Human Rights Watch expresses deep concern about reports of human rights violations allegedly committed against civilians detained after a May 28 protest march in Guadalajara.
Dear Governor Ramírez Acuña,
I am writing to express deep concern about reports of serious human rights violations committed against civilians detained after a protest march in Guadalajara, Jalisco, on May 28. Human Rights Watch has received credible accounts of arbitrary detentions, serious cases of police brutality, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of protestors, including cases of torture. These alleged abuses appear to have been facilitated by the failure of state police and justice officials to respect basic due process guarantees. Moreover, the blatant, indiscriminate, and prolonged nature of this abusive conduct—which can by no means be characterized as an isolated incident—strongly suggests that it was carried out with the approval of some level of command within the security forces. We respectfully urge you to demand thorough and impartial investigations of these alleged abuses, and prosecution of those found responsible for them.
On Friday, May 28, thousands of people from local and national civil society organizations, unions, student groups and political parties held a protest march in Guadalajara to coincide with the final day of the Third Summit of Heads of State and Governments from Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union. During the course of the afternoon, a group of protestors separated from the march and clashed with riot police, allegedly throwing stones, bottles and sticks. The police responded with teargas and began detaining protestors. Several hours after the march ended, police swept through the area around the protest, rounding up people as they sat in public parks, rode buses, walked down the street, and as they were treated in the Red Cross Clinic. State officials informed the Jalisco State Human Rights Commission (Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos de Jalisco, CEDHJ) that a total of 111 people were detained. Fifty-nine of them were released without charge over the next twenty-four hours. The rest were held through the weekend. Forty-nine of them now face criminal charges for alleged participation in the disturbances. Of this group, nineteen reportedly remain in prison today.
We recognize that the state of Jalisco has a duty to prosecute anyone who broke the law during the May 28 disturbances. Yet in carrying out their law enforcement duties, state police and other officials also have an obligation to respect the basic rights of detainees, as established in international human rights law and the Mexican constitution.
Human Rights Watch has interviewed several former detainees who reported having been subject to police brutality, arbitrary detention, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, including torture, in the wake of the disturbances. The CEDHJ has also reported similar abuses, as have press accounts based on interviews with former detainees.
Several former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they had been beaten during and after their arrests. Karen Vasquez, a twenty-year-old university student from Guadalajara, told Human Rights Watch that police arrested her hours after she had left the march. She was coming out of a restaurant with a group of friends at 8:30 p.m. when “they grabbed me by the neck and were pulling me along the street. Every time I asked what I had done and where they were taking me, they yelled ‘Shut up!’ and told me I had better keep quiet.” Ricardo Medina, a twenty-four-year-old resident of Guadalajara who did not participate in the march, told Human Rights Watch that he was walking past the site of the confrontation between police and protestors at 9:00 p.m. “Suddenly, they grabbed me, hitting me in the knees and on my back with batons.” Even though he offered no resistance, he was beaten severely in the head and punched in the stomach.
Patrick Leet, a twenty-seven-year-old U.S. citizen who was in Guadalajara for a week-long conference, was leaving his hotel at 7:00 p.m. when a group of police in riot gear came running down the street, chasing after a group of civilians. As he turned around to go back inside the hotel, the officers seized him. “They threw me to the ground, and started to kick me everywhere, in the face, the back, to the ribs, my neck,” Leet told Human Rights Watch, adding that, when he tried to get away from them, a policeman drew a handgun and held it to Leet’s head, telling him, “If you move, I will kill you.”
José Marti, a twenty-year-old Guadalajara resident, told Human Rights Watch that he was caught in a confrontation between riot police and protestors after he stopped on his way home from work to observe the march. He attempted to flee when the police charged the protestors, but fell to the street and was overtaken by police officers, who kicked and clubbed him on his back, legs and arms. A blow to his head opened a wound that would require four centimeters of stitches. Police then dragged him down the street, pulled him up by his hair, made him run a distance, and forced him to the ground again with blows to the back of his knees. Again he was lifted by his hair, made to run, and then forced to the ground. The police kicked him in the face, splitting his upper lip (the wound would require two centimeters of stitches), sprayed a liquid, possibly teargas, in his face, burning his eyes and temporarily blinding him, and slammed his head repeatedly against the metal shutter of a storefront. After repeated beatings he was forced to kneel on the street with other detainees, until a paramedic arrived and took him to a nearby Red Cross clinic, where his wounds were treated. Later in the night, police arrived at the clinic and arrested him.
Former detainees told Human Rights Watch that the physical mistreatment and abuse continued once they were in custody. They described how they were placed in a large holding cell in the basement of a police station. Prisoners were forced to lie face-down on the cement floor, with their hands behind their heads and their legs crossed for periods of several hours. “If you moved,” Alejandro Zapa, a thirty-one-year old school teacher from Guadalajara said, “they would kick you in the head or stand on your back.” Police persistently mocked and threatened the detainees in the holding cell with more violence. Patrick Leet reported:
- Throughout the night, dozens of riot police kept coming into the cell to taunt the prisoners. Sometimes they would single out prisoners, telling them that they recognized them, punching them and kicking them. They forced prisoners to do exercises and hold heavy objects above their heads for long periods of time without letting them down. Other times they just threatened them, laughing.
The female detainees were reportedly called prostitutes and threatened with rape. While in the police station, they were taken to an adjacent room where they were forced to strip naked for full body searches. “There were twelve or thirteen of us,” Karen Vasquez told Human Rights Watch. “They sent us into the room in groups of two. We had to take of all of our clothes for inspections and then they made us do sit-ups while they watched.” Occasionally, male guards and police opened the door to the room, making derogatory and sexually suggestive comments to the nude women prisoners.
During their detention, which in some cases lasted as long as two full days, the prisoners were given no food. They were only allowed to drink from a single bottle of water that was passed sporadically around among more than one hundred prisoners. The guards prevented them from sleeping. There was no bathroom in the police station holding cell, so the prisoners had to ask permission to use one outside of the cell. According to former detainees, the first prisoners who used the bathroom were abused by the guards and police outside of the cell, and advised the rest not to go. “When they told us what happened,” Alejandro Zapa said, “we decided it was better to wait.” José Martí reported that when one prisoner asked to go to the bathroom, police forced him to stand with his feet apart and kicked him repeatedly between the legs.
Human Rights Watch received credible reports of confessions being elicited through cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, including torture. Ricardo Medina said that while he was detained in the public prosecutor’s office he was punched several times in the face, the side of the head, and the stomach before being taken alone to a room where he was presented with a pre-written confession. “I was going to read it,” he said, “but they told me to sign it quickly. They hit me and warned me that if I asked anything else about my rights they would beat me more.”
Norberto Ulloa Martinez, a twenty-six-year-old university student who participated in the march, described a similar experience to Human Rights Watch:
- Every half hour, they came to the cell and took us out one at a time. They opened the door to the cell and began to beat me. There were five of them. They asked for my information – my name, address – and then they beat me again. The came many times during the day and night, asking us the same questions over again, and hitting and kicking us each time….. On Sunday, I was taken alone to a room by four policemen. They punched and kicked me in the head, the back, the legs, and knees and threatened to kill me if I didn’t sign the confession they had written. One of them carried a pistol. He said, ‘if you don’t sign, I will kill you.’ I signed the declaration.
José Marti, in written testimony submitted to Human Rights Watch, reported being beaten repeatedly over two days:
- They beat me so I would provide information and say which organization I belonged to. Since I don’t know anything about any organization I couldn’t answer and they tried to force me to talk about an organization....Later a judicial hit my head where I’d received stitches, making me start bleeding. “You’re going to speak, cabrón,” he said, dragging me by the hair to the patio. They made me line up with two other people against the wall with legs spread, hands on the back of the neck and forehead against the wall …. They beat us, with threats that in our declarations we had to say that we were guilty of the disturbances, … that we had hit the police, and if we didn’t they would not stop beating us….They didn’t let us sleep, all night we were beaten. At dawn, they took us to that place…and make me sign a declaration, along with four copies, which I wasn’t allowed to read.
The failure of state police and justice officials to respect basic due process guarantees may have facilitated excessive use of force, acts of police brutality, and arbitrary detentions. State police appear to have violated article 16 of the Mexican constitution, which establishes that civilians can only be arrested after a judge issues a warrant for their arrest, or when they are caught in the act of committing a crime. Many detainees were captured without arrest warrants hours after the march concluded and their alleged crimes had been committed. Former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were not informed of the reason of their arrest at the time they were detained. Police also appear to have also violated the constitutional provision that establishes that all detainees should immediately be turned over to officials in the public prosecutor’s office without delay. The detainees, arrested on Friday evening, were not presented to officials in the public prosecutor’s office until Sunday.
The detainees were held incommunicado for two days, in clear violation of article 20 of the Mexican Constitution. State officials did not release the names of detainees until 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 29, almost a full day after most of them were arrested. Police and justice officials rejected requests by families, lawyers and state human rights ombudsman to contact detainees or learn more about their status. José Luis Sanchez, president of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Asociación Nacional de Abogados Democráticos), told Human Rights Watch that the lawyers in his organization were denied access to the prisoners, despite an agreement they had previously made with the state attorney general that they would be allowed to represent any protesters who might be arrested. The police and state officials even refused to allow representatives of the State Human Rights Commission (CEDHJ) to visit the detainees. The CEDHJ made repeated requests, both verbal and written, to visit the prisoners, beginning at 12:50 a.m. on the morning of the May 29. But police and state officials did not grant them access to the detainees until Sunday evening, May 30, after detainees had already made self-incriminating declarations.
State police and justice officials also denied detainees their right to obtain legal counsel of their choice, as established in article 20 of the Constitution. José Martí, for example, told Human Rights Watch that he requested permission to contract a lawyer before being forced to sign a self-incriminating statement in the public prosecutor´s office. The officials rejected his request, telling him that he had no choice but to let one of the men present in the room serve as his attorney. He and other detainees were again denied the right to choose their own attorneys when they were brought before a judge on Monday, May 31, and were instead assigned court-appointed lawyers.
In addition to violating Mexican law, the abuses reported by former detainees violate international human rights treaties that have been ratified by Mexico. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, for example, establishes (in article 9) that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention,” and that “No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.” It also requires that “Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.” The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment expressly prohibits “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person . . . when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
Under international law, states have an obligation not only to prevent human rights abuses, but also to conduct thorough and impartial investigations, and to prosecute those found responsible for committing them. We therefore urge you to ensure that there are thorough and impartial investigations into the alleged violations committed during and after the May 28 disturbances, and that their findings are used to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations. We also urge you to ensure that any police or state officials being prosecuted for these crimes be immediately suspended from service. In order to prevent future violations, we strongly recommend that you issue instructions to state security forces that abusive treatment and torture will not be tolerated under any circumstances, and that officers who engage in these practices will lose their jobs and face criminal prosecution.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
José Miguel Vivanco
cc. Mr. Santiago Creel, Secretary of the Governorship
cc. General Rafael Macedo de la Concha, Ombudsman of the Republic
cc. Mr. Luis Ernesto Derbez, Foreign Minister
cc. Mr. Carlos Manuel Barba García, Obudsman of the Jalisco State Commission on Human Rights
cc. Mr. Anders Kompas, Representative of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico
cc. Ms. Patricia Olamendi, Sub-Secretary of the Foreign Ministry