US Human Rights Group Criticizes Mexico's Military

HUMAN RIGHTS IN MEXICO

A UNITED STATES group that has worked with Mexico's official human rights commission is accusing the country's military of conducting arbitrary searches, detentions, interrogations, and torture of indigenous people. The Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights is also lambasting the blue-ribbon National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) for absolving the military of wrongdoing.

``[The] lawless practices of the Mexican military have become increasingly tolerated at the highest levels of Mexican government,'' says the Minnesota Advocates. But the CNDH's director disputes the group's findings.

The Minnesota human rights monitoring group has worked closely with Mexican human rights groups, including the CNDH, for several years. But this is the first time Minnesota Advocates has criticized the work of the CNDH.

Following the CNDH, the Minnesota group investigated incidents that occurred in October 1992 in the state of Chihuahua and in March, April, and May of this year in Chiapas state.

In Chihuahua, the Oct. 17 murder of an Army officer involved in an antidrug campaign triggered a military ``rampage'' against the indigenous Tepehuan residents. Homes and crops were burned, and residents were detained, interrogated, and beaten in the search for the killer. In late May, the Army responded to two ``guerrilla'' attacks on soldiers by searching several villages and detaining 10 civilians.

The CNDH admits some civilians were ``physically mistreated,'' but a medical report (commissioned by the police) shows no signs of torture. Minnesota Advocates alleges the Tepehuans were forced to ingest water and suffered mock executions with unloaded weapons. They say these actions would not leave physical aftereffects.

The Minnesota human rights group charges the CNDH with failing to investigate allegations of torture in Chihuahua and Chiapas, and for excusing the Army of any human rights violations.

``The CNDH gives a green light to the Army to plan and facilitate large-scale detentions and searches among the civilian population as long as they are careful enough to bring along a few police officers,'' the report says.

CNDH director Jorge Madrazo calls such a claim ``caluminious.'' Mr. Madrazo defends the CNDH actions, and said in a sharply worded Sept. 8 letter to Minnesota Advocates that there was ``justification'' for the Army's coparticipation in the Chiapas search, but there wasn't sufficient evidence to bring any charges against the Army for human rights violations.

But Sara DeCosse, one of the report's authors, says, ``There are new reports that the CNDH investigators were pressuring people to avoid implicating the military in wrongdoing.''

Madrazo counters that the US group presents only one version of the events in Chiapas, whereas the CNDH sought and obtained all points of view before reaching a conclusion. He says Minnesota Advocates takes off on ``unfounded and mistaken premises'' and fails to understand Mexican law or the role of the CNDH. He scolds the group for sending a copy of the report to the media before sending one to the CNDH. (Minnesota Advocates says a funding shortfall caused distribution problems.)

Roderic A. Camp, a Mexico expert at Tulane University, hasn't seen the CNDH reports or the one by Minnesota Advocates. But he notes public criticism of the military is taboo here. ``In the Mexican government's historical relationship with [the] military, there's an informal rule that you never say anything bad about the military in public. The military says: We'll stay out of the political sphere if you stay out of ours.''

Andrew Reding, director of the North American Project at the World Policy Institute in New York, argues that more attention must be given to the ``troubling ... signs of renewed involvement of the military in civilian affairs.'' In a preface to the Minnesota Advocates report, financed by his organization, Mr. Reding notes the Salinas administration has increased its reliance on the military in the antinarcotics campaign due to corruption and abuses by federal police.

Sergio Aguayo, president of the Mexican Academy of Human Rights, agrees that ``with the clear deterioration of confidence in the police, there's a tendency to rely on the Army.''

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