Photo: Rights Groups in Mexico Say Country's Cops and Soldiers Guilty of Numerous Abuses
Mexican President Felipe Calderon pledged to look “one by one” at cases of alleged military and police abuse documented by Human Rights Watch, the organization’s Americas director said.
“The president said he understood it was a serious problem and that violations and abuses have indeed occurred, but that he was committed to investigating them,” Jose Miguel Vivanco said in a press conference after meeting with Calderon at the Los Pinos official residence.
“He told us that he wasn’t in office to endorse or promote abuse, torture, disappearances or executions and proposed that together we examine the complaints contained in the report,” he added.
Although no specific dates were mentioned, Calderon proposed that his government and the New York-based rights group work together to review the cases compiled over two years in five of Mexico’s most violent states: Baja California, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nuevo Leon and Tabasco.
After the meeting, the president issued a statement confirming the creation of a “joint work group to analyze the content of this document,” although he also stressed that “criminals are the main threat to Mexicans’ human rights.”
“The government therefore has the ethical and legal obligation to use all means at its disposal ... to bolster the presence of the authorities in those communities with the biggest criminal rivalries,” he said.
HRW said Mexican military and police have committed “widespread human rights violations” within the context of a drug war that Calderon launched shortly after taking office in December 2006.
“Instead of reducing violence, Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ has resulted in a dramatic increase in killings, torture, and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country,” Vivanco was quoted as saying in the report.
Through its research in five of Mexico’s most violence-wracked states, the group “found evidence that strongly suggests the participation of security forces in more than 170 cases of torture, 39 ‘disappearances’ and 24 extrajudicial killings” under Calderon.
The report, titled “Neither Rights Nor Security: Killings, Torture, and Disappearances in Mexico’s ‘War on Drugs’” and based on 200 interviews with victims and government officials and 60 public information requests, noted that “virtually none” of the cases are being properly investigated.
It recalled that Calderon’s government has deployed more than 50,000 soldiers, marines and federal police to drug-war flashpoints, where they have assumed the roles of both police and prosecutors, including patrolling streets, investigating crimes and gathering intelligence.
HRW said that in Baja California, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nuevo Leon and Tabasco “security forces systematically use torture to obtain forced confessions from detainees or information about cartels.”
The group’s report also provides “evidence strongly suggesting that soldiers and police have carried out ‘disappearances’ and extrajudicial executions, and in many cases have taken steps to conceal their crimes.”
Rights abuses against civilians occur in a climate of “near-total impunity” because, although Mexico’s Supreme Court and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have ruled that such cases should be heard by civilian courts, the violations “continue to be investigated and prosecuted under military jurisdiction,” the report said.
The organization also questioned Calderon’s claim that “90 percent of the victims of drug-related deaths (which the government says totaled approximately 35,000 between 2007 and January 2001) were criminals.”
It noted that the Mexican Attorney General’s Office only opened 997 investigations into drug-related murders between 2007 and August 2011 and that “federal judges have only convicted 22 defendants for homicides and other offenses tied to organized crime.”