Human-Rights Failings Overshadow Peña Nieto’s US Visit



Demonstrators in their hundreds took to the streets of over 20 US cities on January 6, protesting Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s official visit, and demanding justice for the still-missing Ayotzinapa students.

Several human-rights groups sent letters to President Barack Obama, urging him to press his Mexican counterpart on the investigations surrounding the disappearance of the 43 students in Iguala in September, as well as the killing of 22 people in Tlatlaya in June by federal armed forces.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) published an open letter noting their “deep concern” with the “rapid deterioration of human and workers’ rights in Mexico, a crisis that directly and substantially affects working people in both [our] countries.”

The labor union’s head Richard Trumka argued that the Iguala disappearances were not an isolated incident, but rather stemmed from endemic corruption, police brutality and judicial impunity in Mexico.

José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch (HRW) coordinator for the Americas, also submitted a missive where he described the killings as reflecting “a broader pattern of abuse and impunity,” arguing that they were “in large part the consequence of the government’s failure to address it.”

For HRW, the Peña Nieto administration has fallen short on its promises to end human-rights abuses in Mexico. While it signalled that the US government “could play an important role in helping Mexico address this crisis,” Vivanco alleged that Obama so far “has been sending precisely the wrong message by failing to enforce the human-rights requirements included in the Merida Initiative, a joint US-Mexico effort to combat organized crime.”

Washington has funnelled over US$2 billion into the Initiative since 2007, 15 percent of which conditional on human-rights improvements which HRW alleges haven’t been complied with.

On the agenda during Enrique Peña Nieto’s White House visit on Tuesday was bilateral cooperation in matters such as energy, commerce, and migration, notably regarding the status of illegal Mexican immigrants on US soil.

Questioned on the human-rights abuses in Mexico during a press conference, senior US administration officials expressed their sympathies toward the families of the Ayotzinapa student victims: “It is our strong belief that those who were involved in this crime must be brought to justice as the result of a thorough and transparent investigation.”

Mexico Ignoring Human-Rights Violations

Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission regularly reports on the abuses and complaints received against state authorities. In 2014 in Tamaulipas State alone, 104 complaints were filed for arbitrary detentions, as well as 50 house raids without warrant, and 65 alleged cases of abuse of authority.

On September 2014, Amnesty International (AI) highlighted in its report “Out of Control: Torture and Other Ill-treatment in Mexico” that complaints against local police and federal armed forces have increased 600 percent over the last decade.

“The authorities can’t keep looking in the opposite direction,” insisted Erika Guevara Ross, AI’s director for the Americas. “The fact that measures to prevent torture and other abuses are just barely being taken — and that investigations into complaints often only lead to minimizing the gravity of the abuses — is a clear indication that the government is not protecting human rights.”

64 percent of Mexicans polled by the NGO said they were afraid of being tortured if arrested by the authorities.

Corruption, and perceptions thereof, are also widespread issues afflicting the Mexican government at all levels. On June 16, the National Statistics and Geography Institute (INEGI) published the National Government Quality and Impact Survey (ENCIG), revealing that 12 out of 100 Mexicans have been the victims of corruption when dealing with paperwork or seeking a public service at state institutions.

Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Laurie Blair.

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