12/11/11 – Perhaps being driven by a string of events in recent weeks that have called Mexico’s handling and respect of human rights into question, President Felipe Calderón has made some steps to address the issue. On December 9, Calderón held a conference at Los Pinos where he discussed the current violence in Mexico as well as awarded the National Human Rights Award to Federico Fleischmann, the founder of the organization Libre Acceso and an activist for workers’ rights and individual freedoms. Calderón also noted the importance of protecting human rights activists, a number of whom have been attacked or killed in recent weeks (see below). According to Milenio, Calderón “was deeply sorry that none of the three orders of government had been able to stop the escalation of aggression and violence against activists, journalists, and candidates and authorities of the government.”
Arguably most importantly, however, was Calderón’s announcing of a seven-point plan to address human rights violations and protect individuals as his administration’s campaign against drug trafficking moves into its fifth year. His military-centered strategy has been criticized for the resulting increase in human rights violations allegedly by the military and security forces. “These seven steps of the new security strategy will be part of a new stage that will focus on the protection of human rights and on improving the frame in which people are defended and protected,” reported La Crónica de Hoy. Perhaps most importantly, Calderón is calling for the transfer of cases involving military abuses against civilians to the civilian courts instead of being heard in military tribunals, which are notorious for extremely high levels of impunity.
As summarized by La Jornada, the strategy seeks:
1) To ensure that the participation of the military in this war against drug trafficking is conducted abiding by the laws and respecting human rights. This includes using force legitimately toward those arrested and in the hands of the authorities.
2) To ensure that appropriate records are kept of those victims found dead and appropriate files open of those victims who are missing.
3) To maintain close relationship and collaboration with the National Commission of Human Rights and to be open to criticism from international bodies.
4) To ensure that sentences dictated by the International Court of Human Rights are followed, and to ensure that local and state government fulfill these as well.
5) To intensify the capacitation of public servants.
6) To ensure the safety and protection of those defending human rights, governmental candidates, and journalists.
7) To actualize the judicial procedures by which members of the military abide; implementing a new procedure, that does not violate current law, in which these are judged by civil judges and public ministries.
Human rights have been a topic of discussion lately in Mexico. Just last week, allegations came out that an American was tortured by the Mexican military while in a Chihuahua prison. On December 7, a human rights activist was murdered, the second activist killed in two weeks. Another activist, Norma Andrade, was attacked and shot five times on December 2, though she survived, and two other human rights activists are missing after being kidnapped last week. These attacks all came the week after Mexican human rights lawyer Netzai Sandoval filed a petition with the International Criminal Court (ICC), the world’s war crimes tribunal, to open an investigation into the actions of the Mexican government and top cartel leaders over the past four years as crimes against humanity. Finally, Human Rights Watch, an international organization, published a report in November criticizing the Mexican government for the security strategy in place and for the high number of human rights violations that have been reported over the past four years, which HRW meticulously documents. The report, “Neither Rights nor Security: Killing, Torture, and Disappearances in Mexico’s War on Drugs,” can be read here.