Senators denounce human rights abuses by military

Leaders discuss impunity, mechanisms of protection in Human Rights Day forum

Mexico Weekly / Dec. 13, 2010

By KAREN HOFFMANN

Senator Rosario Ibarra de Piedra (right) and supporters holding a banner depicting those who have been forcefully disappeared since 1969. At a Senate conference on the International Day of Human Rights, Ibarra de Piedra denounced abuses of human rights by the Mexican state. (Mexico Weekly Photo / Karen Hoffmann)

To honor the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, the Senate invited panelists to discuss how the state can better protect human rights defenders and journalists.

Isabel Miranda de Wallace, who recently received the 2010 Mexican National Human Rights Prize, said she regretted that in Mexico there are daily abuses against fundamental rights “to the point that we have gotten used to living with it.”

“The reality is frankly scandalous,” said Alberto Herrera, executive director of Amnesty International México. “It worries me that, after three years of forums and dialogues, little has changed. The problem is not the lack of dialogue or initiative. We need concrete steps that let us give human rights defenders a mechanism of protection.”

REFORMING MILITARY CODE OF JUSTICE

The Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) has given Mexico a deadline of December 2010 to reform the Military Code of Justice so that “the military jurisdiction cannot operate [in] situations that violate the human rights of civilians.”

On Oct. 18, President Felipe Calderón had proposed a reform to the code that would allow torture, rape, and forced disappearance to be tried by civilian, instead of military, authorities.

However, human rights organizations and senators have criticized the reform as not complying with the IACHR mandate. The reason: Of all the “serious abuses” committed during the Calderón administration, only five percent fell into the categories of torture, rape, and forced disappearance, according to Human Rights Watch. The remaining 95 percent included extrajudicial exectutions, sexual aggression, and cruel and degrading treatment. Under Calderon’s proposed reform, these would still be investigated by the Military Public Prosecutor.

And even in the cases of rape, torture, and forced disappearance, the Prosecutor would still be able to downgrade the charges so that they stayed in military courts. According to a report from the Security Sector Reform Resource Centre, the Prosecutor has a history of doing just that:

“In October 2008, soldiers detained four men in Chihuahua. A CNDH investigation into the incident found that the soldiers ‘put them face-down on the ground, covered their eyes, tied them up with rope, inserted a broom handle in their anuses, and then tied them to a tree so that they would confess to participating in criminal acts.’  Rather than charging the soldiers with rape or torture, the military is investigating them for ‘abuse of authority and sexual abuse.’ Both crimes would fall under military rather than civilian jurisdiction despite Calderón’s proposed reform. In November 2009, soldiers detained two brothers from Chihuahua without a warrant.  The men’s whereabouts are unknown.  The CNDH ruled that soldiers disappeared the men, but the military invested the case as ‘abuse of authority,’ not forced disappearance. Under Calderón’s reform, this case would also stay in military courts.”

MILITARIZATION OF THE STATE

Calderón’s proposed reform also reportedly puts a statute of limitations on forced disappearances. Senator Rosario Ibarra de Piedra (PT), whose son was “disappeared” 35 years ago, argues that the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearances prohibits putting time limits on the investigation of forced disappearances. She reported that the Army is kidnapping people for political purposes and called it unfair that the state violates human rights. “Aqui no pasa nada,” (she quoted Gabriel Garcia Marquez), “everything’s fine. I think the principal problem of human rights is the militarization of the state — a state of war has been declared.”

Standing at a podium in front of a statue of Belisario Dominguez, her voice filled the hall of the Senate anteroom. The 84-year-old said, “We’re not pessimists, but I tell you, we live in a state that talks about rights for some and takes them away for others. Even the IACHR condemns the Mexican state. The military state has to end.

Pointing to a banner with the names and photos of those who had been forcefully disappeared since 1969, she said, “Here are all the ones we’ve lost — brother, husband, my son. But we are not tired of fighting.”

PROTECTING JOURNALISTS, FREE EXPRESSION

In the panel on “Aggression against journalists and free expression,” Brisa Maya Solis, director of CENCOS, said “We’ve had to push to get this subject on the national agenda. There are ‘silent zones’ — certain types of information aren’t being published. Unfortunately, in 2010, the aggression took on a new level of violence. It became a part of daily life. Corruption, narcotrafficking, human rights violations — these topics couldn’t be covered. How many more deaths do we need to implement a mechanism of protection?”

Edelmiro Franco, a journalist from Colombia who has worked for Notimex for more than two decades, talked about the Colombian example, relevant now as everyone from Hillary Clinton on down talks about the “Colombianization” of Mexico. In Colombia, since 1977, 136 journalists have been killed. Those responsible include the narcotraffickers, the paramilitaries, the guerrillas, and agents of the state, he said.

In his official closing statement, Senator Carlos Navarrete Ruiz, coordinator of the parliamentary group of the PRD in the Senate, said: “It’s clear that regions of our country aren’t secure. Our Armed Forces are not police, and they are not prepared to act as such. They confront arms from the US just as strong, if not stronger, than what the armed forces have. The action of our armed forces is bringing as a consequence a regression in human rights, a regression with grave consequences for the daily life of thousands and thousands of Mexicans.”

Navarrete presented a resolution, signed by many senators, commemorating the International Day of Human Rights and promising to “analyze the existing proposals of adopting laws that protect journalistic work and any individual, group, or organization that is dedicated to promoting and defending human rights.”

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