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Mexico: US Aid Should Include Human Rights Conditions

The US Congress should oppose counternarcotics assistance to Mexico unless it includes strong conditions aimed at ending abuses by Mexican security forces, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Bush administration asked Congress on Monday to approve a US$500 million aid package to help Mexico improve its counternarcotics efforts and improve public security. Yet the Mexican military and law enforcement agencies responsible for counternarcotics operations have very poor human rights records.

“Helping Mexico confront its brutal drug cartels is a good idea,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Giving a blank check to that country’s abusive security forces is not.”

Over the past two years, Mexican soldiers have committed egregious abuses while engaged in law enforcement activities. In July 2006, for example, soldiers in Coahuila state beat seven municipal policemen and sexually abused 14 women, according to the national human rights ombudsman. In May 2007, soldiers arbitrarily detained 65 people in Michoacán state, holding some incommunicado at a military base, beating many of the detainees, and raping four minors. In June, soldiers opened fire against a truck in Sinaloa, killing five people, including three children, and injuring three others.

Impunity for these human rights violations is the norm. The military justice system, which routinely exercises jurisdiction over military abuses, lacks the independence necessary to carry out credible investigations. The ability of military prosecutors to investigate abuses is further undermined by a fear of the army, which is widespread in many rural communities and which inhibits civilian victims and witnesses from providing information to military authorities.

The US Congress should ensure that the release of the proposed funds be contingent upon a periodic certification process to determine that abuses committed during counternarcotics operations are thoroughly and effectively investigated and prosecuted.

“The US Congress has an opportunity to use this aid as leverage to press Mexico’s security forces to improve their appalling human rights record,” said Vivanco.

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