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Mexico: Civilian authorities must investigate pattern of serious abuses by military

New evidence of serious human rights violations carried out during military operations to combat organised crime and drug cartels in Mexico has been unveiled in a report published by Amnesty International today.

Amnesty International’s Americas Programme Director, Kerrie Howard said:

“There is a disturbing pattern of crimes committed by the military in their security operations, abuse that is being denied and ignored by the authorities in Mexico.”

In its report entitled Mexico: Human rights violations by the military, Amnesty accused the authorities of failing to fully probe allegations of abuses committed by the military, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial and unlawful killings, torture, ill treatment and arbitrary detentions.

During the 18-month period from January 2008 until June 2009, the country’s National Human Rights Commission received almost 2,000 complaints of military abuse. This can be compared to only 367 complaints received in 2007 and 182 in 2006.

Amnesty International believes that this information does not fully reflect the extent of abuses being carried out but that it is indicative of a growing trend of abuses.

One human rights organisation in the region of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, told Amnesty that they had received 70 complaints involving arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment by the military between January 2008 and September 2009, but only 21 individuals lodged legal complaints. It is thought that the others feared that threats against them would transform into attacks.

Kerrie Howard continued:

“The cases that we’ve been able to investigate are truly shocking. But what is more shocking is that we know that this is only the tip of the iceberg. We’re able to go into specific detail on a number of cases whilst the government continues to deny that there are cases of human rights abuses that need to be investigated.”

Amnesty’s new report details five cases of serious human rights violations committed by the military against 35 people between October 2008 and August 2009 in the states of Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Baja California.

On 21 October 2008, witnesses saw 31 year-old Saúl Becerra Reyes and five other men arrested by soldiers in a car-wash in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua state.

Five days later, the five men arrested with Saúl were transferred from a military base to the Federal Attorney General’s Office and charged with drug and firearm offences. Saul’s detention was never acknowledged and he was never seen alive again.

Several official complaints were made about Saúl‘s disappearance but none led to an effective investigation by the authorities. Despite a petition from a federal judge, both civilian and military authorities repeatedly denied knowledge of Saul’s whereabouts.

Saúl’s body was found in March 2009. His death certificate said he died one day after his detention, of a cerebral hemorrhage from head trauma. The authorities carried out no further autopsy. The federal judge closed the case and passed it to the Chihuahua state prosecutor’s office to be investigated as an ordinary murder with no reference to evidence of military involvement.

Kerrie Howard continued:

“Mexico is facing a major public security crisis and the government has a clear responsibility to combat organised crime and drug cartels by all legal means. This is a difficult and dangerous job, but the severity of a crisis should not be used as a pretext for turning a blind eye when abuses are committed.”

Amnesty International also complained that the few cases of military abuse that are taken forward are dealt with in virtually closed military courts where victims and their relatives have no access to information or status on which they can challenge judicial or court proceedings.

The lack of independence and impartiality of military prosecutors and courts has repeatedly resulted in the denial of justice to victims and impunity for perpetrators.

“The abuses we have seen contribute to the deterioration of the security situation in Mexico,” said Kerrie Howard.

“By failing to take action to prevent and punish serious human rights violations the Mexican government could be seen to be complicit in these crimes.”

Amnesty International urged the Mexican authorities to recognise the seriousness and scale of the reports of human rights abuses committed by members of the military as well as the level of complicity of civilian authorities in covering up these abuses and to make the issue a government priority.

The government must take immediate steps to ensure prompt and impartial investigations by the civilian authorities so those responsible are brought before the civilian courts and victims receive reparations.

  • read the report

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