Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Letter of Fr. Luisa Arriaga to Archdiocese of Ottawa

March 24, 2011

Fr. Christian Riesbeck, CC
Archdiocese of Ottawa

Dear Fr. Riesbeck,

Blessings from the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (“Center Prodh”).

I am writing to respond to your letter regarding the defamation of our organization by certain groups that have falsely accused us of supporting abortion in Mexico. The topic of abortion has never been included in the mandate or the work of Center Prodh. We respect the point of view of various groups, but we protest the defamation to which we have been subjected. As a priest, I duly respect and recognize the Catholic position related to abortion and I have never declared any public position regarding this issue.

First, I would like to clarify the nature of our organization and the work which we do on behalf of the poor, vulnerable and marginalized in our country.

Center Prodh was founded by the Mexican Province of the Society of Jesus in 1988. Its purpose is to defend and promote respect for human rights. Our work is part of the service of faith and promotion of justice which is the central mission of the Jesuits at the international level. The preferential option of Center Prodh is for the marginalized and excluded. Our priority areas are women, indigenous peoples, migrants and victims of social repression.

Center Prodh began its work more than twenty years ago amid a climate of repression by the Mexican state against social activists, church and political leaders, and communities and organizations who were making social demands. From the outset, we have defended civil and political rights, expanding our mandate in 2002 to include the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights, due to the inseparability of all human rights.

In September 2001, Center Prodh received consultative status before the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Center Prodh has likewise been recognized since 2004 as an accredited organization before the Organization of American States.

Our team is comprised of human rights professionals. I myself, the director, am a lawyer and a specialist in international human rights law.

Center Prodh maintains strong ties with the Social Apostolate Committee of the Mexican Bishops Conference. Currently, I am working with them as a consultant, supporting various dioceses in their work to improve the human rights situation in their region. Enclosed please find letter.

In close collaboration with the Diocese of San Cristóbal, in 2009 Center Prodh began a process to strengthen the traditional indigenous Tseltal justice system in Bachajón, Chiapas. Another important process is Center Prodh’s assistance in the work of the Diocese of Saltillo, in collaboration with the Apostolate of Human Mobility, in the defense and promotion of the human rights of migrants. In addition, during 2010, Center Prodh collaborated with the Diocese of Tuxpán by providing educational workshops and training to pastoral workers. The previous year, we carried out a number of “Introduction to Human Rights” workshops with over 260 pastoral workers.

With the aim of facilitating such training and workshops, Center Prodh developed a Manual of Social Pastoral Work. This publication contributes to the education of pastoral workers, with the goal of encouraging reflection on the work and motivations of those participating in the groups, as well as the link between human rights and justice.

In the article you mention in your letter, Center Prodh is falsely and without foundation accused of having supported Mexican legislation related to abortion. Allow me to clarify this issue.

Without losing their respective identities, non-governmental organizations come together in open and heterogeneous spaces with groups with different interests and perspectives, in order to combine their forces in certain specific processes. In these circles, Center Prodh participates as an equal in making decisions, and maintains its autonomy and independence.

As a prestigious human rights organization, Center Prodh maintains a close relationship with national organizations such as the Network of All Rights for All, Amnesty International Mexico, Fundar, and at the international level with the International Coalition of Human Rights Organizations, the World Organization Against Torture, and Human Rights Watch, among others. Some of these organizations do not belong to, and are not related to, the work of the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, they are excellent allies in concrete cases which benefit specific individuals.

For the process of Mexico’s Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council, Mexican non-governmental organizations decided to present a collective report, following the rules established for this mechanism. In no part of the document is it stated that all of the themes are endorsed by all of the organizations, but rather that in collaboration a general perspective is being provided.

The paragraphs dedicated to this sensitive topic were contributed by other organizations, as this is not a topic on which Center Prodh works, like many of the other issues addressed in this global document. This document did not allow for the presentation of the diversity of nuances and focuses of the many organizations involved, much less for detailed explanation of the divergences between them, especially given the length limitation.

Similarly, the flyer referred to in your letter, which was published in the journal “Público,” was signed by a network in which Center Prodh takes part. I reiterate that we do not address the issue of abortion in our work.

In relation to my participation in a Forum on violence against women organized by Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir I would like to clarify my participation. In this space many priests were invited to talk about violence against women, tragically a reality which continues to be a systematic practice in Mexico. My exposition was on the violence committed by state agents against women in Mexico; specifically I spoke of the case of San Salvador Atenco, in which Center Prodh is representing the victims. During my intervention I never addressed the subject of abortion.

I would also like to add that in 2009 a Commission from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops visited Center Prodh to investigate accusations related to our participation in the Universal Periodic Review and our alleged support for abortion. This Commission concluded that the allegations were unfounded and that the topic of abortion has never been included in the mandate or the work of Center Prodh.

Our reference points are our own ethical convictions, but also the universality of human rights. This universality has been consolidated and expressed through the international legal order.

The priority of Center Prodh is to cause no harm to anyone. Our priorities focus on the defense of the dignity and human rights of indigenous peoples, migrants, women and victims of social repression. The topics we work on are: access to justice, security and civil and political rights, as well as economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.

The selection criteria we use to identify our beneficiaries come directly from the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus: “the criterion of « greater need » points towards places or situations of serious injustice; the criterion of « more fruitful, » towards ministry which can be more effective in creating communities of solidarity; the criterion of « more universal, » towards action which contributes to structural change to create a society more based on shared responsibility.”

Center Prodh’s work over the past 22 years in defense, education, monitoring, and in raising national and international awareness, has resulted in concrete benefits for the poorest sectors in Mexican society.

Center Prodh has contributed to establishing a culture of human rights in Mexico. Through the Center’s work, more than 4,000 human rights defenders throughout the country have received training. As a result of this support, many communities have a local committee for the defense and promotion of human rights. In 2010 alone, more than 900 human rights defenders received training from Center Prodh throughout the country,
including in the poorest and most violent states in Mexico.

In addition, the defense of paradigmatic cases which exemplify structural and systematic human rights violations in Mexico have brought about concrete benefits for the victims, their families and communities, and for Mexican society in general. Center Prodh’s defense of Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta González and Teresa Alcántara, three indigenous women falsely accused of kidnapping six federal agents, resulted in their liberation and return to their community, and also resulted in a notable precedent from the Supreme Court related to due process. At the same time, the defense of this case shed light on the often forgotten reality of the discrimination and vulnerability faced by indigenous women before the Mexican justice system.

Another important achievement of Center Prodh was the Inter-American Court of Human Rights sentence in the case of the campesino ecologists Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera. Rodolfo and Teodoro organized a group to protect the forests of their community in response to increasing illegal deforestation. Because of their efforts, they were detained by the Army and tortured in order to extract confessions for crimes they had not committed. Center Prodh took on the defense of Rodolfo and Teodoro ten years ago. Early on their liberation was achieved, and recently a sentence was handed down by the Inter-American Court. This sentence requires Mexico to take measures to prevent future human rights violations.

Over the course of these years, the situation in Mexico has changed. Not all changes have been favourable, especially for those who are oppressed by, or excluded from, society. Center Prodh’s issues and strategies have also had to change: through these changes we express our unshakeable commitment to the creation of conditions which will make possible a society free from violence, oppression and fear.

The many faces of the people whose hopes and struggles we take on, along with their suffering and anger, have become specific faces. They are not only, in a generic way, victims of human rights violations whose stories affect our hearts and minds. Their stories speak of all the abuses experienced as a result of their condition: for being women, for being indigenous, for being poor, for demanding their rights, for wanting to decide on their own way of life, for not resigning themselves to the way things are. By joining in their struggle we have taken on a story woven by those who have wanted to bring about a better world.

As a Jesuit, a member of a religious order in which I have been able to cultivate a spirituality which arises from the desire to listen to the voices of the suffering, I recognize that much is missing in the effort to bring about a more egalitarian society. We should learn from those who work day after day to build equal relationships, free from all forms of domination and violence. We should learn from those who are telling us, with a voice that is often silenced, that all people have rights and that nobody, for any reason, can order the contrary.

The victims themselves are those who can best describe the work of Center Prodh. We have tried to bring hope to confront the difficult realities facing our country. Our work is directed to the construction of a society that is more just, egalitarian and fraternal, work that is essential in Mexico. These concerns address the mission which Center Prodh has been given, and are also the concerns which weigh on the poorest sectors of Mexican society.

Thank you for your attention. I’ll be glad to discuss our work when I visit Ottawa at the beginning of April.

In Christ,

Luis Arriaga Valenzuela, S.J.


  1. What a powerful statement. And this from the man we never got to hear in Ottawa. I especially like this: "We should learn from those who are telling us, with a voice that is often silenced, that all people have rights and that nobody, for any reason, can order the contrary." In all of this conflict, those who are creating the trouble have never truly bothered to listen to those who are silenced or those that work with them. If only he had had the opportunity to discuss this work with the Chancellor in Ottawa.

  2. Anonymous23 June, 2011

    A powerful letter indeed eloquently reiterating the great need for us to focus without distraction on devoting our resources to truly walking with the disadvantaged in Mexico & throughout the world.
    Christ Himself foretold of the persecution that would befall those would choose to do so ... even that it would it would come from those who claimed to follow Him. Even so, a sense of betrayal lurks behind the distasteful aspects of this whole story.
    Good on those who are resisting inappropriate & undue influence to alter how we are able to assist our partners who are directly caring for the beaten, the robbed, & the left-for-dead on the road ... we really don't want to be identified with the priest or the Levite who passed by on the other side.