Of the tens of thousands of investigations into the use of torture in Mexico since 2006, less than one percent have ended in convictions — stark evidence of the country’s inability to tackle such abuse.
While 27,342 investigations into torture were initiated nationwide between 2006 and 2018, judges handed down just 50 convictions, according to new data published by the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (Comisión Mexicana para la Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos — CMDPDH).
According to the report, more than half of torture allegations recorded during this time were attributed to the armed forces, which former President Felipe Calderón deployed to the streets nearly 15 years ago to battle Mexico’s organized crime groups in a “drug war” that wages on today.
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Torture complaints are often not documented. Only about one percent of the 36,401 complaints made to national and state human rights commissions and the Executive Commission of Attention to Victims (Comisión Ejecutiva de Atención a Víctimas — CEAV) were officially registered in the National Victims Registry (Registro Nacional de Víctimas — RENAVI), according to the report.
“Since the start of the ‘war on drugs,’ we have documented that torture committed by security forces … has become increasingly common, to the point of being considered a generalized and at times systematic practice,” the CMDPDH wrote.
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This data lays bare how the Mexican government has not curtailed the use of torture by security forces, even as countless national and international organizations have for years denounced the practice.
According to a 2014 report by the special rapporteur on torture for the United Nations (UN), the “generalized” use of torture in Mexico as “punishment” and a “means of investigation” happens with a “disturbing level of impunity.”
One of the most high-profile instances of widespread torture came in the still ongoing investigation of the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College in southwest Guerrero state. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found in a 2018 report that suspects were arbitrarily detained and tortured by the army and police in order to obtain confessions that were later used as evidence.
Dozens of those detained as part of the investigation have since been released as a result.
“The use of torture with impunity in Mexico has been a constant,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, the author of the 2017 book “Los Zetas Inc.” and an expert on security in Mexico.
“It’s one of many pieces that shows just how weak Mexico’s justice and security institutions are, yet there hasn’t been a concerted effort on the part of the government to address the issue,” she told InSight Crime.
The Mexican government has often fallen back on the military to curtail violent armed groups operating in a rapidly changing criminal landscape that has seen record-breaking levels of violence for the past three years. Allegations of increased abuse and torture have followed accordingly.
The military is not a crime-fighting institution and the rates of documented abuse by its ranks reflect its inability to act as such. Little has been done to prepare soldiers to carry out duties outside of armed combat.
“The extension of the military’s crime-fighting role has come without addressing human rights abuses or the fact that the institution isn’t prepared to deal with this role,” said Correa-Cabrera.