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

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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.

Exposing the Truth is Dangerous

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Since writing Los Demonios del Edén — a book that exposed child prostitution and trafficking in Cancun, Mexico — Lydia Cacho has been under constant harrasment and intimidation. In 2005, she was taken from the women’s shelter she runs and transported more than 900 miles across Mexico at gunpoint to a jail in Puebla, Mexico. After her release, audio tapes surfaced showing that then Puebla Gov. Mario Marín was involved in her mistreatment. Given Lydia’s accomplishments as human rights activist and determination under pressure, Amnesty International awarded her the Ginetta Sagan Human Rights Award in 2007.

This video explains more about Lydia Cacho’s intimidation in 2005:

In the past few weeks, witnesses have seen an armed man watching and photograhping Lydia in her car, home and office. As her harassment continues, Amnesty International also continues its work to fight for Lydia and has issued an Urgent Action on her behalf.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world. Between 2000 and 2009 50 registrered journalists have been killed and 2 more have been killed in May 2009 alone. Lydia explains the dangers of being a journalist in Mexico here:

What will need to happen for more protection for journalists in Mexico? I think that if more people took notice of Lydia Cacho and the violence and initmidation journalists face in Mexico and Central America, than the governments would be forced to enact more protective measures and enforce them.