People across Mexico, but particularly in the north of the country, seem to walk in fear, and not only of organized crime.
Perhaps it is because anyone can be caught up in the ongoing deadly conflict between the security forces and criminal drug trafficking gangs.
Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have recorded thousands of cases of human rights abuses against a wide range of ordinary people, including arbitrary arrests and torture.
In fact, the human rights group believes that over the past few years, instances of torture and ill-treatment in Mexico have reached “epidemic proportions” and that those responsible rarely face justice.
“People across Mexico are sometimes caught up on the wrong side of the military operations against criminal gangs. With no real evidence, they might be perceived as the enemy or as potential involved in drug trafficking with all the abuses that come attached to that label,” said Rupert Knox, Mexico researcher at Amnesty International.
Tortured and abused
30-year-old mother of four and housewife Miriam Isaura López Vargas probably never thought she would end up caught up in the former President Calderon’s “war on drugs”.
On 2 February 2011, while she was going home after leaving her children at school, soldiers dressed in plain clothes detained Miriam. The men blindfolded her and took her to a military barrack.
There, she was tortured with electric shocks to the soles of her feet and body to coerce her into signing a confession falsely implicating her and other detainees she did not know in drug trafficking offences. Miriam was also repeatedly sexually assaulted.
“They put a wet cloth over my face, when I tried to breathe I felt the wet cloth, it became difficult to breathe, I then felt a stream of water up my nose, I tried to get up but couldn’t because they had me held down by my shoulders and legs…someone was pressing down on my stomach, they did this repeatedly as they kept on asking the same questions,” Miriam told Amnesty International.
Less than a week later, she was transferred to a pre-charge detention centre whose legality has been strongly challenged by human rights groups and Amnesty International in Mexico City.
Only on 26 April 2011, was she finally charged and remanded into custody on drug offences.
During that time she was denied access to a lawyer of her choice and was only given a public defender who failed to stop or report the torture she suffered.
In September 2011 a judge ordered her release due lack of reliable evidence.
Since then she has faced threats but decided to pursue a legal claim for torture against those responsible. The National Human Rights Commission investigated the case and concluded she had been tortured, but the official investigation has not advanced.
According to an investigation by Amnesty International, the use of torture and ill treatment by the police and military dramatically increased during the government of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), as did the lack of effective investigations into the abuses.
“The Calderón administration effectively turned a blind eye to the ‘torture epidemic’ we’ve been witnessing in Mexico. The protection of human rights was ignored or sidelined in favour of the government’s strategy of militarized combat of organized crime and drug cartels,” said Knox.
Despite laws at the federal and state level aimed at deterring and punishing torture, most cases are never fully investigated and those responsible almost never brought to justice and therefore victims have no chance of redress or compensation.
As he approaches 100 days in office, the new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has yet to make a difference on human rights and end the toleration of torture and impunity. This despite telling Amnesty International during the election campaign that once in office, he would implement policies and take action to end torture.
“Almost a 100 days on from the day when Peña Nieto took office, there has been virtually no tangible progress on his promises to improve the human rights situation in the country, with virtually no movement on investigations into cases of torture, enforced disappearances, violence against women and abuses against migrants,” said Knox.
“One crucial thing that they can do is ensure that Miriam Lopez’s case is fully investigated and all those responsible face justice. That can be achieved in the next 100 days if the government has the political will to make human rights count.”