Human rights and the Mexican military
August 22nd, 2012
12:23 PM ET

Human rights and the Mexican military

By Shannon O’Neil, CFR

Shannon K. O’Neil is senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Latin America’s Moment originally appeared here. The views expressed are solely those of the author.

Human rights abuses within Mexico’s drug war are garnering increasing attention, both in Mexico and in the United States (holding up some 15 percent of Merida money in 2010). A recent Trans-Border Institute report looks systematically at Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission’s (CNDH) filings on human rights violations. Numbering less than 400 in 2007, complaints implicating the Mexican military increased fourfold during Calderón’s presidency (to more than 1,600 in 2011).

Under the CNDH system, not all of these allegations result in a formal report to the military. The vast majority are deemed to not involve a human rights violation or are dropped for lack of evidence, while others (considered less serious) are settled through conciliation. The more severe cases (and those backed by strong evidence) go through a thorough investigation, and are passed along to the military in the form of a “recommendation.” About one hundred such cases have been processed in the past five years.

These stories range from illegal detentions to physical abuse against both Mexican citizens, and, at times, members of other law enforcement bodies (including local police). Physical injury is the most common complaint (found in 81 percent of recommendation cases), followed by a lack of access to justice, verbal/mental abuse, and torture.

The apparent good news is that the number of “recommendations” decreased in early 2012, totaling seven through July 31 (compared to thirty-one for all of 2011). The decline is widely believed to reflect military withdrawals in hyper-violent border states such as Chihuahua (which accounted for many of the past cases). Another explanation is that the military is addressing the problematic issues in its chain of command, thereby preventing abuses. A more cynical position is that the military has merely gotten better at hiding the violations.

The report points to a larger problem. Cases alleging military human rights violations have been handled by military rather than civilian courts. Conviction rates by their peers – even in cases with hundreds of pages of documentation – are low. Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the military prosecutor’s office has completed 89 investigations into civilian deaths since 2007, without a single conviction. (Although another HRW request for information from the army revealed that two soldiers had been convicted on charges of manslaughter and violence resulting in homicide; both received prison sentences of less than two years). This may soon change, as a 2011 Supreme Court ruling required that military officials accused of abuses be tried in civilian courts. But the problem of impunity more broadly still remains.

The challenge of protecting citizens’ rights while combating violent criminal groups now falls to Mexico’s presumptive president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto. During his campaign he assured voters that the military will, at least initially, remain on the streets (reportedly until 2014), and he talked about creating a military gendarme, a pseudo-police force. This means the human rights challenges won’t go away on their own. The Transborder Institute report recommends the importance of strengthening the National Human Rights Commission – an undoubtedly useful step. But the larger issue of impunity will require a system-wide solution. If Peña Nieto wants to diminish violence in all its guises, judicial reform is vital.

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Topics: Mexico

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soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. NO INDIANS IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD PLEASE

    NEW YORK: Renowned Indian activist and novelist Arundhati Roy has decried the silence of the international community over the continued “brutal Indian occupation of Kashmir” and said Kashmiris should be given the right to self-determination……
    She said so little was known about the atrocities being committed by more than half a million Indian troops, the continuing repression and indignities let loose on Kashmiri men, women and children.
    More than 700,000 troops were concentrated in the tiny valley, with checkpoints at every nook and corner of Kashmiri towns and cities. The huge Indian presence, she added, was in sharp contrast with 160,000 US troops in Iraq.
    Ms Roy alleged that Indian army or security personnel were killing young children

    August 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  2. shiblee

    They are Orient , Deserve to be ruled . Like Orientalism , Human rights are devised to legalize Imperialism .

    August 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Reply
  3. JosephMcCarthy/Quigley/LyndsieGraham/krm1007©™/JoeCollins/J.Foster Dulles/Marine5484/OldManClark

    I am the same guy. I am a useless piece of camel dung. I post anti-American, anti GB, anti-Semite, anti-India, anti-modern anything because I am a good Moslem. I have stolen Patrick’s moniker because I am so ashamed of myself and I post the most stupid comments because I am an imbecile. When people get angry with me, I claim they are the stupid ones. If I am not careful, my brain will explode because it is so full of hate.

    August 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  4. krm1007 ©™

    It is no secret that Hitler and his Nazi cronies sought inspiration from Indian extremist groups including the branding of his Nazi Party by adopting the Swastika, a traditionally Hindu symbol and representation of Hindu god Ganesha, as its marketing tool. The thesis being that like the Norwegian massacre, the Jewish holocaust orchestrated by Hitler was inspired by the inherently violent cult of Indian Hindus and the manifesto of its then extremist/terrorist groups still in existence today. These groups are now the successors to and carrying out the vision of Al Qaeda all over the world.

    August 24, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
  5. David

    Hello Pakistani trolls! Please go away. We have no issues with India, it's you that we dislike.

    August 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  6. swiveled

    Reblogged this on swiveled and commented:
    testing

    August 25, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  7. AlienShark

    Mexico has an army? Really?

    August 26, 2012 at 12:11 am | Reply
  8. Marco Hsiao

    [ Consuming evil drug in the US must be reduced ]

    Mexico has a far better record on human right than the US. The US uses lies (weapons of mass destruction) to massacre 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians and 4500 US soldiers; it is worst human right abuse in the 21st century.

    Half of world prisoners are the US citizens crowd in the US jails; lots of them are murderers, rapists and drug dealers. The US also consumes half of evil drug of world; and Mexico becomes a victim of US drug consuming. Is the US dirtiest country on the earth?

    If the US could not reduce the consuming of evil drug, Mexico should unite China and Russia sending troops into the US; executing all US drug dealers, jailing all US drug consumers for ten years.

    August 26, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply
    • Cameron

      Um? Yeah Good Luck with that.

      August 27, 2012 at 1:59 am | Reply

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