Miguel Angel de los Santos Cruz is among the few Mexican lawyers who have
boldly committed themselves to fighting for the basic human rights of the
indigenous people of the state of Chiapas. His nonpartisan efforts to assure
fair access to legal representation for all people -- particularly individuals
who cannot afford it and those cases brought against the state -- have led
him to consistently accept the most difficult, unpopular cases that most
lawyers in Chiapas would not choose to take on.
Although 1994 brought Chiapas to the headlines, discrimination and other human rights violations were not news to Mr. de los Santos Cruz, who worked on indigenous Mexican issues long before the revolt. His interest in human rights arose from his own arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment when he was a minor. Later, as a social worker, he provided counsel to local sugar cane laborers. He saw that peasants were deprived of their freedom and that most were unable to obtain legal representation to protect their interests. These events influenced him to study law in addition to his original scholarly track of economics.
As a lawyer, Mr. de los Santos Cruz worked for the Fray Bartolome Human Rights Center, representing indigenous Mexicans and peasants who were abused by the military, police and state authorities. He fought against human rights abuses including murder, arbitrary displacement, property damage, rape and intimidation. In addition, his legal work contributed to the publication of a Spanish language analysis of the extremely repressive Chiapas criminal code. After working in the Fray Bartolome Center, he and some young colleagues formed a group called Lawyers and Advisors Associated to offer legal services to indigent Mexicans and victims of human rights abuses. As part of this group, Mr. de los Santos Cruz continued defending similar cases, including a group of indigenous peasants captured by the Federal Army and jailed in the State Capital.
Mr. de los Santos Cruz is currently the staff attorney for CONPAZ, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations which came together in the wake of the 1994 Chiapas uprising to promote peace and provide humanitarian aide to families affected by the conflict. As the lawyer for the Human Rights Commission of CONPAZ, Mr. de los Santos Cruz defends poor, indigenous Mexicans who are victims of human rights abuses, including those accused by the govemment of membership in the rebel Zapatista army. At the height of the conflict, he participated in peaceful demonstrations that created a "belt of peace" between the two armies. In his selfless service as a champion of the people, he has been harassed, threatened and detained.
A supporter of Mr. de los Santos Cruz described him as not only a remarkable attorney and human rights advocate, but as a person of great persistence, who maintains his zeal for his clients in the face of resistance from the military and government. As Mexico emerges from decades of political repression and discrimination, his persistence will be even more needed.