UN questions Mexican Army's role in drug war
A United Nations report calls on the Mexican government to consider withdrawing the military from the streets amid a spike in human rights complaints.
Marking one of the strongest statements yet against Mexican President Felipe Calderón's heavy-handed tactics in fighting the drug war, a United Nations report has called on the government to consider withdrawing the military from the streets.Skip to next paragraph
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The recommendation follows a spike in abuse claims since the Army was first deployed four years ago to fight drug traffickers, said the preliminary report by a UN human rights office working group. The group said the military and other government forces have become involved in an increasing number of disappearance cases that can no longer only be attributed to organized crime.
“The military is not trained to do public security tasks but to confront armed forces,” which explains the growing number of violations, said Ariel Dulitzky, a member of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
Human rights groups have been raising alarms for years about the Army's role in the drug war, reporting a rising number of cases of rape, torture, disappearance, and arbitrary shooting. But the UN's call for Mexican troops to return to their barracks begs the question of whether police are prepared to take on the powerful cartels and whether Mexico is doing enough to equip them for that task.
“Withdrawing the Army at this point will not resolve all of the human rights problems,” says Jorge Chabat, a national security expert in Mexico City. “It may be a desirable solution, but it isn’t viable,” he says, recommending stronger oversight, prosecution of abuses, and use-of-force protocols for the Army.
Debate over pulling back Army
Abuse claims against the National Defense Ministry hit about 1,500 last year, up from fewer than 200 claims in 2006, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.
Because troops are tried in military courts instead of civil courts for rights abuses, most cases go unpunished, the UN and other groups say. While President Calderón has sent a proposal to Congress that would try cases of torture, rape, and disappearance in civic courts, watchdogs say it is too limited because the Army can easily avoid civil trials by reclassifying torture crimes as abuse while extrajudicial killings at checkpoints are not on the list.
Despite these frustrations, the semi-autonomous commission and most rights groups stop short of calling for the removal of the Army, which still enjoys relative popularity even though polls show Mexico is losing faith in the drug war. Instead, NGOs pressure President Calderón to stick to a longer-term exit strategy.
Pulling back troops “is not something you can do from one day to the next, but what we haven’t seen is a well-thought-out strategy of how the government plans to withdraw the Army from drug operations,” says Maureen Meyer, a Mexico analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America. The border city of Ciudad Juárez is one of the only places the Army has been replaced by federal police, she adds.