Authorities in Mexico say complaints of human rights abuses perpetrated by the army decreased dramatically over two years, but a recent massacre carried out by Mexican soldiers indicates that the data may not tell the whole story.
At a commemoration of Army Day on February 19, Mexico’s Secretary of Defense Salvador Cienfuegos said the number of army abuses reported to the country’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) dropped by over 60 percent between 2012 and 2014, reported Milenio. In 2012, the CNDH received 1,450 complaints of human rights abuses by members of the army, compared to just 570 last year (see graph below).
Cienfuegos also noted that only four — or 0.2 percent — of the complaints against the army reported during the last two years were verified by the CNDH, reported Informador.
At the event, President Enrique Peña Nieto stated that “the honor of our armed forces is above any suspicion or doubt.”
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At first glance, the remarkable drop in complaints of abuse lodged against the Mexican army would suggest that authorities are finally reigning in the excessive use of force by security personnel during the country’s drug war, which began in 2006 under former President Felipe Calderon.
Maureen Meyer, Senior Associate for Mexico at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), told InSight that after taking office in December 2012, Peña Nieto withdrew military forces — a principal source of abuses in Mexico — from some areas of the country, and also put a greater emphasis on respecting human rights.
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However, it is unlikely Peña Nieto’s security reforms were sweeping enough to cause such a dramatic decrease in human rights abuses by the army. The CNDH’s findings that soldiers massacred at least 15 individuals in June 2014, as well as allegations that the Mexican army may have been involved in the disappearances of 43 students who went missing last September, suggest military abuses remain a major concern under Peña Nieto’s administration.
What’s more, the CNDH may not have sufficient autonomy to accurately report the number of abuses perpetrated by security forces. The former Ombudsman of the CNDH, Raul Plascencia, has been hesitant to criticize Peña Nieto on human rights, according to Meyer, who said, “this drop [in reports of abuses] may have less to do with a change on the ground and more to do with how the CNDH was registering cases or certifying complaints.”
An unknown number of human rights abuse cases went unreported due to a lack of trust in the CNDH to conduct a thorough investigation or because victims were pressured by the military not to file the report, Meyer added.