WOLA Condemns Mexican Military in Report

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The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) published a new report yesterday about human rights violations by the military in Juarez and Chihuahua City, Mexico.

 The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) published a new report yesterday about human rights violations by the military in Juarez and Chihuahua City, Mexico. The report makes several recommendations: first, limit the Army’s role in law enforcement. According to WOLA’s findings, deploying the military to perform civilian police work – including search-and-arrests, questioning suspects and dismantling drug labs – only led to a rise of reported human rights abuses in Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua. The report includes eyewitness accounts of torture, forced disappearance and sexual abuse, and notes that few soldiers have been tried, let alone convicted, in military courts. Investigating cases of abuse in civilian, rather than military courts, would then be an essential step in holding more delinquent soldiers responsible for their crimes.

The report also examines the attempts at reforming Mexico’s police and judiciary. In 2009 the government tried to restructure federal enforcement forces, creating new standards for recruitment and training, while also granting police more authority in investigations. Last January, the government started withdrawing the military from Juarez and transferred more control over to about 5,000 Federal and 3,000 municipal police officers. But similarly to the military, the police are frequently not held responsible for human rights violations. And so far, none of the attempted police reforms have strengthened the institutions needed to enforce accountability.

Meanwhile, judicial reforms passed in 2008 tried to transform Mexico’s legal system, by requiring that cases are tried in open court rather than behind closed doors. These changes have been slow to implement and the statistics cited by WOLA are depressing: only 2 percent of crimes in Mexico result in a sentence. Rather than having the U.S. prioritize military aid, the report says, Congress “should prioritize strengthening Mexico’s civilian institutions such as through training in the adversarial criminal justice system.”

On September 3, the State Department tried to send a message to Mexico when it withheld $26 million in aid, due to failures in meeting human rights requirements. But such an action meant little when the same day, the U.S. released another $36 million in funds, previously withheld for the same reason. “All conditioned funds should be withheld until there is evidence that abuses committed by soldiers are being effectively addressed and those responsible sanctioned,” WOLA’s report concludes.  “It is to both countries’ benefit to work to curb the systematic human rights violations committed by Mexico’s security forces.”

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