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Mexico gives muddled response to criticism of human rights violations amid drug war

A new report says Mexico fails to limit security forces' torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings in the drug war.  But Calderon's response 'skirts the issue,' says blogger Patrick Corcoran.

By Patrick CorcoranGuest blogger / November 21, 2011



Human Rights Watch provided a thorough critique of Mexico’s anti-crime policies, describing a growing pattern of abuses by security officials amid a backdrop of stratospheric levels of violence, but the government's response seems wrong-headed.

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The document, which was published last week and is titled "Neither Rights Nor Security," argues that President Felipe Calderon’s aggressive combat of criminal groups has failed on two fronts: It has utterly failed to rein in the violence, and it has proven unwilling or incapable of fielding a security force that does not carry out human rights violations.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

The New York-based NGO spent two years compiling the report, which focuses on three different classifications of abuse: torture, enforced disappearances (in which security agencies are suspected of participating), and extrajudicial killings. As the report’s authors write:

Human Rights Watch found evidence of a significant increase in human rights violations since Calderon launched his “war on organized crime.” In the five states examined, members of security forces systematically use torture to obtain forced confessions and information about criminal groups. And evidence points to the involvement of soldiers and police in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances around the country.

The patterns of violations that emerge in the accounts of victims and eyewitnesses, an analysis of official data, and interviews with government officials, law enforcement officers, and civil society groups strongly suggest that the cases documented in this report are not isolated acts. Rather, they are examples of abusive practices endemic to the current public security strategy.

The report also discusses the inadequacies of the government’s attempts to limit such abuses. Accusations are frequently ignored or downgraded by prosecutors, while government officials often blame the victim by assuming that anyone unlucky enough to be victimized by soldiers or police must have had it coming. Furthermore, just 16 out of 32 Mexican states (including the federal district of Mexico City) have specific laws against torture, while only a quarter have legislation explicitly banning enforced disappearances.

Mr. Calderon responded, as he has in the past, by saying the main threat to citizens is from criminals, not the government. It is almost certainly true that the human rights violators represent a small minority of the government officials, while violating human rights is a rather fundamental part of most gangs’ operations, but in his response, Calderon is skirting the issue.

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