Thursday, April 17, 2014

UN Expert to Assess Torture, Inhumane Treatment in Mexico

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, has announced that he will be conducting his first country visit to Mexico, highlighting the ongoing struggle to rein in torture and inhumane treatment by security forces in the country’s long-running drug war.

In a press release published yesterday, Mendez announced he would be in Mexico from April 21 to May 2. During his visit, he will focus on the situation regarding cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the status of legal mechanisms to punish torture and coerced confessions. Additionally, the Special Rapporteur said he would assess the use of controversial legal mechanism known as the “arraigo,” which allows the pre-trial detention of suspects for extended periods in order to allow investigators to build a case against them.

Mendez is visiting at the invitation of the government, but his arrival will doubtlessly draw attention to the widespread use of torture by law enforcement in the country, opening up the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto to further criticism on this front.

There is plenty to criticize. According to a joint report published by 34 human rights groups last year ahead of Mexico’s October review in the UN Human Rights Council, law enforcement officers throughout the country continue to practice torture. The report points to 300 officially recognized cases of forced confessions since 2013, many of which have not been punished.

Still, statistics kept by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) suggest that the number of annual denunciations of torture and inhumane treatment, at least, has fallen recently. While this figure increased some 500 percent from 2006 to 2012 to 2,126 reported incidents, the CNDH’s 2013 annual report shows that they dropped to 1,082 last year.

There are signs of slow progress being made on the arraigo issue as well. As a report published in El Universal on Sunday noted, the emphasis on pretrial detention may be falling from its peak under former President Felipe Calderon. According to official statistics cited by the Mexican daily, the first year of the Peña Nieto administration (Dec 2012 to Nov 2013) saw a 64 percent drop in arraigo detentions compared to the last year of Calderon’s term in office (Dec 2011 to Nov 2012), and a 22 percent drop compared to the same initial period in his predecessor’s administration.

News Briefs
  • In other Mexico security news, on Tuesday prosecutors in Michoacan state announced the arrest of Apatzingan Mayor Uriel Chavez Mendoza. The mayor is accused of assisting the locally powerful Knights Templar cartel, and city councilors claim he attempted to coerce them into handing over money to cartel gunmen. News of the arrest was eclipsed yesterday by the announcement that Arnoldo Villa, the number-two member of the Beltran Leyva Organization, had been captured in a Mexico City neighborhood, as El Universal reports. As the L.A. Times points out, Villa is the latest of several high profile cartel figures to fall into authorities’ hands, illustrating the Peña Nieto’s close adherence to his predecessor’s “kingpin strategy.”
  • The Colombian government’s negotiating team has announced that it will be going on a nationwide tour, ostensibly aimed at campaigning in favor of peace and educating the public on the advances made at the negotiating table so far. Enrique Peñalosa, the main challenger to President Juan Manuel Santos ahead of May elections, has responded to the announcement by accusing his opponent of using the peace talks for “political purposes,” El Heraldo reports.
  • The AP has a quick overview of the agreement reached by Venezuelan officials and the opposition to widen a truth commission tasked with investigating recent violence in the country. Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin has said that the development shows that talks are making “progress” towards ending two months of demonstrations, but the news agency notes that students and opposition figures staged yet another protest in the capital yesterday. Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo has also praised the ongoing dialogues and the facilitation role played by UNASUR, saying the regional body demonstrated “great strength as a space for political cooperation,” EFE reports.
  • In the wake of the revelations about the failed ZunZuneo effort, Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas argues in a Huffington Post column that the program endangers opposition bloggers and USAID efforts elsewhere, and that its secretiveness is counterproductive to efforts to promote the open exchange of ideas. Meanwhile, the BBC looks at one thing that the USAID contractors right: there is immense interest in connecting to the internet on the island, and demand far outpaces the government’s efforts to allow limited email access to some cell phones.
  • Despite speculation that the ongoing drought in Brazil’s southeast or an escalating scandal involving oil giant Petrobras could hurt President Dilma Rousseff’s chances of reelection in October’s general election, she remains the clear frontrunner even as her support has fallen slightly. According to a new survey by local pollster Vox Populi, Rousseff would win the vote with 40 percent of the ballots if it were held today, while her two main rivals get only 24 percent combined, a figure which falls short of triggering a run-off vote.
  • A new report by natural resource-related conflict monitoring group Global Witness has found that Latin America accounts for two-thirds of environmental activist killings over the last decade. Nearly half of these occurred in Brazil, which is followed by Honduras as the top two most dangerous countries to champion environmental causes.
  • Yesterday, Uruguay’s Foreign Ministry announced that President Jose Mujica had added an agenda item to his scheduled meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House next month. According to El Pais, Mujica will enlist Obama’s help in fighting a lawsuit filed by Phillip Morris, which alleges that the country’s strong anti-tobacco laws violate its intellectual rights by requiring the alteration of products’ packaging.
  • InSight Crime’s Steven Dudley offers a gloomy look at the truce between El Salvador’s Barrio 18 and MS-13 street gangs, which appears to have faltered in recent months. He provides an overview of the major arguments by both supporters and critics of the gang ceasefire, ultimately concluding that regardless of any potential benefits in reduction of violence between gangs, conflict between them and authorities is objectively on the rise. Another factor that complicates the success of the truce, according to Dudley, is a disconnect between international donors and local actors that are capable of complementing it with violence prevention and other aid programs.
  • Amid rising concern about Salvadoran street gangs’ sophistication and reports of their alleged plans to attack security forces, Justice Minister Ricardo Perdomo has announced that the government would use anti-terrorism legislation to prosecute gang members who assault police and military personnel. As Reuters notes, these laws carry heavier penalties and longer mandatory sentences than standard homicide.