Mexican Rights Group Steps Up Activity


AFTER two years in existence, Mexico's national Commission for Human Rights is credited with raising Mexicans' awareness of their rights and finds it has an ever-increasing caseload.

But commission President Jorge Carpizo McGregor warns that there is a growing list of recommendations which government officials ignore or only partially heed.

"In some instances, the authority begins to take action and subsequently does nothing or acts slowly. Many of the partially implemented recommendations could and indeed should have been observed in full if the authority were willing," Dr. Carpizo said as he delivered his biannual report to President Carlos Salinas de Gortari on June 2.

Carpizo cited cases of foot-dragging by the governors of Sonora, Baja California, Morelos, Veracruz, and Guanajuato. For example, the commission questioned the thoroughness of a murder investigation by Sonora judicial police. Although it cited the role of specific officials in the incidence, no follow-up investigation was ensued nor were any officials sanctioned or arrested.

Carpizo praised Mexico's attorney general for cooperating with the commission, which resulted in several recent house cleanings of corrupt federal judicial police. But he noted that the attorney general has 73 outstanding warrants recommended by the commission but not yet executed.

"The commission has done a good job over the last two years," says Sergio Aguayo, president of the Mexican Academy of Human Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group. "Perhaps the most important achievement is the growing consciousness among Mexican citizens of their rights."

However, Mr. Aguayo is not surprised that recommendations are ignored. "The commission naturally runs up against the old, traditional power groups in Mexico, who defend their interests."

The commission has no authority to enforce its recommendations. It relies on publicity and presidential imprimatur. Government critics say the rate of noncompliance reinforces their contention that the commission needs more muscle.

In January, President Salinas had the commission written into the Mexican Constitution to ensure its permanence and autonomy. Last week, the Mexican Senate passed enabling legislation which may further assist the commission's efforts.

But human rights advocates say the changes do not address key concerns, such as the commission's refusal to look into electoral or labor-related disputes.

Carpizo argues that the commission should not be drawn into political fights. He says the role of his organization is only to propose and promote reforms to law enforcement and judicial systems.

To stay on top of the growing backlog of incomplete cases, the commission has established a follow-up group. Any recommendation which has not produced satisfactory progress within nine months of notification will be subject to a review and a public report of noncompliance.

In the last six months, the commission received 4,503 complaints, averaging 26 complaints a day, double the rate of the previous six months. About 52 percent of the complaints were lodged in person, up from about 21 percent in the first year.

The most common complaints included arbitrary arrest, denial of justice, abuse of authority, delay in justice, and false accusation. Out of the total complaints, 1,901 were presumed violations warranting further investigation.

Police torture, which topped the list in the commission's first year, has dropped from 13.4 percent to 2.9 percent of the total complaints received. The commission's last six month report cited 266 torture complaints; this report includes 134 cases. Analysts cite new laws banning confessions coerced by torture and greater publicity as possible reasons for the drop in the number of such complaints.

But according to a recent report by a prisoners' rights group, torture "not only persists, but it's institutionalized with the complicity of the judiciary and the ineffectiveness of the [commission] to destroy the impunity of the torturers."

The findings, published in Proceso magazine June 1, show that 85 percent to 95 percent of inmates say they were tortured after being arrested.

One recent commission focus has been the appalling conditions in Mexico's penitentiaries. Of the 110 recommendations made during the last six months, 42 pertained to improved treatment of prisoners.

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