(Washington, DC) - The US State Department should not certify Mexico's compliance with the Merida Initiative's human rights requirements so long as Mexican army abuses continue to be tried in military rather than civilian courts, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released today.
The US Congress mandated that 15 percent of funds to be provided to Mexico under the Merida Initiative, a multi-year regional aid package to help address the increasing violence and corruption of heavily armed drug cartels, should be withheld until the secretary of state reports to Congress that the Mexican government has met four human rights conditions. They include the requirement that military abuses be investigated and prosecuted by civilian rather than military authorities.
"The Merida Initiative provides the Obama administration with an important opportunity to strengthen US-Mexican drug enforcement and human rights cooperation," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in the letter. "To capitalize on this opportunity, however, the Obama administration should vigorously enforce the human rights requirements included in the aid package."
The letter expresses concern over the rapidly growing number of serious abuses committed by the Mexican military during counternarcotics and public security operations, including rapes, killings, torture, and arbitrary detentions, and the failure to bring those responsible to justice.
In the past 10 years, Mexican military courts - which routinely take over the investigation of military abuses against civilians - have not convicted a single member of the military accused of committing a serious human rights violation. The country's military prosecutors and judges lack the independence necessary to ensure that these cases are brought to justice, Human Rights Watch said.
"When soldiers commit human rights crimes, they damage their image as a professional force that is respectful of civilians, and contribute to the climate of lawlessness and violence that is part of what is fueling Mexico's public-security problem," Roth said in the letter.
Human Rights Watch recommended that Clinton issue a written report certifying Mexico's compliance with the Merida Initiative's human rights requirements only if and when she can determine that Mexico has effectively reformed its military justice system to ensure that alleged serious human rights abuses will by law be tried before civilian authorities, and are in fact being investigated and prosecuted by civilian authorities.