February 9, 2009
Human Rights News
Mexico in the Hot Seat
Mexico’s government is under the glare of stage lights in different
national and international venues for allegedly allowing the systematic
violation of human rights. The administration of President Felipe Calderon
faces a test Tuesday, February 10, when the Geneva-based United Nations
Human Rights Council will submit Mexico to a three-hour exam and possibly
assign voluntary make-up work.
Although the UN committee’s grading of Mexico’s compliance with
international human rights standards is pending, a network of prominent
Mexican human rights organizations has already given the Calderon
administration an “F” in the subject matter.
“Torture continues, extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances
occur, freedom of expression is limited, and practically none of the
cultural and economic rights
is guaranteed or protected,” charged a report
from civil society organizations delivered to the UN Human Rights Council
prior to this week’s meeting.
In their report, the groups also criticized the Mexican government for
failing to align federal and state laws with international human rights
agreements signed by Mexico City, and for failing to ratify the
International Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations
to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity, an agreement which could open
to the door to prosecutions of forced disappearances and extrajudicial
executions carried out by soldiers and police officers since the 1970s.
A big problem, according to the report, is that the Calderon
administration follows long-standing political traditions of permitting
Mexican soldiers, who constitute the front-line troops in the drug war, to
escape civilian prosecution for criminal
Groups signing the document included the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human
Rights Center, the Mexican Human Rights Academy, the International
Federation of the Rights of Man, and dozens of other Mexican human rights
Although the report’s authors noted progress in implementing an oral-based
trial system with the presumption of innocence as a guiding principle, the
activists criticized a 2008 legal reform that allows suspects to be held
without charges for 80 days, a length of time the report compared to the
“normal period” of preventive detention lasting two to seven days in other
Overall, the report concludes, human rights violations and impunity are
constants in Mexico.
In another Swiss show-down of sorts, the Mexican government faces a
complaint filed February 5 in the International Labor Organization (ILO)
by an international federation of
mining and metal workers. The complaint
accuses Mexico of committing systematic violations of “union freedom” as
defined by the ILO. According to the complaint, Mexico only permits the
existence of company or government-sanctioned unions.
The international unions’ action grows out of a long-running battle
between two Mexican presidential administrations and miners’ union
President Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, whom the Calderon administration is
attempting to extradite from Canada to undergo prosecution at home.
Gomez fled to Canada in 2006 after the administration of former Mexican
President Vicente Fox pressed legal charges related to the alleged
mishandling of union funds. Gomez and his supporters, consider the case a
maneuver by the Mexican government to divert attention away from the
February 2006 explosion at the Grupo Mexico-owned Pasta de Conchos coal
mine in northern Coahuila state that killed 65
miners. Only two bodies of
killed workers were ever recovered.
Jose Luis Soberanes, president of the National Human Rights Commission
(CNDH) said recently the federal attorney general’s office (PGR) was not
addressing justice recommendations made by his office about Pasta de
Conchos, but PGR official Juan de Dios Castro Lozano disputed the
assertion and said an investigation into the mine disaster was open.
Unsatisfied with the state’s response to the tragedy, victims’ relatives
are considering taking their case to the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights in Washington, D.C.
As the Calderon administration prepared to take the hot seat in Geneva
this week, multiple human rights controversies stirred throughout the
country and abroad. Concluding a visit to the southern state of Guerrero
last week, a delegation from Amnesty International demanded the government
release five indigenous men
accused of the murder of an army informant
Kerrie Howard, deputy program director of the Americas Program for Amnesty
International, said charges against the men, all of whom belong to the
activist OPIM organization, are “not credible.” The OPIM has experienced a
long series of conflicts and run-ins with the Mexican army and other
In response to the Amnesty International visit, Guerrero Governor Zeferino
Torreblanca said he “greatly respected” the work of the international
advocacy organization but it was the job of the courts to decide the fate
of the five men.
Physicians for Human Rights, meanwhile, released a statement last week
that said the PGR was ignoring forensic evidence challenging the official
version of the murder of US journalist Brad Will in Oaxaca in 2006. An
anti-government activist, Manuel Martinez Moreno, is being charged with
the crime despite
professions of innocence.
In still another development, renewed press attention is being devoted to
the massive May 2006 police raid against protestors in San Salvador Atenco
outside Mexico City that resulted in the deaths of Alejandro Benumea and
Javier Cortes Santiago, the injuries of at least 50 people and more than
Mexico’s Supreme Court is considering a report this week by an
investigative team headed by Justice Jesus Gudino Pelayo which concluded
nearly 3,000 public servants committed violations of eight constitutional
rights in Atenco.
Sexual aggressions against 31 of 50 female detainees could have equaled
“torture prohibited by international and national law,” according to the
Female prisoners have testified they were forced to endure bodily
molestation and engage in oral sex with arresting officers. At least one
woman was reportedly subjected to forced
vaginal penetration with a metal
While condemning the “violent and criminal actions” of protestors, Justice
Gudino Pelayo characterized the raid staged by state and federal police as
“excessive, disproportionate, inefficient, and indolent.”
Many of the Atenco violations described in the Supreme Court report were
earlier documented by the CNDH.
The Supreme Court’s report named Mexico state Governor Enrique Pena Nieto,
federal Attorney General Eduardo Medina and Miguel Angel Yunes, director
of a national social security institute, as among the high officials
ultimately responsible for the police rampage. The report also questioned
the PGR’s special unit for crimes of violence against women for its
slowness in acting on the Atenco matter.
The unit, currently headed by former Ciudad Juarez special women’s
commissioner Guadalupe Morfin, reports directly to Attorney
Medina. At the time of the Atenco confrontation, Medina oversaw federal
police sent to help crush the rebellion. As Mexico’s attorney general,
Medina is in a key position in any US-Mexico security alliance, which
could expand under the Obama White House.
Governor Pena, who is frequently mentioned as a possible presidential
candidate for the opposition PRI party in 2012, said the Supreme Court
report was the opinion of one judge but he stressed his administration is
cooperating with a probe that represents an opportunity to clarify facts.
No reparations of damages or prosecutions against Pena and other
officials will result from the Supreme Court’s Atenco deliberations this
week. Arguing constitutional limitations prevent the Supreme Court from
meting out punishments, Justice Gudino Pelayo said the high court’s final
report could instead be used to help regulate police conduct
future citizen demonstrations.
Atenco activists continue demanding punishment for state officials and
freedom for remaining detainees, some of whom are serving very lengthy
prison terms human rights advocates have characterized as draconian.
“We demand a solution to this case, the release of all our companions
and justice,” said Trinidad Ramirez, wife of imprisoned Atenco leader
Ignacio del Valle, who was sentenced to 112 years in prison for kidnapping
and other alleged crimes.
Sources: El Sur/Proceso, February 8, 2009. Article by Homero Campa. El
Sur, January 30, 2009; February 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 2009. Articles by Aurora
Harrison, Tomas Tenorio Galindo, Zacarias Cervantes, Daniel Velásquez
Olea, and Agencia Reforma. La Jornada, January 29, 2009; February 6 and 9,
2009. Articles by A. Mendez, Patricia Munoz, Carolina Gomez, Alma Munoz,
Jesús Aranda, Victor Ballinas, Enrique
Mendez, Roberto Garduno, and the
DPA news agency. Tribuna de la Bahia/Agencia Reforma, January 28, 2009.
Cimacnoticias.com, January 8, 2009. Article by Guadalupe Cruz Jaimes.
Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico
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