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Mexico Denies Human Rights Crisis as Criticism Mounts

By John Lindsay-Poland

US policymakers are becoming increasingly skeptical about assistance to Mexican police and military forces, as the Mexican government has stonewalled investigations into human rights violations, especially the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

“It is unheard of what the Mexican government did with the Independent Group of Experts by pressuring the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to end the experts’ mandate in the investigation of Ayotzinapa,” a staff member for a powerful Senate committee told the Mexican magazine Proceso. “What’s most serious is that President Peña Nieto’s government rejects any statement on this, despite the evidence.”

US arms sales and homicidesSenate sources told Proceso that they would demand the State Department withhold nearly $20 million from counter-drug assistance to Mexico, because of the country’s rejection of human rights concerns. The suspension would follow an unprecedented cut in military aid last year because of human rights concerns. So far, policy makers in Washington have not applied the same criticism to official U.S. arms sales to the Mexican police and military, which have amounted to more than $3.5 billion since 2012.

The 43 college students were disappeared in September 2014 by police forces reported collaborating with organize criminal groups, and are among more than 25,000 people reported disappeared in Mexico.

The final report released by the Group of Experts (known by its Spanish acronym, GIEI) on April 24 points to torture of at least 17 people detained in the case, on whose testimony the government based its official version, which GIEI demonstrated was not possible. Seats for government officials remained empty at the public presentation of the GIEI report, which hundreds of people attended. The government declined to renew the GIEI’s mandate, and remained silent in the face of a vicious media campaign against the GIEI’s members and the Inter-American Commission.

The Group said that their work “was born out of a wound” felt by the family members of the Ayotzinapa students who were disappeared. But the Mexican military refused to make available soldiers from the 27th Battalion who were aware of the events when the students were attacked.

Led by parents and relatives of those disappeared in Ayotzinapa, thousands of people protested in Mexico City on April 26. Family members expressed gratitude to the GIEI the day before for exposing what they called the government’s lies and lack of investigation of the crime.

The Ayotzinapa case is only the most prominent of serious atrocities of military and police violations that remain in impunity. Freedom House called Mexico an “unfree country” for journalists, for the fifth year in a row, and denounced persecution of human rights activists in the country. The annual human rights report of the State Department observed that “Impunity and corruption in the law enforcement and justice system remained serious problems,” with police and the military involved in “unlawful killings, torture, and disappearances.”

Permanent vigil for Ayotzinapa students at Mexican attorney general's officeA United Nations group of human rights experts said the GIEI report shows “serious deficiencies in the justice system, a worrying weakness of the State to investigate with due diligence gross human rights violations and the sophisticated level of coordination of some authorities in the commission of crimes.”

This month a video of soldiers torturing a detained woman with a bag over her head led the chief of the Mexican military to apologize to the victim. But the only military personnel accused of wrongdoing are low-ranking soldiers, one of whom said, “I don’t give myself orders. I am a foot soldier.”

Washington has steadily decreased military and police assistance to Mexico, from a peak of $682 million in 2009 to $79 million last year. But while military and police assistance has declined and lawmakers press for suspensions of portions of aid based on human rights concerns, US arms sales to Mexico have been on the rise. AFSC has produced a new infographic that illustrates the relationship between arms sales and the elevated rates of homicide in Mexico.

Are Congressional leaders willing to apply the same criteria to military sales to Mexico, a state in denial about its human rights and corruption crises?

American Friends Service Committee is organizing a delegation to Mexico, focused on the impacts of arms sales on human rights, which plans to visit Guerrero. Find more information on AFSC’s web page to Stop US-Fueled Violence in Mexico.