03/30/14 (written by cmolzahn) — During the 53rd meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), participating States issued Mexico 176 recommendations to improve human rights in the country, of which the Mexican government accepted 166. Notable rejections were a recommendation to eliminate the practice of arraigo, in addition to a recommendation to allow the U.N.’s Committee on Forced Disappearances to investigate individual cases of forced disappearances.
Mexico has elected to maintain its practice of arraigo—a 40-day period that can be extended up to 80 days in which an individual may be detained without charges pending an investigation—despite four recommendations from participating countries to end the practice. The recommendations cited previous recommendations from the U.N.’s Committee against Torture. Arraigo became a common practice as the Mexican government ramped up its efforts to counter organized crime groups under the administration of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), and have since become the object of criticism from human rights advocates who maintain that the practice represents human rights violations. Mexico took note of the recommendation, but reaffirmed its belief in its validity. In 2008, the Mexican Congress passed constitutional reforms limiting the use of arraigo to cases involving organized crime. There is currently a proposed constitutional reform in the Mexican Senate that would further limit the practice, likely shortening the allowed duration. Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), the agency that principally employs arraigo, has acknowledged that it has led to abuses by authorities, and has expressed its support for limiting its reach. Lía Limón, Mexico’s assistant interior minister, added that in recent years the practice has not improved the justice system, pointing out that of more than 4,000 arraigos carried out, only 129 resulted in convictions.
Meanwhile, Mariana Benítez, head of the PGR’s judicial and international affairs office (Subprocuraduría Jurídica y de Asuntos Internacionales), announced in late March that 630 people had been subjected to arraigo in 2013, as compared to 2,050 in 2011, a 75% reduction. Speaking at the 150th session of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC) in Washington, D.C., Benítez said that there are currently 35 individuals being held at the Federal Arraigos Center (Centro Federal de Arraigos), which she said reflects a drastic reduction in comparison with previous years. She emphasized that arraigo was employed to achieve three goals: to protect life and property, to protect the integrity of an investigation, and to ensure that an individual considered a flight risk does not flee. Benítez added that, “We no longer employ arraigo in starting an investigation, but rather for special circumstances which in the process of an investigation the prosecuting authority considers that (arraigo) is much more opportune for protecting other rights, including those of the implicated individual.”
In addition, Mexico only partially accepted a request from Uruguay and France to allow the UNHRC’s Committee on Forced Disappearances to investigate such cases, and to create an official registry of disappeared persons. Representatives for the Mexican government responded that the PGR currently maintains a database of missing persons, and is working to modify it in accordance with international standards. They rejected, however, the UNHRC committee’s authority to look into cases of forced disappearance in Mexico.
During the meeting, human rights organizations were given the opportunity to make statements, during which a representative from the World Organization against Torture (Organización Mundial contra la Tortura, OMCT) denounced that, despite repeated recommendations regarding the issue, torture continues to be used by members of Mexico’s police forces and military to obtain confessions. The representative also expressed concern over the continued practice of arraigo, as well as the Mexican government’s failure to address the “chilling” resurgence of forced disappearances, citing 26,121 such cases, which the government has not adequately pursued. For her part, Lía Limón said that a National Human Rights Program (Programa Nacional de Derechos Humanos 2014-218) would soon be released, which will focus on harmonizing national law with international human rights standards. She added that an implementation team would be formed for each of the 166 recommendations accepted by the Mexican government. Amnesty International also issued a statement following Mexico’s decision to retain the practice of arraigo, calling it a “very negative” sign of the Mexican government’s commitment to defending human rights.