This article was first published in El Pais on 2 May 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).
Human Rights Abuse in Mexico: Widespread Torture in Mexico Confirmed by UN Special Rapporteur
by Verónica Calderón (EL PAÍS)
– The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment spent 12 days in Mexico, and confirms that almost “every Mexican police force” abuses detainees
Torture in Mexico is a widespread practice throughout almost all of the country’s police forces. Cases exist where a Mexican man or woman has been arrested by a plainclothes officer. Without a warrant. Officers have entered homes without a judge’s order, and relatives have been threatened. Then, they have been carried away. They have been blindfolded and insulted. They have been beaten. With fists, with feet. Kicked. They have bee prodded with a cowpoke, an instrument used to administer electric shocks on the genitals. It’s also possible they have suffered some type of sexual violence. In some cases they have been paraded before the media as criminals, even without judicial proceedings. And sometimes they have not even been allowed to speak with their defense attorney. That’s the substance of complaints gathered by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, preliminary conclusions delivered in Mexico City this Friday as he finishes an almost two-week visit to the country.
“I have the obligation to tell the Mexican Government, and also Mexican society, that there is an endemic type of torture here that must be corrected,” the Special Rapporteur announced. This devastating diagnosis is the product of a 12-day visit that he called “intense, but productive.” He interviewed officials, civil society, and victims. He visited prisons, a psychiatric institution, a juvenile detention facility and a migrant detention center. He visited the Federal District and the State of Mexico, in the center of the country; Nayarit, on the Pacific Coast; Nuevo León, in the northeast; Chiapas, on the border with Central America and Baja California Norte, his last stop, in the far northwest, on the border with the United States.
He acknowledged the Government’s cooperation as he set about his work, but he lamented that, in a single incident, he was denied access to the Nuevo León’s State Prosecutor’s Office, “especially since I received several complaints of torture committed right there.” The accusations he received during his visit, he clarified, are against almost “all the forces that make arrests in this country.” This comment includes municipal, state, and federal police forces, the Army, and the Navy.
Mexico is one of the few countries in the world where a detainee is guilty until he can prove otherwise. Responding to a reporter’s question, the Special Rapporteur emphasized that he had criticized the Mexican security forces’ practice of parading detainees, presumed guilty, in front of the media without any type of criminal proceedings against them or granting them access to their defense attorney. Méndez called the practice “a humiliation.” The World Justice Project, an NGO dedicated to studying respect for the rule of law, ranks Mexico 79th out of 99 countries. Above Mexico, for example, are China, Kazakhstan, Albania, Burkina Faso and Ecuador.
Even though the Special Rapporteur insisted on the “complexity” of determining whether torture affected a social group in particular, he did clarify that the worst affected were the country’s most vulnerable: the poor, indigenous people, women, and adolescents. He insisted about the seriousness of the problem: “In Mexico there still exists a widespread use of torture and mistreatment.”
The UN Special Rapporteur said that he felt “alarmed” by the “ongoing militarization” of some regions of the country and he lamented that his visit did not include other states where he had received complaints of torture, like Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Oaxaca, and Michoacán.
The UN official also announced that the majority of cases of torture remain “completely unpunished”, and many of these crimes or complaints are stranded in judicial proceedings. “There are dozens, scores of delayed processes.” He also said he was preoccupied by the creation of a new crime such as “abuse by authorities,” a crime punished in Mexico of up to eight years in prison; he confirmed that in reality this crime hides those who are responsible for torture and who actually warrant more severe punishment.
His final report will be delivered to the federal government in three or four weeks and will come accompanied with a series of private recommendations to the executive branch headed by President Enrique Peña Nieto (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI).
The Special Rapporteur thanked the Mexican Government for its invitation, and for the “excellent support” that it had provided him throughout his work. “I would have liked to say that torture is isolated in Mexico […] that it’s an aberration that can be corrected quickly… but it is in the process of being corrected,” he concluded.
JournalistVerónica Calderón reports from Mexico for El País. Follow Calderón on Twitter @veronicacalderon. This story first appeared with the title, ““Naciones Unidas afirma que la tortura en México es ‘generalizada’” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/05/03/actualidad/1399075278_040694.html.
Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.