its coffee through the Fair Trade industry to Europe, the U.S. and Japan, and has a small roasting facility near San Cristobal, which also allows it to sell products on a local and national level. The collective is highly organized with elected representatives and mechanisms for the creation of social services, health education, technical assistance and loan programs for members. 

Summer-Long Program

A select group of students from the 10-day program remain in Chiapas for the summer to gain additional hands-on experience in the field. You work side by side with Mexican human rights lawyers at a local human rights office. Placements are pre-arranged for field work in a number of locations in Chiapas, such as San Cristobal, Tapachula, Palenque, Comitan or Ocosingo.

This portion of the program allows Spanish-speaking law students the opportunity to study the Mexican and Inter-American legal systems in detail, to undertake specific projects on various human rights topics in the state of Chiapas, and to accompany Mexican lawyers as they respond to human rights issues.

Open to first- and second-year students; Spanish fluency is required.

More about the Summer-Long Program

Although placement opportunities in the summer-long program vary each year, the following law offices and organizations are representative of previous student placements:

Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolome de Las Casas is central to the ongoing success of the other Chiapas human rights centers. Due to its large size and history of involvement, it is widely recognized as the leading legal human rights office in Chiapas. A large staff of lawyers and legal workers investigate human rights violations and take appropriate measures using both national and international legal remedies.

Centro de Derechos de la Mujer de Chiapas focuses on the legal, social and economic obstacles faced by women throughout the region of Chiapas. The center is divided into a number of departments: social services, community outreach and education, counseling services, advocacy and legal services. The legal services department assists women with a broad range of issues such as domestic violence, divorce, custody, property rights, inheritance and employment discrimination.

Miguel Austin Pro Juarez (PRODH), located in Palenque, is a nongovernmental organization that seeks to promote a culture of respect for human rights and to defend persons or groups whose human rights have been violated. Based in Mexico City, and with legal offices in the Mexican states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca, PRODH works with local, national and international organizations to consolidate human rights protection in Mexico. PRODH focuses on 7 areas: research and analysis, legal defense, education and training, investigation and documentation of abuse, international advocacy, communication, and defense of persons with HIV/AIDS.

Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Pedro Lorenzo de La Nada, located in Ocosingo, identified as a major conflict zone due to its close proximity to the Lacandon Jungle (a Zapatista stronghold), advocates primarily for the Tzeltal indigenous community. The center provides legal services and acts as an educational center, providing training sessions and workshops in various disciplines within the human rights field. The center is responsible for maintaining documentation of human rights violations for over 40 communities in the Lacandon Jungle.

Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matias de Cordova is located in Tapachula, a community in the southernmost part of Chiapas on the border with Guatemala. The center focuses primarily on providing immigration services to displaced persons from Guatemala who have settled in Chiapas. It also handles disputes that arise between migrant workers and farm owners, and center attorneys visit prisons to provide legal assistance.

La RED de Defensores Communitarios por los Derechos Humanos is comprised of young defensores from 4 regions in Chiapas. RED provides legal services to indigenous communities in Chiapas. The organization also trains members of high-risk indigenous communities to legally defend themselves in the event of military or paramilitary action, allowing them to identify relevant legal human rights violations and respond appropriately.

Ixim Antsetic - Casa de Apoyo a la Mujer, located in Palenque, works exclusively with women, most of whom are indigenous. The range of work areas includes domestic abuse, related family matters, employment discrimination, criminal and other disciplines, as well as basic education on the human rights of women.

Comission Estatal de Derechos Humanos (CEDH) is the governmental human rights organization, engaged in the documentation of human rights complaints. Located in both the state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez and in San Cristobal, CEDH recently expanded its jurisdictional limits to include cases in litigation and the taking of advocacy stances.


Academic Credit

  • The Chiapas Human Rights Practicum receives 2 hours of academic credit toward the JD degree. All participants must register.
  • Summer-long program participants may earn up to 3 hours of academic credit, depending on first- or second-year status.
  • Participants have the option to apply credit hours toward either the spring or summer semester.