Photo: Mexican Military Abuses
Three non-governmental organizations said they have brought a case of illegal arrest and torture against Mexico before the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture.
“It’s the first private case against the Mexican state that’s been presented” to that U.N. body, Andrea Meraz, a coordinator with the Geneva-based World Organization against Torture, known by the French initials OMCT, said Friday at a press conference in this capital.
The alleged crimes occurred on June 16, 2009, when four people were arrested by hooded soldiers in two separate incidents in Tijuana and Rosarito, in the northwestern Mexican state of Baja California.
According to the NGOs, personnel with the federal Defense Secretariat arrested those individuals without a warrant, tortured them and kept them incommunicado in private homes before taking them - 96 hours after they were initially detained - to military installations on organized crime charges.
Those four detainees are brothers Ramiro and Rodrigo Ramirez Martinez, a person who was with them in Tijuana, Orlando Santaolaya, and another individual who was arrested in Rosarito, identified as Ramiro Lopez Vasquez.
The complaint was filed Thursday in Geneva and still must be formally accepted by the committee. If that occurs, the Mexican government will be notified so it can respond to the allegations and the panel will analyze the case in depth to determine if the four individuals’ rights were violated.
In 1984, Mexico ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture and in 2002 recognized the jurisdiction of the Committee Against Torture - a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the convention - “to receive and consider reports from people who allege having been victims of torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.”
“Nevertheless, that mechanism had never before been used in a case against Mexico,” Meraz said.
The activist said the case has been taken before an international body because Mexico’s civilian and military courts have refused to hear the torture allegations brought by family members of the four detainees.
The only organization that has recognized those complaints as valid is Mexico’s independent National Human Rights Commission, which is preparing a non-binding recommendation demanding that authorities to hold the Mexican army accountable for the abuse, the NGOs said.
“We think the case is part of a systematic pattern of abuse in which, in the case of Tijuana, public safety has been handed over to soldiers who have acted with complete arbitrariness,” an attorney for the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, or CMDPDH, Octavio Amezcua, said at a press conference.
He added that in the case in question errors were detected in the Mexican courts, which “foster these types of actions (torture) and allow them to go unpunished, maintaining military jurisdiction (for cases of human rights abuses involving civilians) and (inadequate) criteria for weighing evidence.”
Also taking part in the press conference were Maria Isabel Reyna Martinez - mother of two of the detained individuals, the Ramirez Martinez brothers - and Martha Alicia Vazquez Jimenez, mother of Ramiro Lopez Vazquez, who said they trust the international body will help prove their sons’ innocence.
Both women said they are hoping a quick decision will be handed down in favor of the four imprisoned men, although the OMCT said it could take “two or three years” for the case to be resolved.
That NGO has previously filed torture cases against Tunisia, Greece, Sri Lanka, Cameroon and other countries and has had “favorable results,” Meraz said.
Besides the OMCT and the CMDPDH, the Mexican non-governmental organization Citizens’ Human Rights Commission of the Northwest also is backing the case.
International rights groups say abuses by Mexican security forces - particularly in the context of President Felipe Calderon’s more than five-year-long war on drug cartels that are blamed for tens of thousands of murders - are commonplace.
In a report released last year, New York-based Human Rights Watch said 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
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.