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We dedicate this report to the memory of Digna Ochoa, a courageous lawyer who devoted her life to defending the victims of human rights abuses in Mexico. Digna never shied away from taking on the most sensitive cases -- including several of those documented in this report-even in the face of repeated harassment and threats against her life. When asked last April if she was afraid she might be killed, she responded, "I knew from the outset that this line of work involved risks." Asked if she ever considered quitting, she said no.

On October 19, 2001, Digna Ochoa was found dead in her Mexico City law office. She had been shot in the head. A note left by her side warned members of the human rights organization where she had worked until recently that the same could happen to them.

Digna Ochoa's example of dedication and courage lives on as an inspiration to us as we continue her struggle for the respect of fundamental human rights in the region.

* * * 

Daniel Wilkinson, Orville Schell Fellow in the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, researched and wrote this report, drawing on information gathered during fact-finding missions to Mexico City and Guerrero state in March, April and June of 2001. Joanne Mariner, deputy director of the Americas Division, contributed to the research. Anne Manuel, consultant to Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights Watch Program Director Malcolm Smart edited the report. Human Rights Watch General Counsel Wilder Tayler and Americas Division Executive Director José Miguel Vivanco also reviewed the text.

Human Rights Watch is grateful to the many organizations, government officials, and individuals who assisted during the research of this report. In particular, we acknowledge with thanks the assistance provided by members of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, including Edgar Cortez, Mario Patrón, and Alfredo Castillo. In Guerrero, we received support from journalist Maribel Guttierez, as well as from Hilda Navarrete, president of the human rights organization, "Voice of Those Without Voice." We thank Miguel Sarré and Pilar Noriega for providing advice on the legal issues, and Laurie Freeman for her valuable assistance identifying and researching cases.

Human Rights Watch also extends its thanks to the following Mexican government officials: Subsecretary for Human Rights and Democracy Mariclaire Acosta, the Foreign Ministry's General Director of Human Rights Juan José Gomez Camacho, Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission Francisco Olguín Uribe, and attorney general of military justice Brig. Gen. Jaime Antonio López Portillo Robles Gil.

Finally, we would like to thank the victims and their families and the other witnesses who agreed to tell us their often painful stories. 


Over the past decade Mexico has increasingly relied on its army to police its countryside -- combating insurgent groups in the mid-1990s and waging war on the illegal drug trade in recent years. Unfortunately, the Mexican government has not found an adequate way to police the army itself. Under the current system, soldiers who commit abuses in the line of duty are legally accountable to military authorities, but neither they nor the military court system are accountable to civilians. This arrangement has resulted in human rights violations going unpunished. 

When President Vicente Fox took office in December 2000, bringing an end to seven decades of one-party rule in Mexico, he promised to take aggressive steps to improve Mexico's human rights record. He appointed several people known for their advocacy of human rights to important official posts from which they have since begun to implement changes. Under Fox's leadership Mexico has become active in promoting the concept of the universality of human rights principles and in opening the country to scrutiny by international human rights monitors, something that previous governments considered anathema.

At the same time, President Fox has also declared his intention to wage a "war without quarter" against drug trafficking, raising concerns that aggressive policing practices by the armed forces could take insufficient account of the protection of human rights. Recently, in releasing prisoners Rodolfo Montiel Flores and Teodoro Cabrera García, President Fox himself showed an awareness of this problem. The two men, environmentalists from the state of Guerrero, had been abused by soldiers who arrested them in 1999. In ordering their release, President Fox cited several international human rights treaties binding on Mexico and stated that his action was meant to demonstrate his government's commitment to human rights norms.

Human Rights Watch visited Guerrero state in southwestern Mexico in April and June of 2001 to examine how the Mexican government has handled abuse allegations by Montiel and Cabrera and other civilians in the region. Guerrero is an important site of illegal drug cultivation and trafficking and has one of the highest levels of military activity in the country. Examining human rights cases there from 1997-2001, we found a disturbing pattern of abuse and impunity:

    · soldiers have been able to use their policing power to commit serious human rights violations against civilians;

    · the government has failed to investigate and punish alleged abuses;

    · this failure has exacerbated a climate of fear and distrust that reinforces the impunity of military personnel in the region. 
Underlying this pattern of abuse and impunity is a simple matter of jurisdiction. At present, abuses committed by military personnel are not subject to the jurisdiction of civilian courts. Instead, exclusive authority to investigate and prosecute these abuses is granted to the military justice system. But, as this report shows, the army prosecutor's office has proven to be unable to properly investigate human rights cases.

Under international law, the Mexican government has an obligation to investigate and punish all serious human rights violations committed by army personnel. Currently it is failing to meet this obligation. 

Based on this research, Human Rights Watch believes that Mexico will only be able to fulfill this obligation to punish army abuses once it ends military jurisdiction over all cases involving human rights violations.

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