Despite Grave Human Rights Abuses in Mexico, State Department Aid Keeps Flowing

The United States State Department recently released their 2014 Human Rights Report. The latest report describes grave human rights conditions in Mexico, including abuses committed by government agents, use of torture, poorly investigated disappearances, and widespread impunity.
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mexico february 7 border...
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The United States State Department recently released their 2014 Human Rights Report, which documents international human rights conditions to help inform decision-making for foreign aid allocations. The latest report describes grave human rights conditions in Mexico, including abuses committed by government agents, use of torture, poorly investigated disappearances, and widespread impunity.

Under the Mérida Initiative, the United States can withhold 15% of its aid to Mexico that falls under its anti-narcotics (INCLE) and foreign military (FMF) programs if the Secretary of State reports that specific human rights conditions are not being met. The State Department's own report shows that they are not.

Eight human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the Washington Office on Latin America, recently published a memo that explored in greater detail the state of the unfulfilled human rights conditions in Mexico. The document calls for the U.S. Congress to hold up the conditioned aid over the corruption and ongoing human rights abuses rampant within state forces.

The State Department Human Rights Report itself shows how it has overlooked its own funding restrictions. Here is a summary of the conditions that the State Department must report are being met before a portion of its foreign aid can be allocated to Mexico:

1.That the Government of Mexico is investigating and prosecuting violations of human rights in civilian courts.

According to the State Department, the Mexican government is not investigating and prosecuting violations of human rights. The report states that violent crimes in Mexico have almost total impunity at 94 percent. It also notes numerous complaints that the "the government or its agents committed arbitrary of unlawful killings, often with impunity."

It does seem that Mexico has made some progress in shifting jurisdiction for certain crimes from military to civilian courts. The State Department cites several cases of soldiers charged with forced disappearances this year who were transferred from military to civilian courts. Additionally, in April, the Mexican Congress revised the military justice code "to oblige military institutions to transfer human rights cases to the civilian justice system under the jurisdiction of the PGR."

The State Department reports that of 115 reports of human rights violations by the military, 103 military members were charged. Of those charged between April 2007 and May 2013, about a third , were still prosecuted in the military justice system. That's not to mention that some 90% of crimes in Mexico went unreported in 2013, according to Insight Crime.

The State Department wrote that it remains difficult to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses: "For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, the defendant first must be found guilty in a criminal case, which is a high standard in view of the relatively low number of individuals convicted of human rights abuses in the country."

Also, the body tasked with investigating military members for human rights violations, the Mexican Defense Secretary's General Directorate for Human Rights, "has no power to ensure allegations are prosecuted or to take independent judicial action." So even if steps have been taken on paper to fulfill this condition, the body in charge of investigating violations has very little actual power.

And although human rights cases and forced disappearances - including those perpetrated by military members - must in theory now be tried in civilian courts, this does not cover all criminal cases.

2. That the Government of Mexico is enforcing prohibitions against torture and the use of testimony obtained through torture.

The State Department Human Rights report writes: "The use of torture as a tool for investigating and obtaining confessions is a standard procedure for the state's security forces."

The report states the Mexican Human Rights Commission (CNDH) processed 445 complaints of cruel or degrading treatment and 552 complains of torture as of August 2014. But of these complaints, the CNDH only made recommendations on 10 cases of cruel and degrading treatment and two cases of torture.

3. That the Mexican army and police are promptly transferring detainees to the custody of civilian judicial authorities, in accordance with Mexican law, and are cooperating with such authorities in such cases.

Mexico does have some protocols for transferring detainees to civilian justice. These protocols, "designed to reduce the time arrestees remain in military custody, outline specific procedures for the handling of detainees."

In June 2014, the Mexican armed forces issued their first joint use of force doctrine that ordered the transfer of detained individuals to civilian authorities as soon as possible and prohibiting use of military facilities as detention or retention centers.

Though some progress has been made in furthering legislation to transfer detainees to civilian authorities, it was difficult for detainees to seek justice or make claims about abuses. "Access to justice was inconsistent, and authorities generally did not publicly release the results of investigations," the report said.

4. That the Government of Mexico is searching for the victims of forced disappearances and is investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the crimes.

Disappearances, including those ordered by the police and military themselves, remain a huge problem in Mexico. Most of these disappearances, the report states, occurred in the course of sanctioned security operations.

There is a lack of reliable information on the exact number of disappearances, and statistics vary significantly. The State Department writes:

"On August 21, The Secretariat of Government (SEGOB) and the PGR (Attorney General's office) reported the government's overhauled nationwide database had identified 22,322 individuals as missing, of whom 9,790 were reported missing since the start the Peña Nieto administration on December 1, 2012. In addition, federal officials declared a total of 23,234 persons were reported missing between December 1, 2012, and July 31, 2014; of these, the government located 13,444."

The Mexican government's failure to adequately investigate the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in September 2014 is a slap in the face to this condition. The Mexican government's mishandling of the situation has raised alarm among international actors, including the State Department, about Mexico's inability to investigate and prosecute those responsible for disappearances.

Though local police and cartel members were arrested on charges related to the crimes in Iguala, the State Department report, along with evidence and testimonies, expresses concern that federal police were also present at the time of the attacks: "Federal forces dispatched to that part of Guerrero assumed security responsibilities in a number of municipalities."

It is worth noting, though, that the State Department may not be currently funding or training battalions in Guerrero, as a State Department official told The Intercept.

Other abuses outlined in the report that do not go into considerations for U.S. aid allocation also included corruption, abusive prison conditions, worker's and reproductive rights, and forced labor.

The State Department has allocated nearly $3 billion to Mexico since 2008, but has never publicly withheld any substantial funding due to human rights concerns. That isn't to mention aid allocated by the Department of Defense, or the billions in commercial arms sales that U.S. has authorized to Mexico, neither of which have the same level of human rights restrictions.

This post was originally published for the Security Assistance Monitor, a project of the Center for International Policy.

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