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Congress Urges President Obama to Prioritize Human Rights in Upcoming Visit to Mexico

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Just a week before President Obama’s first visit to Mexico since President Peña Nieto assumed office, 24 Members of Congress sent a letter on April 23rd to newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry with a clear request — “make the defense of human rights a central part of the bilateral agenda with our neighbor.”    

This letter, co-sponsored by Representative Moran (D-VA) and Representative Poe (R-TX), reflects bi-partisan concern about “the persistence of grave human rights violations in Mexico.”  President Pena Nieto has expressed his commitment to human rights since assuming office on December 1, 2012, noting that one of Mexico’s greatest challenges is to make sure that “rights established on paper become reality.” These representatives underscore the scope and severity of challenges that lay ahead, noting  “a five-fold increase in complaints—from 534 in 2007 to 2,723 in 2012—of human rights violations by Mexican soldiers and federal police, including torture, rape, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, as well as other abuses.”

The vast majority of these abuses are left uninvestigated stemming from the “failure to reform Mexico’s Military Code of Justice so that human rights abuses committed by the military against civilians are heard in civilian, not military, court” despite rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Mexico’s Supreme Court, and the conditioning of select funds on the prosecution of abuses in civilian courts.

Another factor closely tied to human rights abuses committed by the military is the widespread use of torture in Mexico to obtain confessions.  The letter points out that, “the CNDH reported a 400% increase in complaints of torture and cruel treatment in the past six years.”

Although Mexico has experienced an “increase in threats and attacks, including targeted killings and disappearances by state and non-state actors,” against human rights defenders, Members of Congress note that the Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalistshas not yet been properly implemented.”

The representatives raise a series of other concerns to the Secretary’s attention, including “the distressingly high number of disappearances – estimated to be over 26,000—that have occurred in the past six years.” The National Registry of the Missing or Disappeared, signed into law in April 2012, “is not fully operational and there is no database of unidentified bodies and remains.” The congressional letter expresses a willingness to “positively engage with the Mexican government on its registry and in Mexico’s efforts to bring answers and justice to the family members of the disappeared” but makes it clear that, “the human rights crisis will not improve until there are stronger legal protections, increased human rights training for Mexico’s security forces, and more government agents held responsible for the human rights violations they commit.”

It is a sad reality that grave human rights issues persist in Mexico, but LAWG applauds this strong statement from Members of the U.S. Congress that advancing human rights and accountability need to play a central role in the bilateral agenda with our neighbor.

To read the full letter in English, click here.

To read the full letter in Spanish (translation by LAWG), click here.