UN Condemns Rise of Torture in Mexico

PHOTO: According to Amnesty International torture complaints tripled in Mexico from 2008 to 2011.Esparta/Flickr
According to Amnesty International torture complaints tripled in Mexico from 2008 to 2011.

A United Nations Committee expressed its deep concern over the practice of torture in Mexico under Felipe Calderon's administration. The Genev- based UN Committee Against Torture pointed out on Wednesday that torture is occurring on a widespread basis in Mexico, and that it happens within a context of "aggravated impunity" in which Mexico's armed forces are implementing tasks of public security, as they fight against organized crime.

Every few years the UN reviews how Mexico and other countries are complying with international treaties that ban governments from torturing citizens.

Earlier this week, the Mexican government and human right groups within the country presented a UN panel of experts with evidence on how torture cases have developed in Mexico, and what has been done to stop this practice from happening.

Amnesty International revealed that the number complaints for tortures cases increased dramatically in the last 6 years in Mexico. According to that group claims of torture and bad treatments received by Mexico's National Human Right Committee rose from 564 in 2008 to 1,669 in 2011.

The Mexican government did not dispute such figures. But it claimed that the country is implementing legal changes that will dissuade members of the country's security forces from torturing detainees, or forcing confessions out of them through violent means. One notable change, is a law that allows civilian courts to try members of the military who have been accused of human rights violations.

The U.N. commission however, said that Mexico had to do more to stop torture cases in the country, recommending that the government ban the use of any confession obtained under suspicion of torture in cases brought against crime suspects.

The committee also denounced the practice of "arraigo," a Mexican legal figure that allows police to maintain a suspect under custody for up to 80 days without having to press charges. Committee rapporteur for Mexico Fernando MariƱo explained that out of 6,102 complaints against the prolonged detention of citizens filed in the past six years, only 188 cases led to the release of those being held.

While meeting with UN officials, Mexican NGOs also complained that officials who commit acts of torture in the country are hardly ever punished fo their deeds. According to Isidoro Aguilar from the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, Mexico's Attorney General has only looked into 300 torture cases since 2003, out of a universes of more than 2,000 complaints. One hundred and twenty eight cases reviewed by the Attorney General were deemed to be cases of torture, but no officials have been prosecuted in any of these investigations.

Javier Sam, the general coordinator of Mexico's Group against Torture and Impunity believes that the number of torture cases could be higher than what has been registered so far, because not every case leads to an official complaint.

While he welcomed the UN's recommendations to the Mexican government, he doubted that legal reforms could end torture on their own.

"Torture is a complex phenomenon which can not be eradicated only with legal reforms. [Ending torture] requires an integral strategy, legal certainly, but also cultural in a way, involving the whole law enforcement structure and specialy military and police forces," Sam said.