Monday, April 23, 2018

US reports systematic violation of human rights and impunity in Mexico

Translated by El Profe for Borderland Beat from La Silla Rota
 
Photo: Bernandino Hernandez/AP
Recognizes legislative advances against torture and disappearances, but reprimands extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, as well as crimes against journalists.

The Department of State of the United States made a long list of human rights violations in Mexico under the government of Enrique Peña Nieto its annual report on the subject.

While it establishes that in principle civil authorities in general maintain effective control over security forces, it also highlights that among the issues related to the violation of human rights include the participation of the police, the military and other state officials, sometimes in coordination with criminal organizations, in illegitimate homicides, disappearances and torture.

In addition, harsh and potentially deadly prison conditions in some prisons.

In addition to that, arbitrary arrests and detentions; intimidation and corruption of judges; violence against journalists by the government and organized criminal groups.

 Violence against migrants by government officials and organized criminal groups; corruption; lethal violence and sexual assault against institutionalized people with disabilities.

Lethal violence against members of the indigenous population and against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; and lethal violence against priests by criminal organizations.

Impunity for human rights abuses remains a problem, with extremely low rates of prosecution of all forms of crime.

Divided into seven sections, the report unravels the problems in Mexico and the successes in terms of human rights, but the former are much larger than the latter.

As regards for respect for the integrity of the person, including freedom, they refer to arbitrary deaths and other illegal or politically motivated homicides.

"There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or illegal killings, often with impunity." Organized criminal groups were also involved in numerous killings, acting with impunity and sometimes in alliance with federal, state, local and corrupt security officials, “ it states.

THE CASES 

In May, the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) arrested and immediately transferred to the civil authorities a military police officer accused of the murder of a man on May 3 during a confrontation in Puebla between soldiers and a gang of gasoline thieves. A trial date had not been established at the end of the year. * A civil trial that began in 2016 continued for the commander of the 97th Army Infantry Battalion and three other military officers accused in 2016 of illegal detention and extrajudicial killing in 2015 of seven alleged members of an organized criminal group in Calera, Zacatecas.

At the end of the year, in the 2015 shooting in Tanhuato, Michoacán, a federal investigation was carried out accusing the federal police of executing 22 people after a shooting and altering the evidence. An August 2016 recommendation from the CNDH stated that the excessive use of force resulted in the execution of at least 22 people. The CNDH also reported that two people had been tortured, the police gave false reports about the incident and the crime scene had been altered.

Security Commissioner Renato Sales claimed that the use of force by the police in Tanhuato was justified and proportionate to the threat they faced and denied that the killings were arbitrary executions.

The CNDH requested an investigation by the Attorney General's Office, increased human rights training for the police and monetary compensation for the families of the 22 victims. No agent was charged by the federal police.

The authorities did not make additional arrests in connection with the 2015 killing of 10 people and the arrests and illegal injuries of a number of citizens in Apatzingán, Michoacán.

On August 1, 2016, a judge ordered federal authorities to investigate whether army commanders played a role in the 2014 assassination of 22 alleged criminals in Tlatlaya, state of Mexico. In his ruling, the judge noted that the federal prosecutor's office had not investigated a supposed military order issued before the incident in which soldiers were urged to "shoot down criminals under the shadow of darkness."

In January, a civil court sentenced four prosecutors from the State of Mexico to investigators from the general's office on torture charges, also related to the Tlatlaya case. In 2016, a federal civil court acquitted seven military officers of the homicide charges, citing insufficient evidence. In 2015, the Sixth Military Court sentenced one soldier and acquitted six others on charges of military disobedience related to the same incident. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern about the lack of convictions in the case and the perception that the chain of command was not investigated.

ORGANIZED CRIME AND DISAPPEARANCES

Criminal organizations carried out human rights abuses and widespread killings throughout the country, sometimes in coordination with state agents, states the State Department report.

Until November 20, according to media reports, the families of the disappeared and the authorities had discovered more than 1,588 clandestine graves in 23 states. For example, in March, 252 human skulls were found in a mass grave in Colinas de Santa Fe, Veracruz. From January 2006 to September 2016, the CNDH reported that more than 850 mass graves were identified throughout the country. Civil society groups noted that there were few ongoing forensic anthropology efforts to identify remains.

On November 16, 2017, the president promulgated the General Law of Forced Disappearances after three years of debate in Congress. The law establishes penal sanctions for convicted persons, which stipulate between 40 and 90 years of imprisonment for those guilty of the crime of enforced disappearance, and provides for the creation of a National Search System for Disappeared Persons, a National Forensic Data Bank, a Amber Alert System and a National Search Commission.

The CNDH registered 19 cases of alleged forced disappearances until December 15. In an April report on disappearances, the CNDH reported 32 thousand 236 registered cases of missing persons until September 2016. According to the CNDH, 83% of the cases were concentrated in the following states: Tamaulipas, State of Mexico, Sinaloa, Nuevo León , Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora, Guerrero, Puebla and Michoacán.

As of April 30, according to the National Registry of Missing Persons, 31,053 persons were registered as missing or disappeared. Tamaulipas was the state with the majority of people missing or disappeared with 5,657, followed by the State of Mexico with 3,754 and Jalisco with 2,754. The figures represent 74% of the disappeared, according to the database.

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and confessions obtained through unlawful means are not admissible as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports of torture and other illegal punishments.

TORTURE AND DEGRADING TREATMENT 

As of November 30, 2017, the CNDH registered 85 complaints of torture. The NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH mistakenly classified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.

Less than 1% of federal torture investigations resulted in prosecution and conviction, according to government data. The PGR carried out 13,850 investigations of torture between 2006 and 2016, and the authorities reported 31 federal convictions for torture during that period.

The Congress approved and the president signed the General Law to Prevent, Investigate and Punish Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that came into effect on June 26. Human rights groups and OHCHR praised the law, which establishes an "absolute prohibition" on the use of torture "under any circumstances," assigns command responsibility, establishes a sentence of up to 20 years in prison for convicted government officials and up to 12 years in prison for unofficial convicts, stipulates measures to prevent the obstruction of internal investigations, and provides for a national mechanism to prevent torture and a national registry of the Attorney General's Office.

On March 30, 2017, the office of the attorney general of Quintana Roo apologized to Hector Casique, who was tortured and unjustly convicted of multiple murder charges in 2013 during a previous state administration. In September 2016, Casique was released from prison. On June 9, he was killed by unknown assailants.

On August 22, 2017, a state judge acquitted and ordered the release of María del Sol Vázquez Reyes after nearly five years in prison for convictions for crimes that the court found compelled to confess under torture by the state police investigation agency from Veracruz. The agents who tortured her had not been charged before the end of the year.

In May of the same year, in Chihuahua, prosecutor Miguel Ángel Luna López was suspended after a 2012 video was made public that showed him questioning two suspects with bandaged faces. Luna was reinstated as a police officer while the investigation continued. Also in Chihuahua, in January, a former municipal police officer, Erick Hernandez Mendoza, was formally accused of torturing a housekeeper suspected of stealing from her employer. Two other police officers who allegedly took part in his torture were not charged.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND PRESS 

The law establishes freedom of expression and of the press, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television and radio stations are privately owned. The government has a minimal presence in the ownership of the media, but it remains the main source of advertising revenue, which sometimes influences coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, can limit freedom of expression.

The report establishes factors of violence and harassment: journalists were subjected to physical attacks, harassment and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) due to their complaint. This created a chilling effect that limited the ability of the media to investigate and report, as many of the reporters who were murdered covered crime, corruption and local politics.

During 2017, more journalists were killed because of their reports than in any previous year. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded 15 murders of journalists, and Reporters Without Borders identified evidence that the killing of at least 11 journalists was directly related to their work.

The perpetrators of violence against journalists acted with impunity, which fueled new attacks. According to Article 19, an NGO for freedom of the press, the rate of impunity for crimes against journalists was 99.7%.

The 276 attacks against journalists in the first six months of the year represented an increase of 23% over the same period in 2016. Since its creation in 2010, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists (FEADLE), a unit of Attorney General Office, won only two convictions in more than 800 cases that it prosecuted. During the year, there was only one conviction for the murder of a local journalist.

In February, a court in Oaxaca convicted and sentenced a former police officer to 30 years in prison for the 2016 murder of journalist Marcos Hernández Bautista. The OHCHR office in Mexico publicly condemned the lack of prosecution of crimes against journalists.

Government officials believed that organized crime was behind most of these attacks, but NGOs claimed that there were cases where local government authorities participated in or approved the acts. An April report for Article 19 noted that 53% of the cases of aggression against journalists in 2016 originated from public officials. Although 75% of those people came from state or local officials, it was also suspected that federal officials and members of the armed forces were behind the attacks.
In April, the government of Quintana Roo offered a public apology to the journalist Pedro Canche, falsely accused by the state authorities of sabotage and detained for nine months in prison.

According to article 19, 11 journalists were murdered between January 1 and October 15, 2017. For example, on March 23, Miroslava Breach, correspondent for the newspapers La Jornada and El Norte de Chihuahua, was shot eight times and died while preparing to take her son to school in the city of Chihuahua. Many of her publications focused on political corruption, human rights abuses, attacks against indigenous communities and organized crime.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), she was the only national correspondent covering the troubled indigenous region of the Sierra Tarahumara. On December 25, the federal police made an arrest in the case of an individual linked to a branch of the Sinaloa cartel that, according to them, was the mastermind of the crime. Breach's family told La Jornada newspaper that they did not believe the suspect in custody was behind the killing, and attributed it to local politicians who had previously threatened the journalist.

On May 15, Javier Valdez, founder of the Riodoce newspaper in Sinaloa, winner of a CPJ 2011 award for his heroic journalism and open defender of press freedom, was shot dead near his office in Culiacán, Sinaloa.

During the first six months of the year, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received 214 requests for protection, an increase of 143% since 2016. From its creation in 2012 to July, the mechanism accepted 589 requests for protection.

On August 22, a journalist under the protection of the mechanism, Cándido Ríos, was shot dead in the state of Veracruz. After the wave of assassinations in early May, the president replaced the special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression in the Attorney General's Office and held a televised meeting with state governors and attorneys general to request measures in cases of violence against journalists.

The NGOs welcomed the measure, but expressed concern over the deficiencies, including the lack of an official protocol to handle the murders of journalists despite the appointment of the special prosecutor. NGOs maintained that the special prosecutor had not used the authorities of his office to take charge of cases in which state prosecutors had not produced results.

And the list of complaints of violations established by the Department of State continues.

Here the link to the full document: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017