Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Press Freedom

HUMAN RIGHTS: UN Complains of Scant Progress by Mexico

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Mar 26 2010 (IPS) - Mexico has failed to make significant progress on human rights issues like violence against women, abuses by military troops involved in policing work, and attacks on journalists, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated Friday.

At the end of its 98th period of sessions, the New York-based U.N. Committee, which is made up of 18 independent experts, also expressed concern about the use of torture, violations of women’s rights, and the safety of human rights activists.

The Committee, which also issued its recommendations for Argentina, New Zealand and Uzbekistan on Friday, monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its state parties.

The Covenant, adopted in 1976, was ratified by Mexico in 1981.

Its members considered the case of Mexico on Mar. 8-9, discussing questions like the use of preventive detention, gender violence, torture, the rights of indigenous peoples, and attacks on human rights defenders and reporters.

“We applaud the observations, because we and a number of other human rights organisations have been denouncing problems like preventive detention, which opens the door to abuses,” Mayra López, a lawyer with the non-governmental Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH), told IPS.

Representatives of the CMDPDH and other NGOs flew to New York this month to present reports to the Committee on human rights violations committed by soldiers in the fight against drug trafficking as well as other kinds of abuses.

The 2008 overhaul of Mexico’s legal system included an extension to 80 days of the period during which suspects can be held without charge, which human rights groups argue is a violation of the right to due process and foments the use of torture to extract confessions.

The Mexican Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that preventive detention was unconstitutional, but Congress approved the reform nonetheless

In its report, the Committee said it was concerned about the persistence of torture and mistreatment by the police, the scarce number of convictions in these cases, and the mild sanctions for the few police found guilty of such offences.

Mexico has been experiencing an escalation of drug-related violence attributed to the crackdown by the military and police on Mexico’s powerful drug cartels.

After taking office in December 2006, conservative President Felipe Calderón put thousands of soldiers on the streets to take part in law enforcement.

Since then, the number of drug-related killings has soared to a total of at least 18,000, according to press reports, while the army has been accused of committing serious rights violations in the course of their anti-narcotics operations and policing work.

The Committee observed with concern that military courts have jurisdiction to try cases of human rights violations committed by armed forces personnel, even when the victim is a civilian.

Under the 1933 military justice code, the military courts have jurisdiction when crimes are committed by on duty armed forces personnel.

But in a November 2009 ruling, the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Mexico to modify the code, in order to comply with its international obligations.

At this month’s session, the U.N. Human Rights Committee considered the report presented in August 2008 by the Calderón administration. The last time Mexico underwent a review of its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was in 1999.

In its 1999 report, the Committee expressed concern on 16 issues, including torture, forced disappearance, the employment of the military in policing work, murders of journalists and gender violence.

“The state needs to take a closer look at its role in the multilateral system, because it can’t just go to the Committee, receive the recommendations, and then do nothing at an internal level,” Darío Ramírez, director for Mexico and Central America of the Britain-based Article 19, an international human rights organisation that defends and promotes freedom of expression and freedom of information around the world, told IPS.

Ramírez attended the Committee’s hearings in New York to denounced threats against freedom of expression and growing violence against journalists in Mexico.

Four reporters have already been killed this year, and 13 were murdered in 2009, which makes Mexico the most dangerous Latin American country for journalists, even ahead of civil war-torn Colombia.

The Committee also lamented the lack of effective measures by the Mexican state to protect journalists’ rights to life and safety and punish the perpetrators of these attacks.

“The state should heed the recommendations, which are just that, recommendations, but we’re going to insist that they be followed,” López said.

The government announced that protective mechanisms would be created for human rights defenders and reporters.

A special prosecutor’s office on crimes against journalists was created by the attorney general’s office in 2006. But it has been criticised for its lack of results.

“The measures that have been taken to protect the lives and safety of media workers have obviously not been effective,” Ramírez said.

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