President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC, 20500
Dear President Obama,
In anticipation of your meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto on January 6, 2015, I am writing to share with you Human Rights Watch’s serious concerns regarding the human rights crisis that Mexico is facing today.
This crisis has attracted international attention in recent months due to two major atrocities—the worst we’ve seen in Mexico in years—involving public security forces. One involves the killing of 22 people by soldiers in the town of Tlatlaya, in Mexico state, in June. The other involves the enforced disappearance of 43 students after they were taken away by municipal police forces in the town of Iguala, in Guerrero state, in September. While federal prosecutors have obtained arrests in both cases, the government initially delayed investigations, and state prosecutors sought to cover up military wrongdoing in the Tlatlaya case by using torture to coerce false testimony from witnesses.
Unfortunately, these cases are by no means isolated incidents. Instead, they reflect a broader pattern of abuse and impunity, and are in large part the consequence of the government’s failure to address it.
Since then-President Felipe Calderón launched a “war on drugs” in 2007, Mexican military and police have engaged in egregious human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances. Human Rights Watch has documented such abuses by security forces throughout the country, including 149 cases of enforced disappearances. UN human rights monitors have found that torture is a “generalized” practice in the country, and that extrajudicial executions by security forces have been “widespread.”
When President Peña Nieto took office two years ago, he recognized the human rights problems he inherited and his administration promised to take steps to address them. Yet his administration has largely failed to follow through on its own initiatives. For example, in 2013 it created a special unit of prosecutors to handle cases of people who had been disappeared by security forces. After nearly two years, the office has failed to successfully prosecute a single case from the past eight years. Instead of strengthening the unit, however, the administration recently decided to drastically reduce its budget. The predictable result will be further abuses and further impunity.
The United States could play an important role in helping Mexico address this crisis. Unfortunately, however, your administration 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. The US has authorized more than $2 billion in Merida funding to Mexico since 2007, a significant part of which has gone to training and equipping Mexican security forces. Fifteen percent of that assistance is supposed to be conditioned on Mexico’s meeting a set of basic human rights requirements, which include ensuring that abuses by security forces are being investigated and prosecuted.
Despite unequivocal evidence—including cases documented in the State Department’s own reports—that Mexico has failed to meet these requirements, your administration has repeatedly allowed the funds to be released. In its most recent report, in September 2014, the State Department justified the release of funds on the grounds that Mexico has demonstrated “progress” toward meeting the requirements, which is not the
standard set by the law and does not reflect the reality in Mexico. More recently, when asked about the funds for Mexico conditioned on meeting human rights requirements, you said that “the best thing we can do is to be a good partner and to build on the progress that’s been made."
Mr. President, in light of the Mexican government’s failure to address the problem of abuse and impunity, we believe the best thing the United States could do now to be a “good partner” would be to press President Peña Nieto to take this crisis more seriously. Concretely, in your upcoming meeting
with President Peña Nieto, you should ask him to explain exactly what steps he is taking to ensure that Mexico prosecutes abuses. In addition, you should make it clear that if Mexico is unable to show significant results in prosecuting human rights crimes, your administration will no longer be able to certify that the human rights requirements in the Merida Initiative have been met.
José Miguel Vivanco
Americas Executive Director
Human Rights Watch