BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mexican authorities are turning a blind eye to the widespread use of torture by the police and armed forces, and are failing to investigate a surge in reported cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday.
The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received 1,505 complaints of torture and other ill-treatment in 2013, including electric shocks, beatings, mock executions and rape, a 600 percent rise from 2003, Amnesty said.
In its report on torture in Mexico, the rights group said the number of cases reported to the CNDH had fallen recently but was still far higher than a decade ago.
“Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment play a central role in policing and public security operations by military and police forces across Mexico, the Amnesty report said.
“These practices are widespread and are frequently condoned, tolerated or ignored by other law enforcement officials, superior officers, prosecutors, judges and some human rights commissions,” it said.
In a recent poll commissioned by Amnesty on attitudes to torture, 64 percent of Mexicans surveyed said they feared being tortured if taken into custody.
WAR ON DRUGS
Reports of torture and other ill-treatment increased as violence spiralled in Mexico after President Felipe Calderon launched a war on the drug cartels in late 2006, Amnesty said.
“The deployment of the armed forces to combat organised crime led to a sharp and sustained increase in reports of human rights violations, including reports of the use of torture and other ill-treatment,” the report said.
“Soldiers involved in policing and public security tasks usually lack the necessary training for law enforcement roles,” it added.
The security forces use torture and abuse to obtain confessions from detainees, to extort money and to intimidate suspects, Amnesty said.
Security forces detain not only suspected criminals but also innocent bystanders, protesters, and people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, it said.
In more than 20 cases documented in Amnesty’s report, most of those tortured by police were men from marginalized communities, such as irregular migrants. But cases of women and children being tortured have also been reported.
One victim, Jorge Gonzalez, told Amnesty he and 10 other young people were forced off a bus and arrested by police on their way to join a public protest in Mexico City in October 2013, on the anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco square student massacre.
“After searching me, 50 riot squad arrived, between 8 and 10 of them began to twist my arm with a baton … They gave me electric shocks in the ribs and in the left side of my back, all the time insulting and threatening me,” Gonzalez is quoted as saying.
Another victim, Victor Martinez, said federal police arrested him and four other young men in Ciudad Juarez in August 2010 and tortured them to make them confess to a crime they had not committed.
“He put a bag over my head and tied it to stop me breathing. Afterwards I had to raise my arms while they kicked and beat me in the ribs,” Martinez said.
All five were acquitted earlier this year after a campaign by relatives and human rights campaigners but their allegations of torture were not addressed, the report said.
Few allegations of torture lead to prosecutions in Mexico, and only seven men have ever been convicted of torture in federal courts, the report said.
Between 2006 and 2013 the federal attorney general’s office opened 1,219 investigations into complaints of torture and other ill-treatment but only initiated 12 prosecutions, Amnesty said.
“Routine failure to enforce safeguards to prevent torture and other ill-treatment coupled with investigations into complaints that are often biased and downplay the severity of the abuse, are indicative of a government that is failing to protect human rights,” Erika Guevara, Amnesty’s Americas director, said in a statement.
(Editing by Tim Pearce; email@example.com)