Mexico has recently experienced a troublingly steep rise in reported human rights abuses committed by security forces, particularly the military. Much of this dramatic increase in violations stems directly from President Calderón’s focus on highly visible military operations―operations that have occurred at the expense of targeted measures to address the structural causes of crime in the long-term, and left victims and communities frustrated by abuses that remain uninvestigated.
As has been discussed in earlier issues of the Advocate, the U.S. Congress has approved well over $1 billion in assistance through the Merida Initiative to provide Mexico with helicopters, airplanes, equipment, training, and other goods and services for the country’s security forces over the past year. When Congress approved the first installment of this assistance in June 2008, they also recognized the Mexican government’s urgent need to make solid progress in its respect for fundamental human rights within the framework of its security operations. As part of this bill, Congress specified that 15 percent of funds within the Merida Initiative would not be released until the U.S. Department of State reported that the Mexican government was meeting four human rights requirements, including “ensuring that civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities are investigating and prosecuting, in accordance with Mexican and international law, members of the federal police and military forces who have been credibly alleged to have committed violations of human rights.”
Based on our organizations’ collective work and shared concerns, the U.S.-based LAWG and Washington Office on Latin America and Mexico-based Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, Fundar Center for Analysis and Research, and the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center issued a joint public statement in July calling on the U.S. government to withhold counternarcotics assistance for Mexico under the Merida Initiative until significant and noticeable change is made to ensure that Mexican security forces, the military in particular, are held accountable for human rights abuses.
Here are some portions from this joint statement:
“Notably, reports of human rights violations by soldiers received by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission have more than sextupled during the first two years of the Calderón administration, jumping from 182 in 2006 to 1,230 in 2008. The Commission has issued reports and recommendations on dozens of violations during the Calderón administration, all of which have been officially accepted (hence recognized as true) by the Mexican Department of Defense. However, these officially reported and confirmed abuses represent only a small percentage of actual violations, many of which go unreported due to fear of reprisals by the military. Recent cases of credibly reported military human rights violations in 2009 include multiple forced disappearances in several parts of Mexico; the torture of dozens of detained municipal police in military barracks in Tijuana, Baja California; soldiers who arbitrarily opened fire on a bus containing civilians, resulting in one fatality, in Huamuxtitlán, Guerrero; and soldiers who invaded a group of rural communities in Guerrero state, torturing and threatening residents, including children and pregnant women.”
“Human rights violations committed by the Mexican military against civilians remain in total impunity because such cases are transferred over to the notoriously opaque military justice system. These military courts―comprised of fellow members of the military and under the command of Mexico’s Department of Defense―and are tasked with the investigation, prosecution and sanction of human rights violations committed by soldiers; thereby impeding impartial proceedings. Despite repeated and well-documented efforts to obtain information on the status of these cases, the complete lack of transparency results in uncertainty as to whether or not these abuses are ever investigated at all.”
“Far from allowing civilian authorities to investigate and try human rights violations, the Mexican government has publicly declared in multiple forums that it refuses to halt the use of military jurisdiction…The ineffectiveness of military jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute soldiers responsible for human rights violations was again illustrated when, at the recent questioning by the organization Human Rights Watch, the Mexican government was unable to cite a single case in the last ten years in which human rights violators were punished in military jurisdiction.”
“The U.S. Congress was correct to identify Mexico’s failure to investigate and prosecute human rights violations committed by its security forces as a major concern when contemplating how to appropriately support Mexico’s efforts to address drug-related crime. Scores of Mexican and U.S. civil society organizations have raised their voices over the past year to underscore the damaging message the United States could send to Mexico and to the world if it channels vehicles and equipment to Mexico’s security forces while ignoring the gravity of these forces’ human rights violations….It is crucial that the United States government demonstrate that its commitment to fundamental human rights and a safer Mexico goes beyond words by not releasing the 15% of Merida Initiative funding given that Mexico has failed to show progress in the human rights areas identified, particularly given the government’s open refusal to hold accountable in civilian courts soldiers implicated in grave human rights violations such as extrajudicial executions, rape, and torture."
To read the statement in full, click here.