Congress Should Withhold Aid to Mexico Tied to Human Rights Performance

Mass killings of migrants. Covering up human rights violations by tampering with evidence. The increase in the number of complaints of human rights violations committed by the Mexican military. Does this sound like Mexico is meeting its human rights performance obligations to receive human rights conditioned funding from the US State Department?

On September 2, 2010, the State Department released a report to Congress indicating that Mexico was indeed fulfilling human rights criteria, and would in turn receive approximately $36 million conditioned Merida Initiative funds. Releasing these funds would send the wrong message to Mexico – that the United States condones the grave human rights violations committed in Mexico, including torture, rape, killings, and enforced disappearances.

Mexico has already received roughly $1.5 billion dollars in security assistance, with 15% of select funds tied to Mexico meeting four core human rights conditions:

  1. Ensuring that civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities are  investigating and prosecuting members of the federal police and military forces who have been credibly alleged to have violated human rights.
  2. Enforcing the prohibition on the use of testimony obtained through torture.
  3. Improving the transparency and accountability of federal police forces and work with state and municipal authorities to improve the transparency and accountability of state and municipal police forces.
  4. Conducting regular consultations with Mexican human rights organizations and civil society on recommendations for the implementation of the Merida Initiative.

While the State Department has withheld $26 million in Merida Initiative funding from the FY10 Supplemental pending the passage of two items in the Mexican Congress: legislation that would enhance the authority of the Mexican National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and Military Justice Code reforms.  Still, the core human rights criteria—mandated by the US Congress, have not been met, and therefore, the additional $36 million should also be withheld.

Human rights violations committed by Mexican security forces are not only deplorable in their own right, but also significantly undermine the effectiveness of Mexico’s public security efforts. When allocating funds, Congress, in consultation with the State Department, should not forget about human rights and should withhold human rights pegged funds from Mexico.  It’s a “shared responsibility” therefore the US and Mexico should work together, to ensure that human rights requirements are met, not just half-heartedly to release money before it expires, but to really ensure that the human rights situation in Mexico is truly better….for the Mexican people.

Aaron Barnard-Luce contributed to this post.

Mexico: Merida Funds Must be Withheld Until Human Rights Conditions Are Met

Amnesty International today urged the US Congress to honor its commitment to withhold 15% of funding of the Merida Initiative until the Mexican government fulfils its human rights obligations. The Mexican government has failed to make sufficient progress in the investigation and prosecution of human rights abuses by security forces. According to the Washington Post, Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, is well aware of the grave human rights situation in Mexico, and does not intend to allow the transfer to go forward if things do not improve.

The Merida Initiative is security co-operation and assistance program through which the USA provides Mexico and Central America with equipment, training and technical assistance to support law enforcement operations. In June 2008, the US Congress stipulated that 15% of the funds to be provided by the US to Mexico in the context of the Merida Initiative must be subject to key human rights conditions, including:

  • Human rights violations perpetrated by military and police personnel to be investigated, prosecuted and tried by civilian prosecutors and judges;
  • Confessions obtained under torture or ill treatment not to be used in the justice system;
  • Civil society to be regularly consulted to make recommendations regarding the fulfilment of the Merida Initiative;
  • Improvement of transparency and accountability of the police force, and establishment of an independent mechanism to denounce abuses.

In addition to a State Department report on the broader human rights situation in Mexico, the US Congress also requested information on the investigation of the killing of US videojournalist Brad Will, whose case Amnesty has worked on for some time. The investigation of Mexico’s Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) led to the arrest of man in October 2008. However, the evidence on which the prosecution is based has been disproved by extensive forensic studies carried out by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and Physicians for Human Rights. As the time for the approval of Merida Initiative funding approached, the PGR commissioned a team of Canadian experts to carry out a new forensic report. The report, which has no legal standing in the criminal case, was leaked in July 2009 to the press and confirmed, in an almost word-by-word fashion the conclusions of the PGR. Both the CNDH and Physicians for Human Rights have stated that the report has no scientific validity, and Brad Will’s family has issued a statement denouncing the biased PGR investigation.

Given the situation of Brad Will’s case, the continued impunity of those responsible for other serious human rights violations, and the alarming escalation of reports of new abuses, additional US aid would only make things worse. Let’s hope Mexico takes notice and makes some big changes.

Loss of Foreign Humanitarian Aid Brings Major Implications for the Honduran People in Need

As always, it is those with no resources that lose out first. Despite of the acute international pressure, protests, threats of violence and the possibility of a civil war, the arrogant power struggle the Honduran Government has been playing at, has led to a critical consequence: the European Union has officially suspended millions in aid to Honduras, as Washington suspends 18 million in military and development assistance, warning the facto Government of more “consequences” to come.

The European Union’s decision to suspend 65.5 million Euros in aid comes after failed attempts to negotiate talks for the resolution of the political crisis in the country, the worst political crisis in Central America in two decades. Recently negotiation talks were mediated by the Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace prize winner Oscar Arias, who proposed a six-point plan that first and foremost requests the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya to finish his term until late January. Delegates speaking on behalf of the interim government said that Zelaya will be arrested if he returns to his country, a statement that ignores the claims of the United Nations and the international community. Among the other proposals put forth by President Arias is: to form a coalition government, to declare amnesty for political crimes, push for advancing elections and the resignation of Zelaya to a referendum, among other things.

It is a devastating problem for a country like Honduras to lose humanitarian aid and support of entities like the Organization of American States, the United Nations, the European Union and United States. For the members of the Honduran Congress who opted for not only an illegal, but a rebellious solution to resolve an issue in their administration, the loss of millions of Euros, may not be much. Though, the loss of foreign aid has a direct and instantaneous effect for the millions of Hondurans in need living in this impoverished nation. The Honduran government should react as soon as possible before we see more violations of human rights, or more acts of violence and attacks on democracy in Central America that already hangs by a thread.

Deposed President Zelaya took a few steps into Honduran territory on Friday, immediately turning back without being confronted. As of Sunday night, Manuel Zelaya remains on the Nicaraguan border with Honduras, where he has vowed to stay until allowed to enter the country.