Torture in Mexico is out of control
In just 10 years, the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has sent torture spiralling - and destroyed the lives of thousands.
Police and soldiers rape, beat up, suffocate and electrocute men and women as a way to get supposed ‘confessions’.
The result? Thousands of innocents in jail and a society of millions steeped in fear - 64% of who say they don’t feel safe from torture. Mexicans know that almost anyone can potentially be tortured in their country.
Meanwhile, the authorities look the other way – and hope the international community will do so too. And so, justice remains out of reach for most of those brave enough to report their torture. State doctors often dismiss injuries or examine victims too late, long after wounds have healed. The physical proof gone, the psychological proof ignored; no one is held to account.
Laws against torture exist in Mexico, it’s just that few pay any attention to them, and torturers get away with it. If the government’s latest bill on torture - currently being drafted - is to change that, torturers must finally be punished. Otherwise, it will be just another paper promise for the thousands of people who suffer torture in Mexico.
My husband screamed, ‘Don’t hit her, she’s pregnant’ but the officers didn’t care. The foetus came out in a pool of blood.
Anyone is at risk
Enrique Guerrero is recalling the Friday evening his nightmare began in Mexico City. Suddenly, “two guys are chasing me, and they're shooting. I get out of my car and run. They catch me and, when they drag me into their van, I see that some of the guys have police uniform on.”
Once inside the van, Enrique was pinned to the floor and driven to a warehouse. There, policemen stripped him from the waist down and blindfolded him, and then tortured him all night.
‘We’re going to rape you’, they said, and put a gun to my head.
“They put a bag over my head and tied it round my neck to suffocate me. Later, when I refused to sign the confession, they told me to put down ‘at least something illegal.’”
Enrique recently turned 30. But his life is not moving forward – he’s been stuck in a maximum security prison for the last two years.
I wanted them to just give me a bullet to the head so that it would all stop
Yecenia Armenta is describing her ordeal. “The [policemen] said they would bring my children, rape them and cut them up into pieces. After many hours of torture, and after they’d raped me, I said I would sign whatever they wanted. They took me down from where they had me hanging naked. I signed the confession – still blindfolded. I never read what I signed.”
Three years later, not one person has been punished. “Except me” adds Yecenia, from her cell.
I bear the scars but the doctors ignore them
If the official doctors responsible for documenting signs of torture had done their job properly, Yecenia might not be in jail today. But the doctor who examined her was from the same office as her torturers and didn’t record her injuries. And when she was eventually re-examined, months later, the authorities claimed there was no ‘proof’ of torture.
“The belt marks on my hands, the marks on my feet where I was tied up and hung by my ankles, the bruises on my legs, all those had already disappeared” she says.
On average, only 1 in every 20 people who file torture complaints is given an official forensic examination – often months or even years after the torture. And of those, only a fraction have their complaints vindicated by the official experts. But while suffocation, rape and electrocution can leave no visible trace, that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. As Yecenia knows too well, often “all that’s left for those of us who have been tortured is the psychological damage. Which is huge.”
© Fernando Brito
Increase in complaints filed for torture and other ill-treatment in 10 years (2003-2013)
Complaints for torture and other ill-treatment received by the National Human Rights Commission in just four years (2010-2014)
Federal convictions for torture, in 23 years
Justice is possible!
My message to all those who are against torture is, don't drop your guard.
Last year Ángel Colón walked free after 20,000 Amnesty activists sent messages to the Mexican authorities demanding his release. Ángel, a Honduran migrant seeking work to support his gravely ill son, had been picked up by the Mexican police and soldiers, and brutally tortured until he ‘confessed’ to crimes he did not commit. As a result, he spent five years in prison and while independent medics confirmed he was tortured, the authorities never investigated his claims. He is still seeking justice today.
“The fact that I am free and here before you today is proof that the efforts of Amnesty supporters produce positive results.”
I want to thank members of Amnesty all over the world.
And earlier this year, a judge dropped the last remaining charges against Claudia Medina, following the demands of 300,000 Amnesty activists. The judge confirmed Claudia had been sexually tortured by Marines in 2012, to force her to ‘confess’ to drug crimes.
Today, Claudia fights for justice for others like her. “I am not going to allow even one other woman to be tortured in Mexico.”