Rights group says abuse by Mexican military up 600 percent


Mexico City : Human Rights Watch has said the number of human rights complaints levelled against the Mexican military has risen by 600 percent over the past three years to a total of 1,230.

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HRW’s Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, revealed the figure at a press conference Wednesday in which he noted that even the defence department has acknowledged receiving 1,143 complaints of military abuses during that period, which coincides with the first half of rightist President Felipe Calderon’s six-year term.

In the period from January to March 7 of this year alone, more than 365 investigations have been opened.

Vivanco also said there is “a great opaqueness and very serious lack of transparency” with respect to investigations conducted under military jurisdiction, and he criticised the work carried out by Mexico’s independent National Human Rights Commission, which “could have done more in this area”, especially to ensure its own recommendations are being followed.

Since Calderon took office in December 2006, the commission has issued 27 recommendations for Mexico’s defence department in which it documents “cases of serious military abuses such as rapes, executions, torture and arbitrary detentions”.

Vivanco presented a report on HRW’s work in the country during a Senate appearance, calling on lawmakers to reform the Code of Military Justice to allow civilian courts to try military personnel for common crimes against the civilian population.

Although he said he understood that the government had assigned army soldiers to law-enforcement duties due to the “serious crisis” in the country, he said their actions should be closely monitored.

“We don’t object to the use of the army in these cases, as long as it is done with respect for human rights and those who commit excesses are punished,” Vivanco said.

Since taking office, Calderon has deployed some 50,000 soldiers and roughly 30,000 federal police to battle Mexico’s powerful drug cartels, which have been battling each other and the security forces amid a scramble for control of smuggling and distribution routes.

The deployments have been made in the context of a federal initiative to clean up Mexico’s notoriously corrupt law enforcement agencies, with observers estimating that more than half of Mexican police officers have been bought off by drug cartels or other organised-crime elements.

Vivanco said an eight-month HRW investigation found that the Mexican military justice system should not be in charge of investigating abuses against the civilian population due to a lack of safeguards to ensure independence and impartiality, which in turn has resulted in rampant impunity.

There “isn’t a single case in the last 10 years in which the military tribunals have convicted a soldier or officer for serious human rights violations”, he said.

The defence department reported July 23 that since 2006 the Mexican army has convicted 12 soldiers and is investigating another 52 for various crimes including homicide, torture and kidnapping.

But the New York-based HRW said in a statement last month that the department failed to provide basic information substantiating those figures, “such as the facts of the cases that led to the convictions”.