Mexico’s Peña Nieto Sets Sights on Disappearances, Torture

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Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto has put forth two new initiatives aimed at combating kidnapping and torture, but local conditions may hinder any eventual implementation. 

Speaking at Mexico’s National Human Rights Award 2015 ceremony on December 10, Peña Nieto announced he is sending the two new legal initiatives to Congress for approval, reported Animal Politico.

The first proposal, the General Law for the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Related to Disappeared Persons, provides for the creation of a national search system, which would mobilize law enforcement within hours of a reported disappearance. It would also create a national forensics registry, a national missing persons registry, and a citizens council to evaluate the national search system. If enacted, the law would standardize legal punishments across all of Mexico’s 32 states. 

Similarly, Peña Nieto’s second proposal, the General Law for the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Related to Torture, would define what actions constitute torture and their respective punishments, coordinate government response, and guarantee victims’ rights. It also provides for the creation of a national registry for torture cases, a special investigations unit to operate at the state and federal level, and a torture prevention organization made up of human rights groups and Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH). 

According to Animal Politico, Peña Nieto said both proposals are the product of consultations with legislators, academics, specialists, and civil society. If approved by Congress, Peña Nieto announced it will mark the first time a national strategy exists for tackling these crimes.

InSight Crime Analysis

Peña Nieto’s proposals can in part be seen as a response to heavy criticisms of the government’s bumbled investigation into the disappearance of 43 student protesters in 2014, and an attempt to counter a narrative his administration is incompetent on security issues.

Even if the initiatives do become law, however, their implementation may be difficult. 

In the past, some state governments — perhaps attempting to downplay dire security situations — have been unwilling to share data on forced disappearances, and may react similarly to any national kidnapping initiative. A top-down approach to disappearances may also be obstructed by rampant corruption, with members of Mexico’s municipal governments and local police often in cahoots with the criminal groups responsible for “disappearing” people.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Kidnapping

Similar factors may hinder progress on torture as well. For instance, a portion of Mexico’s torture and human rights abuse cases stem from security forces themselves, and proper investigation and successful prosecution of these cases are rare. While Peña Nieto’s proposal would create a new torture investigations unit, it is unclear how it would improve the prosecution rate for such cases. 

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