UN rights chief urges Mexico to end ‘misery’ of enforced disappearances and torture

Two people in Oaxaca, Mexico, standing vigil below posters of the disappeared. Photo: Jeca Taudte

8 October 2015 – Despite significant progress towards building a solid human rights framework, the Mexican Government must nevertheless “bind itself to a new sense of urgency in solving the enormous human rights challenges it faces,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said today as he wrapped up an official visit to the country.

“Despite [legislative developments and constitutional reforms]… my visit has been very sobering with regard to the daily realities for many millions of people here in Mexico itself, said the High Commissioner at a press conference.

“Many of the people I have spoken to have painted a very bleak – and consistent – picture of a society that is wracked by high levels of insecurity, disappearances and killings,” he explained, as well as noting the ongoing harassment of human rights defenders and journalists, violence against women, and terrible abuses of migrants and refugees transiting the country on their way to the United States.

During his visit, Mr. Zeid met with President Peña Nieto and senior Government officials, and he noted that over the past four years, there have been highly significant legislative developments, including the constitutional reforms of 2011 and this year’s amendments which paved the way for new general laws addressing two of Mexico’s most pressing human rights issues, namely enforced disappearances and torture.

Yet, according to official statistics, 98 per cent of all crimes in Mexico remain unsolved, with the majority never even being properly investigated. Among these crimes, the High Commissioner spotlighted Mexico’s high levels of homicide and enforced disappearances.

“For a country that is not engaged in a conflict, the estimated figures are simply staggering: 151,233 people killed between December 2006 and August 2015, including thousands of transiting migrants,” he said.

“At least 26,000 people missing, many believed to be as a result of enforced disappearances, since 2007,” he said, adding later that “the amount of misery attached to that statistic is impossible to comprehend.”

Indeed, he said, the failure of the police, of the justice system to clarify the whereabouts of the victims and what happened to them, and above all, of successive governments and the political system as a whole to stop these crimes is not just regrettable, “it is deeply tragic.”

The High Commissioner noted that, while some of the violence “can be laid at the door of the country’s powerful and ruthless organized crime groups,” many enforced disappearances, acts of torture and extra-judicial killings are alleged to have been carried out by Federal, State and municipal authorities, including the police and some segments of the army, either acting in their own interests or in collusion with organized criminal groups.

He went on to highlight recent, specific incidents, including the enforced disappearance of 43 students from a training college in Iguala in Guerrero state and the killing of six others.

“Reports strongly suggest that local police engaged in repeated ferocious attacks and ambushes against the unarmed students,” he said, noting that the report by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (IGIE), appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and invited by the Mexican Government, “revealed that the Federal security forces were fully aware of what was happening.”

He added: “If the true fate of the students is finally revealed as a result of a thorough and determined investigation and the full range of perpetrators are identified, prosecuted and convicted, with reparations granted to the victims, this terrible case could have a salutary effect on many similar situations across the country.”

The case, he said, highlighted the impunity and disregard for victims that affect the entire country.

He said that the Mexican Government should urgently strengthen the Attorney-General’s Offices across the country to ensure that human rights violations are properly investigated. It should also adopt a time frame for the withdrawal of the military from public security functions, and implement recommendations from the IGIE and consider similar follow-up mechanisms for other serious cases.

“The Government that taps fully into its citizens’ desire and ability to create a State that works, is the Government that will be remembered and praised by future generations. Such a Government would be able attract a massive influx of foreign direct investment, which would in turn stimulate greater and much wider prosperity for its population,” Mr. Zeid emphasized.

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