Mexico security forces on patrol

Reports of torture and ill treatment by security officials in Mexico have risen nearly 600 percent over the past decade, according to Amnesty International, in part linked to the militarization of the war on drugs in the country.

According to a report by Amnesty International (pdf) released on September 4, cases of torture and mistreatment by security officials in Mexico have drastically increased between 2003 and 2013. There were 1,505 reported cases of torture or abuse in 2013, representing nearly a 600 percent increase from the 219 cases of torture and abuse reported in 2003.

The report also detailed the lack of progress in investigating torture cases. Mexico's National Human Rights Commission verified less than one percent of the complaints it received regarding police abuse. Meanwhile none of the 7,164 complaints from 2010 to 2013 ended in convictions on torture charges.

According to the report, cases of torture and abuse began to rise significantly in 2006, when the Mexican government began its so-called "War on Drugs." "The large-scale deployment of the army and navy marines in recent years to combat organized crime has been a key factor in the increased use of torture," the report stated.

InSight Crime Analysis

Since the inception of Mexico's assault on organized crime in 2006, authorities have relied on military training of police forces as a way to help prepare local police to confront drug cartels. However, Amnesty International is not the first non-governmental organization to draw a link between a more militarized police force and an increase in human rights abuses by Mexican security officials.

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In practice, President Enrique Peña Nieto hasn't shifted much from the highly militarized approach favored by former President Calderon, although Peña Nieto has certainly downplayed the emphasis on security policy in contrast to his predecessor. At the core of Peña Nieto's strategy has been the creation of the gendarmerie, meant to lessen Mexico's dependence on using the military against drug traffickers. However, it is still unclear whether the gendarmerie – which is largely dependent on former soldiers to fill its ranks – will actually achieve this. 

It's also worth considering appointments such as the hiring of an army special forces commander to lead the security crackdown in Michoacan state last year. Such a move flies in the face of Peña Nieto's alleged "softer" approach to combating organized crime. 

There have been other voices in the region calling for a different strategy. During a 2013 meeting of security officials and experts in the region – including representatives from Mexico – those who attended called for the demilitarization of police forces, citing their ineffectiveness to control violence and their penchant for committing human rights violations.