Against military, Tijuana polica and others.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hear about the Mexican Army’s alleged torture techniques this Thursday in Washington D.C. During a one-hour session entitled “Public Security and Human Rights in Tijuana” Mexican non-governmental human rights officials will explain to the Commission how high-ranking federal, state and local law enforcement authorities in Tijuana have supposedly grossly abused human rights in the fight against organized crime.
Two non-governmental human rights organizations, one based in Baja California and the other in Mexico City, petitioned the Inter-American Commission to examine human rights in the war on drugs in Tijuana. They’ll present four cases in which Tijuana’s Director of Public Security and police chief, a Mexicali State Police Commander and the Mexican Army allegedly beat, shocked, starved and choked 43 police officers’ and four civilians’ to get them to admit their ties to organized crime.
A spokesman for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Maria-Isabel Rivero says the commission chooses hearing topics that compliment its current focus. “They have 75 cases from people in Mexico. The commission doesn’t have representatives in Mexico, so it’s important to get information from groups that are working on site.”
Mexican President Felipe Calderon thrust the military into cracking down on organized crime when he took office about three years ago. At the time, a chorus of human rights advocates expressed concern that the military’s lack of training for that kind of policing would lead to human rights abuses. Dozens of human rights complaints have indeed been filed since the army took to the streets.
The first case in Tijuana came last March when Tijuana’s Director of Public Security, Julian Leyzaola, rounded up 25 officers he suspected were corrupt. They were held at the military base. Raul Ramirez Bahena, who heads the Baja commission that will help present the cases in Washington D.C. on Thursday, says the officers complain they were beaten, blindfolded and tortured into signing confessions they weren’t allowed to read and, in some cases, signing blank sheets of paper. Ramirez says three men in the group further allege Public Security Director Leyzaola and Baja California’s federal prosecutor were present during the torture.
The second case involves seven Ministerial Police from Mexicali. Their boss, Sub-Commander Juan Antonio Rocha Salazar, allegedly suspected they were tied to organized crime, called them in and detained them. Rocha supposedly drove the group to Tijuana and deposited them at the Morelos military base for an interrogation. Two days later, the men were freed but fired from the police force.
Ramirez Bahena also mentioned the case of four civilians. They were partying at the Rosarito home one of the men when soldiers barged in and dragged them to the military base. They were accused of organized crime and say they were tortured into confession.
Finally, 11 more Tijuana police were rounded up last month. Ramirez Bahena says their story is akin to their colleagues’.
The former Baja California State Human Rights Prosecutor says at base in these cases is the “arraigo”, a recent law that allows the prosecution to hold someone for 40 days before they are charged. The law was passed recently to give prosecutors more time to make a case against someone while they have that person in custody. Ramirez Bahena alleges the practice is unconstitutional and plans to explain why on Thursday. “We say go after organized crime. Just don’t violate people’s human rights in the process.”
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Spokeswoman Maria-Isabel Rivero says the commission received 100 requests for hearings this year and chose 54.
In 2008, the commission opened 10 new petitions from Mexico to make for a total of 75 Mexican cases in process.
Mexico had the third highest number of petitions in 2007 and 2008, behind Peru and Colombia. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Spokeswoman Maria-Isabel Rivero say that doesn’t necessarily mean human rights abuses are worse in those countries than others. She says people in other countries may not know about the Commission or how to file a complaint.