Mexico: Three police officers charged with torture in landmark case – an opportunity for justice
Three police officers have been charged with torture in the northern state of Baja California following a steadfast campaign by victim Adrián Vázquez Lagunes, his family and their lawyer, supported by Amnesty International. This is the first time torture charges have been brought in a state which is notorious for torture complaints.
Adrián Vázquez Lagunes was arrested, threatened, beaten and nearly asphyxiated during a 12-hour spell in state police custody in 2012. The Federal Attorney General’s Office later accused him of illegally carrying firearms and being a high profile drug trafficker, while ignoring his allegations of arbitrary arrest, torture and fabrication of evidence. He remains in detention while his trial is ongoing despite the fact that the only relevant evidence against him was allegedly planted on him by the police.
“This is a landmark moment for justice in Baja California, but there is still a long way to go. The Mexican authorities must drop all charges against Adrián Vázquez and release him from prison immediately. At the same time the authorities must continue their investigations into this terrible case, bring all those responsible to justice and ensure this never happens again,” said Carolina Jimenez, Americas Deputy Director for Research, at Amnesty International.
Adrián Vázquez’s arrest and conviction is yet another example of the Mexican authorities riding rough-shod over justice in their race to address the country’s so-called ‘war on drugs’. Police and armed forces continue to use torture and other ill-treatment of suspects in an attempt to make hasty prosecutions, and in doing so breach international law themselves. This cannot continue.
Torture charges against authorities are extremely rare in Mexico. At the federal level, only seven torture convictions have been achieved since 1991, when torture was made a crime in Mexico.
After his arrest, Adrián Vázquez was examined by an official doctor while in the custody of the Federal Attorney General’s Office. The doctor concluded that the injuries Adrián sustained in police custody were not life-threatening and would heal within 15 days. Following this assessment, Adrián collapsed and was rushed to hospital where he underwent life-saving surgery. The hospital’s medical report identified multiple injuries caused by beatings, including lung and bladder injuries and abdominal trauma.
It took two years for the authorities to carry out medical forensic examinations on Adrián, and the ensuing forensic report failed to comply with basic international standards such as those established in the Istanbul Protocol. This is a widespread problem in Mexico. Amnesty International is calling on authorities to take effective measures to ensure that all torture victims have access to adequate forensic examinations.
“Mexico must make official forensic experts independent from prosecution services and ensure that all torture victims have timely access to adequate medical forensic examinations. Moreover, forensic examinations carried out by independent experts should be fully accepted in criminal proceedings, as long as they comply with the Istanbul Protocol,” said Carolina Jimenez.
Fear of torture is widespread. Sixty-four per cent of Mexicans are scared of being tortured if taken into custody, according to a survey commissioned by Amnesty International.
In September 2014, Amnesty International issued the report, Out of control: Torture and other ill-treatment in Mexico exposing a serious rise of torture and other ill-treatment and a prevailing culture of tolerance and impunity. This report is part of Amnesty International’s ongoing global Stop Torture campaign.