As Mexico battles drug war, soldiers may face civilian trials for abuse

May 7, 2014

Photo by Flickr user ilya ginzburg

The Christian Science Monitor, 5/1/14

A Mexican congressional decision this week that allows members of its armed forces to be tried in civilian courts for crimes against civilians is a long-awaited win for Mexico’s human rights, advocates say.

Mexico’s lower house unanimously voted 428-0 on Wednesday to change provisions in the military code, including a clause that had given the military courts jurisdiction over any crimes committed by on-duty soldiers. The senate passed the changes last week and the bill is now expected to be signed into law by President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The reform is an important step, because a civilian court, “for all its flaws, is not rigged against” civilians as military courts are, Human Rights Watch senior Americas researcher, Nik Steinberg, told The Associated Press in an email. Mexico’s civilian system is far from perfect: More than 96 percent of crimes are never solved or punished. But the military system is considered opaque, with no public access to trial or prosecution information, and is full of incentives for judges to rule in favor of the military, according to a Human Rights Watch report, “Uniform Impunity.”

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Human Rights Watch Blasts U.S. Immigration ‘Abuses,’ Again

January 27, 2014

hands in handcuffsThe Huffington Post, 1/24/14

The failure of Congress and the White House to address the country’s immigration problems drew fire from a prominent human rights watchdog this week — again. Human Rights Watch criticized the U.S. government in its “World Report 2014,” released Tuesday, for what it called “abuses” related to the incarceration and deportation of undocumented immigrants. The organization echoed similar faults it found with U.S. immigration policy in world reports from past years.

The authors criticize the U.S. government’s human rights record, calling it “marred by abuses related to criminal justice immigration, national security and drug policy.” The report names immigrants and ethnic minorities as among the “most vulnerable members” of U.S. society. The report also notes that U.S. detention centers now hold approximately 400,000 undocumented immigrants each year, with hundreds in solitary confinement.

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Weekly News Summary: February 22

February 22, 2013

Coffee by Flikr user samrevelThe Mexico Institute’s “Weekly News Summary,” released every Friday afternoon, summarizes the week’s most prominent Mexico headlines published in the English-language press, as well as the most engaging opinion pieces by Mexican columnists.

What the English-language press had to say…

This week, auto defensa vigilante groups in the state of Guerrero released the last of the 42 alleged criminals they had kept hostage for almost two months, avoiding a showdown with government authorities. The leader of one such group reported the first casualty since the movement began in early January. Human Rights Watch released a scathing report blaming Mexico’s police and military forces of involvement in several dozen missing person cases. The government pledged to address the issue by, among other things, collecting DNA samples from the families of the disappeared in an effort to match missing persons’ reports with thousands of unidentified corpses found in recent years. In Tamaulipas, an anonymous Facebook and Twitter campaign continued to attract thousands of followers eager to receive unofficial updates on organized crime. International observers drew attention to the lack of safety that journalists working in Mexico face.

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Mexico’s Government Pledges Hunt for Disappeared

February 22, 2013

Enrique PeñaNieto 2Associated Press, 2/21/2013

Mexico said Thursday that it will work with the International Red Cross on the search for thousands of people who have disappeared during the country’s six-year-old war on drug cartels. Officials provided few details of the arrangement signed in a public ceremony by the head of the International Red Cross and Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong.

The Red Cross said in a statement that it would provide “studies, protocols and technical assistance related to the search for the disappeared” but gave no specifics. Red Cross officials said they could not release a copy of the agreement, and the Interior Department did not immediately respond to requests for a copy.

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Mexico’s ‘Crisis Of Disappearance’: Families Seek Answers (Audio)

February 21, 2013

people waiting - out of focusNPR, 2/21/2013

Maximina Hernandez says she begged her 23-year old son, Dionicio, to give up his job as a police officer in a suburb of Monterrey. Rival drug cartels have been battling in the northern Mexican city for years. But he told her being a police officer was in his blood, a family tradition. He was detailed to guard the town’s mayor.

In May 2007, on his way to work, two men wearing police uniforms stopped Dionicio on a busy street, pulled him from his car and drove him away. That same day, the mayor’s other two bodyguards were also abducted. Witnesses say the kidnappers wore uniforms of an elite anti-drug police unit. The three men haven’t been seen since.

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Human Rights Watch Faults Mexico Over Disappearances

February 21, 2013

Mexican Police catch drug dealer photo by Jesús Villaseca P Latitudes PressThe New York Times, 2/21/2013

Nearly 150 people and possibly hundreds more have disappeared at the hands of Mexico’s police and military during the drug war with little or no investigation of the cases, a human rights group said Wednesday, as it called on the new government to account for the country’s missing. The organization, Human Rights Watch, said in a report that Mexico has “the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades.” The group found a litany of cases in which witnesses reported people had been abducted or were last seen with the military or the police, never to be seen again.

Altogether the group documented 149 such cases in the past six years, after the previous president, Felipe Calderón, began his term with heavy deployments of military and federal police to combat exploding violence. The group’s investigation found 60 cases in which witness testimony and other evidence demonstrated that local police officers had colluded with cartels in abductions.

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Mexico’s defense secretary acknowledges errors in drug war

February 13, 2012

Los Angeles Times, 2/13/12

Mexico’s defense secretary has conceded errors in the country’s drug war, in one of the more frank assertions from the government as it wages a military-led campaign against violent traffickers.

Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan, speaking last week at a military event commemorating the March of Loyalty, also acknowledged that some regions of the country are not fully under government control, despite the deployment of tens of thousands of troops within the country’s borders.

“Of course there have been errors. Recognizing it is loyalty,” he said (link in Spanish). “In some regions of the country, organized crime has appropriated the institutions of the state[....] In these [areas] of the national territory, public security has been totally overtaken.”

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Vivanco defies PGR (In Spanish)

January 24, 2012

José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division has challenged the Mexican government to verify its claim that 95% of the deaths linked to narco-trafficking actually correspond to violence and conflict within organized crime.

Reforma, 1/24/12

El gobierno mexicano debe comprobar su versión de que el 95 por ciento de las más de 47 mil 500 muertes ligadas al crimen organizado, registradas en lo que va de este sexenio, corresponden a narcotraficantes que se están matando entre ellos, demandó ayer el director para las Américas de la organización Human Rights Watch (HRW), José Miguel Vivanco.

“Nosotros no tenemos una cifra contraria, no tenemos la capacidad de documentar un fenómeno de la magnitud de lo que está pasando en México”, apuntó Vivanco.  “Lo que sí podemos hacer es desafiar al Gobierno de México a que fundamente ese argumento. Si ellos sostienen que más del 95 por ciento o 90 por ciento son narcotraficantes, que expliquen cómo llegan a esa conclusión”, emplazó.

El Gobierno federal, dijo el activista, es el único que está en posición de informar cuántas investigaciones han iniciado los estados por homicidios ligados al narcotráfico para aclarar el gran total de muertos, dado que a nivel federal la PGR sólo inició 997 investigaciones por muertos ligados al crimen.

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Human Rights Abuses in Mexico’s Drug War

November 15, 2011

Shannon K. O’Neill: Latin America’s Blog, Council on Foreign Relations, 11/15/11

Last Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its report “Neither Rights Nor Security: Killings, Torture and Disappearances in Mexico’s ‘War on Drugs’.” The report is incredibly thorough – based on two years of research in the states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nuevo León and Tabasco, and incorporating information from over 200 interviews. It charges Mexican security forces with routinely violating citizens’ most basic rights during President Felipe Calderón’s six years in office, and further argues that these horrific tactics are not incidental, but endemic to the government’s drug war strategy.

Some of the most worrisome statistics and findings include:

·       Formal human rights abuse complaints increased seven-fold, from 691 during the 2003-2006 period, to 4,803 from 2007-2010

·       Of some 3,700 military investigations into human rights abuses in the past four years, just 15 – less than one half of one percent — resulted in convictions

·      Formal complaints of “degrading treatment” – read torture — at the hands of security forces more than tripled since 2006

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Torture surges in Mexico’s drug war, rights group says

November 9, 2011

The Washington Post, 11/9/11

Human rights activists accused Mexico’s military and police Wednesday of engaging in widespread torture, including the use of cattle prods and waterboarding, in President Felipe Calderon’s U.S.-backed war against crime mafias and drug cartels.

In a highly critical report, the international group Human Rights Watch said it found credible evidence that “strongly suggests” the participation of Mexican security forces in more than 170 cases of torture, 39 “disappearances” and 24 extrajudicial killings in five Mexican states since Calderon began his military-led assault against the powerful crime syndicates in late 2006.

The group said Calderon’s deployment on the streets of 50,000 troops, alongside thousands of federal police, many schooled by U.S. trainers, has done little to reduce the soaring violence, which has left more 46,000 dead.

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