05/27/12 (written by cmolzahn) – In its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011, the U.S. State Department pointed to a pattern of complaints of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Mexican Army (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, Sedena) and Navy (Secretaría de Marina, Semar) within the context of the fight against what it terms as Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs). The report cites an absence of clear protocols and rules of engagement as the overarching cause of abuses of citizens at the hands of security forces. It is the third consecutive report from the State Department criticizing the Mexican government’s handling of human rights abuses committed in the country.
The report included a section titled “Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life,” citing several persons killed over 2011, including Joaquín Figueroa Vásquez, murdered on June 17 by a bullet to the head during a high-speed chase involving state and federal security forces. His family claimed that his body showed signs of torture, and that the wound he sustained pointed to an execution-style killing. The report also provided an update on proceedings against security personnel accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings. In October, a military court sentenced two officers and 12 soldiers to prison sentences ranging from 16 to 40 years for the killings of three individuals at a military checkpoint in La Jolla, Sinaloa in July 2007. It reported that there were no developments in two high-profile cases from 2010 – one involving two Tec Monterrey students killed by soldiers in March 2010, and another involving a June 2010 finding by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) that Army personnel altered the scene where Martin and Bryan Almanza Salazar, ages five and nine, were shot to death in April the same year, in order to claim that they had been killed in the crossfire during a gun battle with cartel members, which they boys’ parents vehemently denied.
The report also indicated “multiple reports” of forced disappearance by members of the military and police. In March, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances found a lack of will on the part of authorities to investigate reports of forced disappearances, and indicated that the number of such reports made to its organization had tripled since 2010. In terms of kidnappings, the report cited government figures indicating a 6% increase in kidnappings in the first half of 2011 as compared with 2010. It also noted the widespread practice of families dealing directly with kidnappers or through private third parties instead of going to the authorities, often fearing police involvement in the kidnappings. Arbitrary arrests and detentions are also of concern, with the CNDH fielding 1,744 complaints of such treatment during 2011.
As with previous years, the report drew attention to the damning conditions that detainees encounter, including torture and “other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,” citing 1,626 complaints received by the CNDH of such treatment, as well as 42 complaints of torture, compared with 1,170 and 10, respectively in 2010. The report also expressed concern that confessions obtained through torture and degrading treatment were being admitted in courts, despite the inadmissibility of such confessions according to Mexican law. Moreover, the report cited overall poor conditions at prisons and detention centers due to endemic corruption, overcrowding, alcoholism, drug addiction, and prisoner abuse, as well as insufficient or nonexistent medical and psychiatric care.
The State Department report expressed concern that despite a constitutional mandate for an independent judiciary, “court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level,” citing the Center of Economic and Educational Investigation (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, CIDE). Of particular concern is the continued failure to ensure that alleged abuses against civilians carried out by military personnel are handled by civilian courts and not under military jurisdiction, despite a July 2011 ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court that said that such cases should be guided by international conventions to which Mexico has signed.
Freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly and association were also worrisome areas for the report’s authors. The report pointed to continued attacks against media outlets and journalists, and resulting self-censorship. It referenced the acts of police repression against approximately 500 students from the Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa in Guerrero demonstrating against conditions at the school in December of last year, which resulted in the deaths of two student protestors. The report also made note of other societal problems linked to human rights abuses, such as femicides, domestic violence, human trafficking, child labor, and social and economic discrimination against indigenous populations.
The report from the U.S. State Department has potential ramifications for continued cooperation between the two countries in the fight against international drug trafficking organizations. Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said that the administration of President Barack Obama is reviewing the human rights situation in Mexico in order to reevaluate its continued commitment to the Mérida Initiative, the multi-billion dollar aid package to bolster rule of law and the justice system in Mexico.
The full report can be found at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm#wrapper.