Meet Some of the Funders, Big and Small, Who Care About Mexico's Human Rights Crisis

Mexico’s defense secretary, General Salvador Cienfuegos, recently made a public apology for the human rights abuses committed by soldiers in the country’s armed forces. The apology was a response to a YouTube video released last year showing federal police officers and soldiers torturing a woman by repeatedly placing a plastic bag over her head while threatening to kill her.

The problem with General Cienfuegos’ act of contrition is that he insisted the incident was isolated, perpetrated by a few bad eggs. Unfortunately, this case was far from unique, as Human Rights Watch and other NGOs have documented. As Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “For a country that is not engaged in a conflict, the estimated figures are simply staggering: 151,233 people killed between December 2006 and August 2015, including thousands of transiting migrants. Thousands of women and girls are sexually assaulted, or become victims of the crime of femicide. And hardly anyone is convicted for the above crimes.”

Given this horrifying situation, it's good to know that some funders are paying attention to Mexico’s widespread human rights abuses. Four big ones that spring to mind are the Hewlett, Ford, and Open Society Foundations, as well as the Sigrid Rausing Trust.

In recent years, Ford has been a big backer of various human rights efforts in Mexico, often those related to gender equity. OSF has made grants to the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, among other grantees. 

Hewlett has a footprint in this space through its funding to advance government transparency and accountability, with an eye on defending the rights of vulnerable populations. (Hewlett also funds on gender issues.) The foundation has a long history of working in Mexico, although it closed its office there in 2014. Examples of its grantmaking include a recently awarded grant of $230,000 to Article 19 Mexico and Central America. That organization works to advance freedom of expression, access to information, and improved human rights.

Another notable funder in this space is the U.K.-based Sigrid Rausing Trust, which names defending human rights in all of its forms as a top priority in its grantmaking. The trust also has a long history of supporting groups fighting for the rights of Mexico’s marginalized populations with a particular emphasis on women’s rights. Recent examples of related grants include a £35,000 award to the Center for Women’s Rights in support of its work defending victims of gender-based violence and enforced disappearances; and a £250,000 grant to Information Group on Reproductive Choice for its work advocating for reproductive rights, with an emphasis on abortion rights, within a human rights framework.

These funders are all heavy hitters in the international rights field. But when it comes to Mexico, small funders are also doing some pretty heavy lifting in the human rights space. Here’s a quick look at some small, but powerful funders fighting for rights in Mexico:

Angelica Foundation

Suzanne Gollin, co-founder of the Angelica Foundation, spent a lot of time in Mexico as a child. Main areas of grantmaking interest, here, include the promotion of democracy, increased transparency, women’s rights, indigenous people’s rights, drug policy reform, and “advanc[ing] humane immigration and economic policies.” Angelica has also partnered with Sigrid Rausing Trust for human rights programs and projects in Mexico and around the globe.

Peace Development Foundation

The Peace and Development Foundation works to address the social, environmental and economic causes of injustice. PDF's Community Organization grants program funds organizations in the U.S., Haiti and Mexico, focusing on building local movements that are advancing social change by exploring the root causes of injustice and connecting local rights and justice issues with the larger need for systematic change.

General Service Foundation

The General Service Foundation has been around since the mid-1940s, and throughout the decades, it has evolved its grantmaking priorities to reflect the most pervasive social problems of the times. The foundation’s international rights grantmaking is squarely focused on Mexico. GSF support is largely directed to labor and economic rights groups, many of which, the foundation claims, are led by “women who break cultural barriers by stepping into public roles.” Grants are awarded through its Human Rights & Economic Justice program, which also cuts checks to both Mexico and U.S.-based rights groups.


There are other funders that also care about Mexico's human rights situation, but this still is not a very long list. You would think more American foundations would be tuned in to Mexico, given its importance to the United States.