By Illana Weitz
Congress has included human rights conditions in a $465 million aid package to Mexico and Central America, thanks in large part to the strategic advocacy of Amnesty International USA. The aid package, known as the Merida Initiative, is designed to help the countries combat narcotics trafficking and drug-related violence. The bill was signed into law by President Bush on June 30, 2008.
Beginning in 2007, AIUSA harnessed the strength of its membership to educate Congress about human rights abuses in Mexico and convince legislators to include key human rights provisions in the Merida package. Given that the majority of the assistance—$400 million—was slated for Mexico’s public security and criminal justice systems, both of which have long histories of serious human rights violations, AIUSA’s concern was that a failure to put human rights at the core of the aid package could lead to an increase in abuses by security forces involved in counternarcotics operations. AIUSA activists living in the key districts of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Appropriations Committee Chair Dave Obey and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer organized targeted telephone appeals urging their representatives to ensure that human rights safeguards be included. AIUSA’s three online actions yielded a total of 37,000 messages to congressional representatives.
“The human rights mandate in the law is very clear,” said Renata Rendón, AIUSA advocacy director for the Americas. “What is needed now is full implementation of the law by both the Mexican and U.S. governments to ensure progress in the human rights situation in Mexico.”
The substantive human rights provisions in the final legislation require the Mexican Government to:
• improve the transparency and accountability of federal, state and municipal police forces
• establish a mechanism for Mexican authorities to consult with human rights and civil society organizations over human rights and the Merida Initiative
• ensure that civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities investigate and prosecute federal police and military personnel credibly alleged to have committed Mexico Aid Package to Include Human Rights AIUSA Advocacy Pays Off on Final Legislation violations of human rights
• enforce the prohibition on the use of testimony obtained through torture or other ill-treatment.
To elicit compliance, 15 percent of the total funds allocated in the bill will be made available to Mexican authorities only after the U.S. secretary of state submits a written report to Congress that the outlined conditions have been met.
A report accompanying the legislation expresses concern about the Mexican government’s failure to investigate and prosecute the police officers responsible for the alleged sexual assaults of 26 women during the 2006 crackdown on a peasant protest in San Salvador Atenco. That police action resulted in two reported killings and 200 cases of torture and ill-treatment. The report also directs the secretary of state to report to Congress on the progress in the investigation into the 2006 shooting death of American journalist Bradley Roland Will in Oaxaca, Mexico.