Torture by Security Forces on Rise in Calderon’s Mexico

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A report by a French campaign group warns that torture and human rights violations committed by the Mexican security forces have risen dramatically since President Felipe Calderon launched his war against organized crime.

On June 25, a French non-governmental organization, the Action Group of Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT-France), released a report alleging that Mexican security forces committed an increasing number of serious human rights abuses between 2006, when Calderon came to office, and 2011.

ACAT-France’s report, “In the Name of the ‘War against Crime’: A Study of the Torture Phenomenon in Mexico,” presented a stark view of Calderon’s assault on the drug cartels, which ACAT-France blamed for much of the abuse. The report cited various studies estimating that during Calderon’s presidency, between 3,000 and 10,000 people were “disappeared” by criminal groups or government forces.

According to the report, the national human rights commission (CNDH) received six reports of torture in 2006, which went up to 42 last year.

ACAT-France explained the most serious cases of torture often took place in the first few hours after arrest, including asphyxiation, water-boarding, electric shock, and sexual abuse.

The report also noted the high level of impunity for abuses. Fearing reprisal, few victims came forward — the study estimated the rate to be some 10 percent. Moreover, the study claimed that officials were hesitant to investigate abuse allegations because they could reflect badly on the government.

InSight Crime Analysis

The report demonstrates the unintended consequences of Mexico’s “war against crime.” According to ACAT-France, people were arbitrarily detained and tortured to extract forced confessions so that Mexican officials and security officers could make themselves appear successful in fighting crime. The report noted that this policy that not only hurt civilians, but also created a fabricated understanding of the reality of crime in Mexico.

It is unclear whether Mexico’s president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, will reduce human rights violations. Peña Nieto stated that he would prioritize lowering violent crime over fighting trafficking, which might decrease the pressure on the security forces to inflate their reports of those arrested for involvement in organized crime. He has also discussed in vague terms the need to reform the justice system. Although it remains to be seen whether the president elect will follow through with his promises, it is possible that reports like this one will create pressure for reform.

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