The Mayan Train could affect the rights of indigenous peoples in Mexico, experts warn

The Mayan Train, a government megaproject with private participation seeks to promote development and tourism in five states in the southeast of the country. Human rights specialists warn that it would jeopardize the guarantees of the original communities to the land, natural resources, and the environment. And they ask that these peoples be included in decision-making.

Nine special rapporteurs and a UN human rights working group warned this Wednesday that the Mayan Train could endanger the rights of indigenous peoples and other communities to land and natural resources, cultural rights, and the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

The Mayan Train is a mega-project of the Mexican government with the participation of the private sector that includes 1,500 kilometers of railways laid across the Yucatan peninsula and the two states of the Tehuantepec isthmus, in the southeast of the country, and that seeks to reduce the times and freight and passenger transport costs to promote development and boost the tourism industry.

National Security Project

In a joint statement, the experts stressed that since the government has elevated the Mayan Train to the category of a national security project, it can derogate the application of environmental and social safeguards, and affirmed that this classification does not allow Mexico to evade its international obligations to respect the human rights of the people affected and to protect the environment.

“This decision not only has the potential to allow human rights abuses to go unaddressed but also undermines the purpose of the project to bring inclusive and sustainable social and economic development to the five Mexican states involved,” Fernanda said. Hopenhaym, Chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

Hopenhaym added that the increasing involvement of the military in the construction and management of the project also “raises great concern.”

The rapporteurs stated that human rights defenders who have pointed out the project’s negative impacts face threats and attacks, and stressed that their access to an independent and impartial tribunal is limited.

Indigenous Participation

“As a state-led project, the Mexican government should take additional steps to ensure respect for human rights and the environment,” they stressed.

In this sense, they asked the government to guarantee the substantive participation of the affected communities and called for transparency in the evaluations of human rights and environmental impact before making any future decision related to the Mayan Train, with the intention of preventing any other negative effect.

The experts stressed that the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples must be respected and that the actual and potential cumulative impacts of projects must be transparently assessed, as established by international human rights and environmental standards.

The Private Sector Cannot Turn a Blind Eye

Regarding the companies -some of them transnationals- and private investors in the project of $20 billion dollars, the rapporteurs showed great concern for the lack of diligence regarding human rights and urged them to take provisions and exert their influence to guarantee the exercise of the fundamental guarantees of the inhabitants of the five states involved.

“Relevant companies and investors domiciled in Spain, the United States and China cannot turn a blind eye to the serious human rights problems related to the Mayan Train project,” the experts emphasized.

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