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Military and police heavily involved in enforced disappearances

Mexico like many countries is plagued by corruption, discrimination against indigenous people and huge income inequality. After all the richest person in the world, Carlos Slim, is Mexican. But Mexico has something else--the drug war. And that has thrown up a unique situation. For many Mexicans, sharing a border with the US is a curse more than an opportunity.

The police are often so corrupt that the former president Felipe Calderon relied heavily on the armed forces to fight drug-related violence and organised crime. The problem was that the army isn't trained in law enforcement, and it has a long history of being an institution unto itself.

The police, the army—even the Navy!-- have carried out enforced disappearances, and many have collaborated directly with organised crime groups to "disappear" people and extort payments from their families. When the families ask about their relatives, the police deny they’ve been detained.

"Many of the enforced disappearances taking place across Mexico involve municipal or state police, which may fall outside the federal jurisdiction and the scope of the present federal law," said Javier Zúñiga, Amnesty Special Advisor. "Under international law, the state must prevent enforced disappearances and bring those responsible to justice."

In one case, 12 house painters on their way to work vanished near a military checkpoint at the border. In another incident eight members of one family were kidnapped in their homes by heavily armed men in Chihuahua. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

Saúl Becerra Reyes was arrested in October 2008 with five others at a car wash in Ciudad Juarez. Five months after his disappearance, his body was found. The death certificate said he died of a cerebral haemorrhage from head trauma.

In 2008, soldiers and police abducted brothers Carlos Guzmán Zúñiga and José Luis Guzmán Zúñiga, in Ciudad Juárez. Neighbours witnessed the soldiers take the brothers handcuffed from their home and force them into military vehicles. The brothers were never seen again. Their family still doesn’t know where they are, if they are alive or dead, or why they were abducted.

In March 2009 the army forcibly disappeared Miguel Alejandro Gama Habif, Israel Ayala Martínez and Aarón Rojas de la Fuente, in Nuevo Laredo. Their burned bodies were found the next month. The Ministry of Defence announced that 12 military personnel had been detained, but no official information was available regarding charges or their trial.

The army disappeared three people at Buenaventura, in Chihuahua state in late 2009: Jose Angél Alvarado Herrera, his cousin Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, and 18-year-old Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes. The three have not been seen since. Five weeks later, Nitza managed to phone a friend and beg her for help, but the line soon went dead. 

In January Human Rights Watch published a 176-page report documenting nearly 250 "disappearances" from December 2006 to December 2012. In 149 of those cases, the organisation found compelling evidence of enforced disappearances, involving the participation of state agents. The organisation called it "the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades".

For starters, it would be helpful if President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December, issued an executive order stipulating that all detainees must be brought before the public prosecutor’s office. Under no circumstances may detainees be taken to military installations, police stations, or illegal detention facilities.

Mexican legislators need to get to work and pass and implement laws making enforced disappearance a criminal offence in accordance with international human rights law, Amnesty said as one state considers a bill to outlaw the practice.


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