U.S. Congress reacts to human rights concerns in Mexico

logo of Merida Initiative

Source: The Yucatán Times.

08/16/16 (written by kheinle) — Human rights concerns in Mexico have prompted the U.S. Congress to urge the State Department to take action. A letter sent August 9 sponsored by Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs called on Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department to withhold 15% of funds allocated for distribution to Mexico under the Merida Initiative for the coming year. From 2008 through 2015, Congress required that at least a portion (15%) of U.S. support through the Merida Initiative be contingent on specific human rights conditions. Such conditions are currently up for review.

With the support of 68 fellow members of Congress, the letter highlighted the grave human rights situation in Mexico as cause for withholding the next round of Merida funding. The letter specifically pointed to the 27,000 unresolved cases of disappeared persons in Mexico, a number that has amassed in just under ten years. It also focused on the disappearance and presumed murder of 43 students who went missing while detained by Mexican security forces in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in September 2014. That case remains unresolved despite several reputable investigations by international organizations and experts, including the most recent study concluded in April 2016 by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes, GIEI) that found demonstrable “control and monitoring, if not active involvement, from all levels of [Mexican] security—ministerial, municipal, state, federal and military—in the incident,” among other grave concerns. The Congressional letter additionally pointed to the massacre in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex) in June 2014 during which Mexican soldiers killed 22 civilians in a warehouse, 15 of whom were killed extrajudicially. Lastly, the legislators cited “Mexico’s persistent use of torture in criminal investigations,” as well as “the slow pace of reform in the military, law enforcement, and justice sectors” as reasons for U.S. action. Indeed, the State Department even acknowledged such violations in the Mexico section of its most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015. “The most significant human rights-related problems included law enforcement and military involvement in serious abuses, such as unlawful killings, torture, and disappearances,” the report read. “Impunity and corruption in the law enforcement and justice system remained serious problems.”

WOLA logo

Source: WOLA.

Washington Office on Latin America’s (WOLA) Senior Associate Maureen Meyer, an expert in U.S.-Mexico relations, commented on the Congressional letter to Secretary Kerry, noting that human rights must remain a priority. “Maintaining a strong bilateral relationship with the United States’ neighbor and partner should not be at the expense of an honest dialogue about the human rights crisis in Mexico and the lack of accountability for the authorities responsible for these crimes,” she writes. Meyer’s comments draws on the fact that the Merida Initiative is exemplary of the strong ties between the United States and Mexico, but that it should not supersede the protection of fundamental human rights in Mexico.

It is important to contextualize the Merida Initiative. From FY2008 to FY2015, U.S. Congress allocated $2.5 billion in Merida funding to Mexico to support four pillars: (1) Disrupting organized crime groups, (2) institutionalizing the rule of law, (3) creating a 21st-century border, and (4) building strong and resilient communities. Thus, Merida funding supports a number of other key rule-of-law pillars in addition to the protection of human rights. As such, funding will continue through 2016, as the work to strengthen and maintain a strong rule of law in Mexico is far from complete. This notion was argued in Justice in Mexico’s July 2016 publication, “Policy Brief: The State of Judicial Sector Reform in Mexico,” in which the authors commend Mexico’s clear strides made in recent years to overhaul its criminal justice system, moving from an outdated, inquisitorial model to a new, transparent, and efficient adversarial system. However, the authors note that while “Mexico is one step closer to reaching a more just society … its path will no doubt remain long, steep, and sometimes rocky.” The 69 signatories to the recent Congressional letter to Secretary Kerry echoed that idea, acknowledging Mexico for its advances towards a more just society on the one hand while advocating for more work to be done on the other. “We commend the Government of Mexico for taking important legislative steps to advance human rights protections and to reform its criminal justice system,” the letter reads. “However, having good laws on the books does not ensure justice; Mexican authorities must enforce the law and respect human rights.”

To read the letter in full, click here.

 

Sources:

“CNDH issues recommendations for Tlatlaya massacre as case moves to federal civil court.” Justice in Mexico. November 30, 2014.

Ribando Seelke, Clare and Kristin Finklea. “U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond.” Congressional Research Service. February 22, 2016.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. “Country Reports on Human Rights Practice for 2015: Mexico.” U.S. Department of State. April 2016.

Heinle, Kimberly et al. “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015.” Justice in Mexico. April 2016.

“Ayotzinapa Disappeared 43 Students Case Remains Unsolved.” Justice in Mexico. May 2, 2016.

Cortés, Nancy et al. “Policy Brief: The State of Judicial Sector Reform in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. July 25, 2016.

Government Communication. United States Congress of the United States. August 9, 2016.

Press Release. “Congressman Lowenthal Calls on State Dept. To Prioritize Human Rights and Justice Reform in Bilateral Talks With Mexico.” Office of U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal. August 10, 2016.

Press Release. “U.S. Congress Expresses Concern for Mexico’s Human Rights Crisis and Sends Letter to Secretary Kerry.” Washington Office on Latin America. August 11, 2016.

Ayotzinapa Disappeared 43 Students Case Remains Unsolved

Family members of the 43 students display signs during the GIEI’s presentation of their findings on Sunday. Source: The New York Times.

Family members of the 43 disappeared students display signs during the GIEI’s presentation of their findings on Sunday.  Source: The New York Times.

05/2/16 (written by elefavour) –In 608 pages of discoveries, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes, “GIEI”) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reveals new details and evidence surrounding the case of the 43 students that went missing from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in September 2014. The most recent report, Informe Ayotzinapa II, released April 24th, provides extensive investigative analysis of the events of September 26-27, 2014.

Rewinding to 2014, the 43 students were from the Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero traveling through Iguala to Mexico City. Approximately one hundred students planned to “steal” buses from the station in Iguala,and in neighboring areas to attend a march commemorating a student massacre that occurred in 1968 in Mexico City. The students planned to return the buses following the conclusion of the event. The local bus companies typically tolerated this, as it was an annual tradition for the college. At 9:15pm September 26, 2014, five buses with students left for Ayotzinapa, three buses taking the northward route, and two buses taking the southward route. Based on the findings from the Informe Ayotzinapa II and the New York Times, the three buses heading north immediately came into contact with federal police firing warning shots at the buses, and then the police actively shot at the buses and at the students inside. Aldo Gutiérrez, a student, was shot in the head, and two additional students were shot requiring an emergency dispatch at approximately 9:48pm. Finally, at approximately 10:50pm, the remaining students heading northward were taken in six to seven patrol vehicles based on eyewitness accounts.

Meanwhile, at approximately 9:40pm, around the same time as the three buses on the northern route were intercepted, police also stopped one of the buses traveling on the southern route toward Ayotzinapa, breaking the bus’s windows and using tear gas to force the passengers out of the bus. It is evident the police were pre-stationed to intercept the students because authorities also stopped other students, not affiliated with the students from Ayotzinapa. About seven miles outside Iguala, a gunmen fired on a suspect bus carrying the Los Avispones soccer team from nearby Chilpancingo killing a soccer player and the driver, and wounding seven other passengers.

Immediately following the night of September 26, the families demanded answers from the government about the whereabouts of their children as well as the cause of the violence. After four excruciating months, the Attorney General at the time, Jesús Murillo Karam, stated to the press: “after an “exhaustive, serious” investigation, “the evidence allows us to determine that the students were kidnapped, killed, burned and thrown into the river.” He included preliminary evidence such as photographs of charred remains, snippets of videotaped confessions and images of the crime scene.

President Peña Nieto, who built his campaign platform on ending violence in Mexico, offered the following statement to the people of Mexico in January, 2015—four months after the abduction of the 43 students:

“In this sorrowful, tragic and painful moment in the history of Mexico, we can’t be trapped. We can’t be stuck there,” he said. “We have to give it attention. There has to be justice. There has to be punishment for those who were responsible for these regrettable acts, but we have to take the course of continuing to assure that Mexico has a better future.”

For all practical purposes in the Peña Nieto administration, the case was closed.

GIEI Ayotzinapa Findings

However, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) formed a panel of five lawyers and human rights specialists from Latin America and Spain to further investigate the incident and flush out the inconsistencies. The panel first convened in March 2015. The panel worked together for a second time on April 24th, 2016, releasing their findings live at press conference in Mexico City and also through their twitter account. The most important findings include the following:

“First, it is now clear, there was central government control and monitoring, if not active involvement, from all levels of security: ministerial, municipal, state, federal and military in the incident. This also included involvement from the Huitzco, and the Iguala local police forces. These police officers were aware, participated, and directly influenced the capture of the students meaning the case was not only an issue at “the local level.”

Second, using United Nations guidelines for the documentation of torture, the panel determined that 17 (of approximately 170) of the government’s suspects had been tortured while in the custody of the Mexican government. All “forced” testimonies from these individuals would be inadmissible in a Mexican court of law.

Third, “there still remains zero evidence that a fire happened in the Cocula landfill the night of September 26-27 that was big enough to burn 43 bodies.” Additionally, videos taken by journalists revealed that one of the suspects was hauled to the crime scene with the office of the Attorney General (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) potentially to “plant” the bone fragment remains, and the official reason why he was taken there was completely omitted from the PGR’s report.

Fourth, The PGR’s version of the report said that the students’ phones had been destroyed in Cocula, but telephones continued to be active days after September 26 and this development has not been investigated despite the fact the last location of the phones contradicts the PGR report.

Finally, Julio César Mondragón, a student that initially went missing, was found with “facial skin and muscles torn away from his head, his skull was fractured in several places, and his internal organs were ruptured.” Due to bureaucratic delays, Mondragón’s body had to go through two autopsies and a three-month delay for government approval, thus re-victimizing the family.

President Peña Nieto stated he would not authorize a third investigation. On April 25th, President Obama stated, “We trust the Mexican authorities will carefully consider the report’s recommendations, evaluate suggested actions to address the issue of forced disappearances.” Moving forward, it is uncertain whether or not the truth behind the disappearance of the 43 students will ever be solved. However, the international community remains committed to providing justice to the families of the victims. Alejandro Valencia, a Colombian lawyer and member of the GIEI panel succinctly explains their position: “the Ayotzinapa case has put the country at a crossroads, from which it has yet to emerge, and for that it needs a strengthening of the rule of law and of the defense, the guarantee and respect for human rights.”

Sources:

“GIEI Ayotzinapa.” Twitter. April 28, 2016.

Gallagher, Erin. “Mexico: GIEI Final Report on the Ayotzinapa Case.” Revolution News. April 24, 2016.

Semple, Kirk. “Missing Mexican Students Suffered a Night of ‘Terror,’ Investigators Say.” The New York Times. April 24, 2016.

Informe Ayotzinapa II: Avances y nuevas conclusions sobre la investigación, búsqueda y atención a las víctimas. Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes. April 24, 2016.

Semple, Kirk and Elisabeth Malkin. “El gobierno mexicano no colaboró con nuestra investigación sobre lo que sucedió en Ayotzinapa: GIEI.” The New York Times. April 25, 2016.

Archibold, Randal C. “Mexico Officially Declares Missing Students Dead.” The New York Times. January 27, 2015.

New Investigations for the 43 missing Ayotzinapa Students

Family members demand justice and answers for 43 missing students.

Family members demand justice and answers for 43 missing students. Source: cnnespanol.cnn.com

12/11/15 (written by alagorio) – On December 1st, parents of the missing forty-three Ayotzinapa students lifted the protest camp at the capital. The decision came after the Interior Department announced the creation of a new specialized investigation unit. For more than a year the parents did not accept the original government conclusions in the case.

The Interior Department deputy secretary for human rights, Roberto Campa, announced that a “fresh group” of investigators would be taking on the case. Provincia reports that Campa said the new investigation will focus on looking into who gave orders to the accused criminal group Guerreros Unidos. The investigation will also look into the role of the police in the disappearances. Campa mentioned that authorities have already searched in six hundred and sixty-nine places for the missing forty-three students.

The Washington Post reports that the new investigation is influenced by international experts and human rights groups who cast doubt on the Mexican government’s account of the case. The official story published by the Mexican government stated that the criminal organization, Guerreros Unidos, burned the student’s bodies at the Cocula trash dump. Nevertheless, there were numerous scientific facts that contradicted the government’s account of the events.

The new investigations address parents demands for the Ayotzinapa students. The students disappeared more than a year ago on September 26.

Sources:

“Padres de los desaparecidos de Ayotzinapa levantan plantón.” Provincia. December 1, 2015.

“Padres de normalistas de Ayotzinapa concluyen plantón en Los Pinos.” CNNMéxico. December 1, 2015.

“Parents of Missing Students End Mexico City Protest Camp.” The Washington Post. December 1, 2015.

 

From Tlatelolco to Ayotzinapa: A Protest for the Disappeared

Over 50,000 people united in protest over the disappeared in Tlatelolco and Ayotzinapa

Over 50,000 people united in Mexico City to protest the disappeared in Tlatelolco and Ayotzinapa. Source: el informador.com.mx

10/4/2015 (by emartinez)- The October 2 massacre commemorative manifestation began under a united voice of “no more impunity and justice”. Named “From Tlatelolco to Ayotzinapa,” the protest involved all sectors that are in pursuit of “truth and justice” from the past and present actions by the Mexican government.

While Tlatelolco´s massacre was the main motivation for the October 2 protest, public outrage against last year’s happenings in Ayotzinapa, when 43 students at a teachers´ college in southern Mexico vanished, reminds the Mexican government of the legacy of the disappeared in the country.

The 1968 Tlatelolco massacre happened when federal police attacked unarmed students who were protesting near The Three Cultures Square in Mexico City, against the Institutional Revolutionary Party´s rule (Partido Revolucionario Institucional- PRI), political exclusion and police violence. Estimates of the death toll ranged from 30 to 300, with eyewitnesses reporting hundreds dead.

It is important to remember that the parents of the 43 vanished students, succeeded in meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto on September 24, 2015, in order to be informed and present some petitions regarding the investigations of the student´s case. Some of the petitions presented in that day were: the public legitimation of the protest and to maintain the investigations open, to follow the interdisciplinary independent expert’s group recommendations regarding the case, to create a specialized investigation unit conformed by two sections under international supervision that will follow up the investigations regarding the students whereabouts and the disguised truth that the government tried to make up, to do a new research with updated technology, to stop criminalizing the students and the “Normal Rural Isidro Burgos” teacher´s college by relating them to crime and finally to recognize the impunity and human right violations that have plagued the Mexican state.

Moreover, on this year´s October 2 manifestation, members of the “68 committee,” the committee responsible for the organization of the movement and seeks for the prosecution of the persons involved in the massacre, demanded the reopening of 53 pending prosecutor´s investigations for the October 2 massacre. Mexican politicians including Luis Echeverria have been under investigation, specifically, since he may have ordered the Mexican police force to open fire on unarmed students that day.

At least 50, 000 persons marched through the city to commemorate the tragedy in peaceful protest. Nevertheless, once the protest was over, a group of self-called anarchists attacked federal and local police officers who were guarding the National Palace, located in Mexico City’s downtown square. Four persons were arrested following the attacks. According to Mexico City’s Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera Espinosa, the attacks were caused by “the same groups as always”.

Carrying banners and chanting antigovernment slogans, protesters participating in the “From Tlatelolco to Ayotzinapa” march remind the government that the disappeared have not been forgotten and that answers must be given. Although, there have been several massacres (such as the 68 massacre, Atenco´s massacre and now Ayotzinapa´s) among Mexican history this is the first time that the October 2 manifestation joins Ayotzinapa´s against the government looking for answers and demanding no more impunity.

Sources:

http://mexico.cnn.com/nacional/2015/10/02/enfrentamiento-en-el-df-entre-encapuchados-y-policias-en-la-marcha-del-68

http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ultimas/2015/10/03/201clos-grupos-de-siempre201d-los-generadores-de-la-violencia-en-la-marcha-senala-mancera-2568.html

http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/articulo/metropoli/df/2015/10/2/inicia-marcha-del-2-de-octubre

http://www.informador.com.mx/mexico/2015/617576/6/inicia-marcha-del-2-de-octubre-en-ciudad-de-mexico.htm

https://americasouthandnorth.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/on-this-date-in-latin-america-october-2-1968-the-tlatelolco-massacre-in-mexico/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/world/americas/against-odds-seeking-hope-for-mexican-students-who-vanished-a-year-ago.html?_r=0

Panel of Experts Rejects Mexican Government’s Account of Ayotzinapa Disappearances

Family members and friends of missing Ayotzinapa students wait for an international panel of experts to presents its findings. Source: New York Times

Family members and friends of missing Ayotzinapa students wait for an international panel of experts to presents its findings.
Source: New York Times

9/18/15 (written by rkuckertz) – An international panel of experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights recently released a report contradicting the Mexican government’s official account of how 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College disappeared last September near Iguala, Guerrero. According to the report, elements of the government’s explanation of the tragedy are inconsistent with scientific evidence procured by the panel of experts.

The report illuminates inconsistencies with the federal government’s version of these events—an account they claimed to be the “historical truth” this past January. According to the government’s narrative, municipal police in the state of Guerrero attacked several buses in various locations that carried as many as one hundred students in total. Following a shootout in which six people were killed, the 43 students were handed off to members of a local drug-trafficking gang, Guerreros Unidos, before being transported in trucks to a trash dump in Cocula, Guerrero. According to the January account, fifteen of these students were already dead upon arrival to the site and the remaining students were then executed. The government maintains that the remains were then incinerated and tossed into the nearby San Juan River.

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights’ report has noted several large disparities between this account and evidence retrieved throughout the course of the investigation. For instance, the panel determined that it is “scientifically impossible” that the remains of the missing students were incinerated at the Cocula trash dump—a fact that the federal government claims to be true.

Following the report’s release, President Enrique Peña-Nieto tweeted that he had instructed members of his cabinet to support the ongoing investigation into the events occurring near Iguala. The Attorney General also extended the panel’s ability to remain in Mexico in order to continue its search for a true account of what happened to the missing 43 students. This response is uncharacteristic of past government reactions to the crisis. Rafael Fernández de Castro Medina, a foreign policy adviser to former President Felipe Calderón, states that “the strategy for Ayotzinapa has been do not rock the boat and let the popular indignation run its course.” However, experts such as New York Times foreign correspondent Azam Ahmed believe that the government’s unprecedented reception of the new report may suggest that the government is beginning to accept a role of responsibility in the events occurring near Iguala last year. A senior member of Peña-Nieto’s cabinet reported the president saying, “we need to do things different.”

Meanwhile, experts at the University of Innsbruck in Austria have recently identified a second set of remains to be one of the missing Ayotzinapa students, Jhosivani Guerrero de la Cruz. Jhosivani would now be twenty years old and wanted to teach in the community of Omeapa, Guerrero. His remains were identified through the analysis of bone fragments reportedly recovered from the San Juan River. The Argentina Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense, EAAF) identified the first set of remains this past December as belonging to Alexander Mora Venancio, another Ayotzinapa student. Although EAAF did confirm the identity of these remains, they also indicated that they were not involved in the discovery of the bone fragments used in their DNA analysis. Consequently, the team of Argentine experts could neither confirm nor deny that the fragments were recovered from the San Juan River, as the Mexican government asserts. The expert panel appointed by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights also asserts that physical evidence collected at the dumpsite failed to support the government hypothesis that the remains were cremated there.

Sources:

Ahmed, Azam. “Report Renews Hope and Doubt on Missing Students in Mexico.” New York Times. 9 September 2015.

Goldman, Francisco. “The Missing Forty-Three: The Government’s Case Collapses.” New Yorker. 8 June 2015.

Malking, Elizabeth. “Mexico: 2nd Missing Student Identified.” New York Times. 17 September 2015.

Villegas, Paulina. “Experts Reject Official Account of How 43 Mexican Students Were Killed.” New York Times. 6 September 2015.

“Identifican a Jhosivani, el segundo normalista de Ayotzinapa.” Vanguardia. 17 September 2015.