Brad Will ©AI
This week is the anniversary of the death of Brad Will, a US video journalist who was shot and killed in Mexico on October 27, 2006. When he was killed, Bradley Roland Will was in Oaxaca City, in southern Mexico, filming a clash between members of a local protest movement (Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca, APPO) and supporters and officials of the local governing party. Three years later, Amnesty International believes that the truth about Brad Will’s death has still not come out. Juan Manuel Martínez, an APPO sympathizer, has been detained pending trial since October 2008 for Will’s murder. However, experts from Physicians for Human Rights and the National Human Rights Commission have concluded that Will was not shot at close range, and Martinez is said to have been standing right next to him when the shooting happened. Amnesty International believes the evidence against Martinez is flawed and he is a being used as a scapegoat.
The tragedy and injustice of Brad Will’s death and Juan Manuel Martínez’s unfounded prosecution are part of the failure to investigate and hold to account those responsible for widespread human rights violations committed in Oaxaca in 2006 and 2007.
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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.