(Washington, DC) – US President Barack Obama should press President Enrique Peña Nieto to address Mexico’s failure to investigate and prosecute egregious abuses by Mexican security forces, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Obama.
Obama will host Peña Nieto at the White House on January 6, 2015. The United States has provided Mexico more than US$2 billion in funding since 2007 through the Merida Initiative, a joint US-Mexico effort to combat organized crime.
“Mexico is facing its worst human rights crisis in years, with security forces committing horrific abuses that are rarely punished,” said Daniel Wilkinson, Americas managing director at Human Rights Watch. “The Peña Nieto administration has so far failed to take this crisis seriously, and President Obama has been unwilling to call them on it.”
Two recent atrocities – the killing of 22 people by soldiers in Tlatlaya, Mexico state, in June 2014, and the enforced disappearance of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero, in September – have drawn international media attention and prompted large-scale public protests in Mexico.
The two cases reflect a broader pattern of abuse and impunity, and are in large part the consequence of the Mexican government’s failure to address the issue, Human Rights Watch said. Since former President Felipe Calderón began a “war on drugs” in 2007, Mexican security forces have engaged in egregious 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. United Nations human rights monitors have found that torture is a “generalized” practice in the country, and that extrajudicial executions by security forces have been “widespread.”
The Peña Nieto administration has promised to take steps to investigate and prosecute the abuses, but has failed to follow through on its own initiatives.
Fifteen percent of US assistance provided under the Merida Initiative is supposed to be conditioned on Mexico meeting a set of basic human rights requirements, which include ensuring that security force violations are investigated and prosecuted.
The Obama administration has repeatedly certified that the Merida requirements are being met, despite clear evidence to the contrary, Human Rights Watch said. When asked about the Merida funds that are subject to these requirements, Obama said in December 2014 that “the best thing we can do is to be a good partner and to build on the progress that’s been made.”
The administration should withhold further certification until Mexico makes significant progress in prosecuting abuses by security forces, Human Rights Watch said.
“If President Obama wants to be a genuinely good partner, he needs to be willing to say what the Mexican government needs to hear,” Wilkinson said.