Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto's Summit Golden Opportunity to Tackle Human Rights Issues

Press Release
April 30, 2013

Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto's Summit Golden Opportunity to Tackle Human Rights Issues

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @AIUSAmedia

(WASHINGTON, D.C. and MEXICO CITY) - The United States and Mexican presidents should listen to local human rights defenders if their plans to improve human rights are to have any real impact, Amnesty International said today.

Presidents Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto are due to meet in Mexico City on May 2.

Amnesty International's senior representatives in Mexico and the United States have written to both presidents to raise some of the organization's concerns and recommendations for action regarding the protection of human rights in both countries.

"Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto have a golden opportunity to address issues affecting the lives of people on both sides of the border," said Frank Jannuzi, Amnesty International USA interim executive director. "Respecting human rights must be integral to any joint plan for further bilateral cooperation between the two countries - not just words during a presidential photo-op. Protecting the people's rights is a shared responsibility that the presidents need to take to heart. Do not squander this moment."

Over the last few years, Amnesty International has documented a catalogue of human rights abuses taking place in Mexico and the United States, some widespread and systematic in nature. Impunity remains the norm in the vast majority of cases.

In Mexico, reports of unlawful killings, disappearances and torture committed by the security forces and police continue. Only a handful of the 7,000 official human rights complaints against military personnel since 2006 have been fully investigated.

The Peña Nieto administration has made commitments to stop abuses, but so far has taken few steps to end them or bring those responsible to justice. Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to provide largely unfettered support via the Merida Initiative, failing to effectively raise credible reports of grave human rights violations or encourage remedial action with the human rights parameters of the Initiative.

This visit coincides with 7th anniversary of the emblematic case of the women of Atenco. In May 2006, approximately 47 women were detained by Mexican police in Texcoco and San Salvador, Atenco. While in custody, at least 26 women suffered torture and ill-treatment, including rape and other sexual violence. To date, those responsible have not been held to account. It is time for the victims to receive the justice they have demanded for seven years.

"The commitments are already made and we know many of the steps to be taken in order to improve the lives of thousands of people in both countries," said Daniel Zapico, Amnesty International's Senior Representative in Mexico. "This summit should be the beginning of this path because the individuals whose rights are violated cannot wait anymore. The voices of those who work day-to-day to protect the human rights under the most difficult and dangerous conditions should be listened to and taken into account by Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto. If they do not work with those who defend human rights, the advances will be very limited."

Abuses that have taken place north of the border must also be addressed.

In June 2010, 32-year-old Mexican national Anastasio Hernández Rojas died days after being shocked with a Taser and beaten with batons by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers attempting to deport him to Mexico at the San Ysidro crossing in San Diego, California.

In a video recording of the incident, Hernández Rojas can be heard crying in pain while bystanders express concern to the officers that he was not resisting. He stopped breathing at the scene and was removed from a life-support machine on May 31. An investigation into Hernández Rojas' death is still pending nearly three years on.

U.S. authorities must also ensure accountability for the human rights crimes its forces are accused of outside of the United States - including torture and enforced disappearances committed in the context of the U.S. secret detention, interrogation and rendition programs operated by the Central Intelligence Agency between September 2001 and January 2009.

Amnesty International also calls on the United States to impose an immediate moratorium on federal executions with a view to working for abolition of the federal death penalty.

A full copy of Amnesty International's letter to Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto can be found here.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.