Human Rights and Civil Society

Claims of abuses by soldiers in Juárez continue to surface

Amidst a renewed escalation of violence in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, complaints of human rights abuses continue to surface against Mexican soldiers, who now are carrying out law enforcement functions in the city. Random traffic stops and searches have been commonplace, as have been home searches. The situation has been troubling and frustrating for human rights groups, who complain that there is no viable path for accountability, given that alleged abuses by Army forces are handled by an accountability office within the corporation itself. An initiative sent to congress by Pres. Calderón in May to define the terms and limits for the Army’s role in public security operations has been
tabled until after the July elections.
Human rights groups now blame soldiers for four deaths, eight disappearances, and the torture of many more. Gustavo de la Rosa, from the Chihuahua state human rights commission, said that public security in Juárez has worsened since the arrival of thousands of soldiers in late March. The Houston Chronicle reported one Juárez attorney claiming to have received more than 500 complaints against soldiers during that time.

For his part, Guillermo Galván, Secretary of Defense for Mexico, denied that Mexican soldiers played any part in the deaths and disappearances for which they are accused. Enrique Torres, spokesperson for the joint military and federal police operation to stabilize Ciudad Juárez, insisted that all claims of abuse will be investigated. He also warned that criminals could be disguising themselves as soldiers in order to carry out attacks and torture. This has been suggested by officials in the past as a possible method for drug traffickers to undermine public support for military operations.

In related news, reporters from two Juárez television networks and a radio station filed formal complaints with the Army office that investigates complaints of abuse at the hands of soldiers operating under Joint Operation Chihuahua. The accused soldiers reportedly beat the reporters with the butts of their rifles in an effort to keep them from reporting on a traffic accident caused by police and soldiers. To date, the implicated soldiers have been arrested, and officials say the allegations will be investigated by an Army special prosecutor. The Mexican congress recently passed a bill making attacks against journalists federal crimes to be investigated by the federal Attorney General’s Office, though again, soldiers fall outside this jurisdiction.

From the June Justice in Mexico Project’s Monthly News Report:

“Ejército agredió a periodistas en Juárez.” El Paso Times June 5, 2009.
Salazar García, Juan. “Arrestados…nada más.” El Mexicano June 6, 2009.
Althaus, Dudley. “Soldados Acusados de desapariciones y abusos en Ciudad Juárez.” Houston Chronicle June 17, 2009.

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