Mexico: Shocking rise in reports of torture and ill-treatment as authorities turn a blind eye

Torture and ill-treatment in Mexico is out of control with a 600 per cent rise in the number of reported cases in the past decade, according to a new report published by Amnesty International.

The organization is calling on the Mexican government to act now to stop the wide-spread and persistent use of torture by members of the police and armed forces.

The report, Out of control: Torture and other ill-treatment in Mexico charts a serious rise of torture and other ill-treatment and a prevailing culture of tolerance and impunity. Only seven torturers have ever been convicted in federal courts and even fewer have been prosecuted at state level.

“The authorities cannot continue to turn a blind eye to torture. 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,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director Amnesty International.

“The shocking rise in the use of torture in Mexico means the threat of ill-treatment hangs heavy over the heads of every person in the country. Amnesty International’s own survey found 64 per cent of Mexican citizens are afraid that they would be tortured if detained by the authorities.”

The report is the first in a series of five different country reports to be released as part of Amnesty International’s global STOP TORTURE campaign.

This report details how, between 2010 and the end of 2013 the National Human Rights Commission received more than 7,000 complaints for torture and other ill-treatment. There has been a recent reported drop in 2014, but rates are still far higher than a decade ago.

Victims in different parts of the country told Amnesty International that they were subject to beatings, death threats, sexual violence, electric shocks and near asphyxiation at the hands of police or the armed forces, often with the aim of extracting “confessions” or incriminating others in serious crimes.

Ángel Amílcar Colón Quevedo, a black Honduran, faced torture and abuse by police and military based on his status as a migrant and his race. He was beaten, asphyxiated using a plastic bag, stripped, forced to perform humiliating acts and was subjected to racist verbal abuse. He remains in prison awaiting trial having been charged on the basis of the statement he was forced to make as a result of his torture. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience earlier this year.

Amnesty International’s report documents the cases of more than 20 more people like Ángel Colón who have suffered torture at the hands of the authorities in Mexico.

Despite legal prohibition, the criminal justice system continues to accept evidence obtained as result of arbitrary detention and torture. This not only encourages the continued use of torture and other ill-treatment, but it also means that unfair trials and unsafe convictions are rife, further undermining the credibility of the justice system and the human rights of criminal defendants.

On the rare occasion official investigations into allegations of torture happen, they are often flawed.

The Federal Attorney General’s Office’s special forensic procedure to investigate cases of torture and other ill-treatment often falls well short of the international standards outlined in the Istanbul Protocol. Despite these shortcomings prosecutors and judges rely on these flawed official investigations and refuse to accept other independent evidence.

“The lack of credible, thorough investigations into allegations of torture constitutes a double-abuse.  If the authorities fail to gather evidence of their mistreatment, victims are left without remedy and unable to demonstrate that their ‘confessions’ were extracted under duress,” said Erika Guevara.

“It is time to radically overhaul the investigation of allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, particularly the application of the internationally recognised standards of the Istanbul Protocol. The Mexican authorities must also ensure that the evidence gathered by independent medical experts can be recognised in judicial proceedings.”

The report identifies a series of measures that must be taken to prevent, investigate and punish torture and other ill-treatment, starting with an acknowledgement by the government of the scale of torture and a public commitment to combating this grave human rights violation as a top priority.

Background Information

Between 2010 to end 2013 when the CNDH received 7,000 complaints of torture and other ill-treatment, the Federal Attorney General’s Office carried out its special procedure in 364 cases, finding evidence of torture in 26.

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 for torture. The federal judiciary report on 7 firm convictions ever for torture in the federal courts. A conviction rate of 0.006 per cent. At the state level the prevalence of torture and impunity is even higher.

The National Human Rights Commission often fails to carry out full, timely investigations into all the complaints it receives or adequately defend the rights of victims. Of the 7,000 complaints received between 2010 and 2013, it only issued 44 public recommendations confirming torture.

The Istanbul Protocol is the common name for the UN Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The protocol was created in 1999.