Human Rights and Civil Society

Indigenous people face different legal rules

In Mexico, the indigenous population makes up about 12 million people or 13% of the national population. However, many indigenous advocates still complain that they  face difficulties in making themselves heard politically and obtaining justice in Mexico’s slow legal system. One reason for this is because these communities often suffer from low education levels, lack of economic development, and some may speak Spanish as a second language (many indigenous languages are still widely spoken in Southern Mexico, especially among older generations). However, another reason is their different legal status. Many indigenous people in Mexico lack the “legal capacity” (personalidad jurídica) to enter into a contract or participate in litigation proceedings in their own name.

Andrés Galván Rivas, the President of the Senate Commission on Indigenous Affairs, has discussed two potential reforms to strengthen their power. The first involves changing indigenous people’s legal status so that they have greater individual legal standing. The second involves encouraging them to participate in policy creation. Last year, the national Senate proposed a law that would require indigenous communities to be consulted every time a new law affecting them is proposed. Other nations like Chile have taken similar steps in order to avoid marginalizing indigenous populations politically.

Moreover, international laws recognize their right to participate in the policy-making process as well as maintain their language, customs, and culture. Some of the more recent laws include the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 and the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention in 1989 (organized by the UN’s International Labour Organization). Both of these have been ratified by Mexico, yet many indigenous rights organizations say that Mexico still has to do a better job of addressing their concerns, including them in the political process, and protecting their communities’ right to autonomy.


Notimex/AYV. “Proponen expedir Ley del Sistema Nacional de Consulta Indígena.” El Financiero en Linea. Septiembre 19, 2009.

Hernández, Gabriela. México: Indígenas, sin personalidad jurídica.” Prensa Indígena. Enero 22, 2010.

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