On April 23, 24 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing their concern about the persistence of grave human rights violations in Mexico and urging the administration to make the defense of human rights a central part of the U.S.-Mexico bilateral agenda. The bipartisan letter sponsored by Congressmen James Moran (D-VA) and Ted Poe (R-TX) comes just a week before President Obama will travel to Mexico to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The letter cites the five-fold increase in complaints of human rights violations by Mexican soldiers and federal police since the Mexican government began its “war on organized crime” in 2006 and advises Secretary Kerry that “[n]ow is an opportune moment to work with the Mexican government to improve the situation in that country.”
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) supports this letter and believes that it is critical for the United States to express its concern about the human rights situation in the country as well as its support for the Mexican government’s efforts to protect human rights. “The dire human rights situation in Mexico is not going to solve itself,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA Senior Associate for Mexico and Central America. “As the bilateral agenda evolves, it is critical that the U.S. and Mexican governments continue to focus on how best to support and defend human rights in Mexico.”
The letter expresses concern not only about the proliferation of human rights violations committed by government security forces, but also about the fact that only a handful of those responsible for such violations are ever investigated or sanctioned. “Unfortunately, a majority of these abuses go uninvestigated, and as a consequence, unpunished,” the members of Congress write, noting that government data shows that only two federal agents were convicted for torture between January 1994 and June 2010, and only 38 soldiers have been sentenced by military courts for human right abuses since 2006.
“To date, the Mexican government has not responded affectively to abuses committed by members of the armed forces and federal police against the civilian population,” said Meyer. “Holding violators of human rights accountable by investigating specific cases is key to curbing abuses.”
The United States has provided Mexico with over US$1.9 billion in security assistance since FY2008. However, as the congressional letter notes, the State Department is currently withholding $18 million of this assistance until the United States identifies areas of future collaboration with the Peña Nieto government on key human rights issues. The members of Congress emphasize that “[t]he human rights crisis will not improve until there are stronger legal protections, increased human rights training for Mexico’s security forces, and more government agents held responsible for the human rights violations they commit.”
Senior Associate for Mexico and Central America