UNITED NATIONS
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Fifty-third session
Agenda item 8

Disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture in Mexico

Written statement submitted by
International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project
a non-governmental organization on the Roster

1. International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project has devoted considerable attention to the situation in Mexico for the past several years. We have sent delegates for long term stays in Mexico and have sent many others for short term fact-finding missions and human rights training sessions. We have developed cooperative relationships with Mexican non- governmental organizations, including the national network of human rights organizations La Red Nacional de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos "Todos los derechos para todos (La Red)." We have also noted that the Commission's rapporteur on torture and the working groups on disappearances and arbitrary detention have listed a number of cases in Mexico. We are pleased to provide a summary of a recent report prepared by the Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez (Pro DH) for La Red on disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture in Mexico to further assist the Commission in its consideration of this item.

Summary

Overview

2. Disappearance, extrajudicial execution and arbitrary detention has become increasingly frequent under the Zedillo administration, and torture is now standard practice. Police enjoy virtual impunity and the judiciary is subjugated by the executive to repress social discontent. The rise in the use of the military in civilian roles such as public security is alarming. Death treats against human rights defenders is so rampant that international analysts have placed Mexico as the country with most persecution of human rights workers. The recently inaugurated Attorney General of Mexico, Jorge Madrazo, publicly acknowledged there is lack of confidence in his office and that many authorities are in violation of the law. The February 19, 1997 arrest warrant for General Gutierrez Rebollo for involvement with narco-traffickers, weakens considerably the already low level of confidence in the government.

Disappearances and Extrajudicial Executions

3. Our organizations attest that the number of disappearances has increased in the past few years. Many of the disappeared have been leaders or activists in political organizations critical of the government, or members of civil organisations. One member organization of our Red reports that in the last several months there have been 100 documented cases. Due to our campaigns, most reappear following several days of interrogation under torture. Pro DH currently has the cases of 23 persons who disappeared recently have not been found. Business people with alleged links to narcotic trafficking have disappeared in Tijuana, Sinaloa and Chihuahua.

4. In Guerrero alone there have been over 100 assassinations of community leaders and members of the Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD) since June 1995 and over 400 since 1988.

Torture

7. The Supreme Court has upheld that first testimony, even if taken under torture, takes precedence over other testimony in criminal trials. This ruling goes against international standards relating to torture. In 1996 Mexico promulgated a law (La Ley Federal Contra el Crimen Organisado) allowing more than 72 hours of incommunicado detention. These two aberrations enhance the likelihood for torture in Mexico and illustrate a lack of intention by the government to eradicate torture in Mexico. On the contrary at time of writing not one official is in prison for torture. And since the 1991 "anti-torture" act, no victim of torture has received any compensation.

Arbitrary Detention and torture

8. In practice, police frequently arrest people and then begin to investigate. Therefore, many arrests occur without probable cause or even any meaningful evidence. This is particularly true in areas of social unrest or where there are suspected narcotraffickers and typically happens as follows: the army or police converge on a town at night, randomly take people into custody, and interrogate and torture them for one to three days hoping to obtain information about such issues as the Peoples Revolutionary Army (EPR) and traffickers. In these cases, arrests are made of people known to be innocent.

Subordination of Judicial Authority

9. There is growing evidence of judicial decisions being based on political pressures rather than the law. Pro DH has documented its legal defense of certain persons where political pressure on the judiciary was clear. Judges who defy political pressure risk assassination, as was the case with Supreme Court Magistrate Abraham Polo Uscanga. Some political prisoners are freed if they agree to support electoral candidates they previously opposed.

Militarization

10. Mexico is facing the militarization of some of the poorest zones of the country -- Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacan, Puebla and Chihuahua -- on the pretext of fighting guerrillas and narcotraffickers. Militarization brings with it grave consequences in the lives of the farm worker communities, and has caused displacement, interrogation, prostitution, alcoholism and assault.

11. Following the many cases that we have received, it has become clear that the army is targeting members of civil organisations as possible members of armed movements. In areas where the EPR has appeared, whole communities are suspect. This has led to many community leaders being detained, tortured, held incommunicado, and subjected to death threats if they denounce their captors. Searches without warrants and road blocks enhance the climate of fear and oppression in these areas.

12. Our organisations are concerned about the numbers of military personnel with the offices of the Attorney General and the state police authorities (Seguridad Publica). In the Attorney General's office military personnel hold six of the key positions; in the Seguridad Publica they hold 25 out of 32 such positions. There may be as many as 3000 military in the police authorities throughout Mexico.

Persecution of human rights defenders

13. Mexican human rights organisations are increasingly worried by direct threats against them. At our office (Pro DH) we have received bomb threats and our staff have received threats to their physical integrity. Some of these threats contain information that could only be obtained with close surveillance of our offices and activities. All member organisations of La Red have received similar threats.

Conclusion

14. We call upon the national and international communities to voice their concerns regarding violations of human rights in Mexico and to encourage the Mexican authorities to comply with their obligations under domestic and international law. We also ask that investigations of the Mexican situation be undertaken by international institutions. We especially request the UN Commission on Human Rights to appoint a rapporteur.