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Victims of torture ignored in Mexico: One woman fights back

In 2011 police in Mexico arrested Miriam López, a 30-year-old housewife and mother of four, in her hometown near the United States border. In a barracks, soldiers raped her three times, gave her electric shocks and near-asphyxiation, threatened to cut off her hands, showed her recent photos of her children saying they ‘go for them’ if she didn’t sign a false confession of drug trafficking.

Miriam described one particularly harrowing method of torture, "they put a wet cloth over my face, when I tried to breathe I felt the wet cloth, it became difficult to breathe, I then felt a stream of water up my nose, I tried to get up but couldn’t because they had me held down by my shoulders and legs…someone was pressing down on my stomach, they did this repeatedly as they kept on asking the same questions."

Eventually the prosecution case collapsed but not before she had spent seven months at her jailers’ mercy.

Miriam bravely pursued her case. The National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) confirmed that she had been tortured and called for redress. But no one has been prosecuted for this crime, despite the fact that Miriam López has identified some of her attackers and their accomplices.

Miriam’s case is not an isolated one. Across the country, suspects are jailed and tried on evidence obtained under torture. The number of Mexicans who have reported torture and ill-treatment in the last few years has risen dramatically.

In 2011, the CNDH received 1,669 reports of torture and ill treatment; up from 1,161 in 2010; 1,055 in 2009 and 564 in 2008. But these most up-to-date figures do not reflect the true number of complaints of torture because they mainly cover reports of abuses by federal officials. The majority of accusations are levelled at state and municipal police forces.

Felipe Calderón, who stepped down as President in December, always denied human rights abuses had occurred during his six years in office. The new president is Enrique Peña Nieto. When Pena Nieto was governor in 2006, he sent 3,000 police to crush a protest by flower sellers. During the brutal crackdown at San Salvador Atenco, police killed two demonstrators, injured many and gang raped 26 women.

President Peña Nieto has failed to acknowledge the "torture epidemic" and to take effective action to stop it. He says he will put into effect the recommendations of the UN Committee on Torture in November 2012, but so far there is little evidence that he has done so.

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