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US & Mexican NGOs Call for Merida Funds to be Withheld Pending Real Progress in Human Rights

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Conditioned funds for Mexico under the Merida Initiative should not be released unless concrete progress is made on human rights requirements

LAWGEF, along with partner U.S. and international human rights organizations, today issued a memo to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging the State Department to recommend in its next report to the U.S. Congress on human rights requirements in the Merida Initiative that the conditioned funds for Mexico not be released until the Mexican government demonstrates concrete and measurable advances in meeting these requirements.  

To read the full memo, click here. Otherwise, below you will find an executive summary of the memo.

In providing security assistance to Mexico under the Merida Initiative, the U.S. Congress recognized that the Mexican government needs to make substantive reforms within the framework of its security operations to institutionalize respect for human rights, in terms of respecting human rights within the framework of its security operations. As part of the Initiative, Congress stipulated that 15% of specific funding categories would not be released until the U.S. Department of State reported that the Mexican government is meeting four human rights requirements, including investigating and prosecuting soldiers and federal police alleged to have committed human rights violations. 

In August 2009, the State Department issued its first “Mexico-Merida Initiative Report” to the U.S. Congress, triggering the release of the funds conditioned for the first two years of assistance. Our organizations found the August 2009 report lacked the information necessary to support the claim that the Mexican government has made significant progress in key areas of human rights to justify the release of the full amount of Merida funds.

The memo sent to the State Department today assesses the Merida Initiative’s human rights requirements and includes some of the cases currently being documented and handled by our organizations. Previously in 2009, a number of our organizations submitted three additional memos to the State Department to inform their report regarding the human rights requirements in the Merida Initiative. 

Information included in our current memo clarifies mischaracterizations and errors within the State Department’s August 2009 “Mexico-Merida Initiative Report” issued to Congress. We note that numerous human rights concerns raised in the memo are unmistakably reflected in the State Department’s Annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Mexico for 2009. The Annual Country Report identifies such problems as “unlawful killings by security forces; kidnappings; physical abuse…arbitrary arrests and detention; corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency that engendered impunity within the judicial system; confessions coerced through torture” as well as “multiple reports of forced disappearances by the army and police.”  The Country Report further states that “the CNDH [National Human Rights Commission] verified that army doctors or other members of the military falsified evidence to cover up abuses” and that “individuals [were] vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements before being presented to a judge.” 

Our organizations believe that the Mexican government has failed to make concrete and measureable progress in the human rights priority areas identified in the Merida Initiative, including:  

  • Ensuring that civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities investigate and prosecute members of the federal police and military forces.

To date, only a single human rights violation perpetrated since 2007 by a member of the military has resulted in a trial and upheld conviction, according to the Mexican government. This case was tried in a military court, contrary to the Merida Initiative condition and international law. None of the numerous allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by the military during President Calderón’s administration have been tried by civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities.

  • Improving the transparency and accountability of federal police forces.

Recent reforms and public security policies, such as the June 2009 law creating the new Federal Police, fail to incorporate effective mechanisms for citizen participation and accountability. The annual reports of the Secretary of Public Security characterize citizen participation as limited to the presentation of complaints; currently, there are not adequate mechanisms to ensure citizen participation in the design, implementation and evaluation of public security policies at any level; and on the focus on strengthening municipal police, who are the forces who have the closest and most regular contact with the population, is minimal. 

  • Enforcing the prohibition on the use of testimony obtained through torture.

Security forces routinely use torture to obtain testimonies. The State Department’s own 2009 Country Report on Human Rights Practice in Mexico states “judges, particularly in areas that had not yet implemented the [judicial] reforms, reportedly continued to allow statements coerced through torture to be used as evidence against the accused, a practice particularly subject to abuse because confessions were often the primary evidence in criminal conviction.”

  • Establishing a mechanism for regular consultations with human rights and civil society organizations to make recommendations concerning the Merida Initiative. 

The “Mechanism for Dialogue with Civil Society Organizations” has not been an effective consultation mechanism, as it has provided no real opportunities for Mexican human rights and other civil society organizations to provide recommendations and evaluate the Merida Initiative in a way that would result in concrete action and outcomes by the Mexican government.

Our organizations recognize the current challenges to public security confronted by Mexico. However, withholding the conditioned funds under the Merida Initiative until concrete and measurable advances have occurred recognizes that long-lasting improvements to public security cannot be accomplished without ensuring advances in human rights.