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Impunity and human rights violations in Mexico continue unabated

Human rights violations and the lack of an adequate response by the state remain the rule rather than the exception. The time has come for Mexico’s judiciary to react. Español Português

Katya Salazar
16 March 2017
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Relatives of the 43 missing students from the rural teachers’ college march holding pictures of their missing loved ones during a protest in Mexico City. Dec. 26, 2015. AP Photo/Marco Ugarte. All rights reserved

Mexico is facing a deep legitimacy crisis, before which critical voices are emerging. Trump's arrival across the border should prompt awareness of the urgent need to face the necessary changes in the country, which will be holding presidential elections in 2018, amid great uncertainty. The series Mexico at the Crossroads gives a voice to these critical visions.

The human rights situation in Mexico has deteriorated remarkably. The war against drugs has had a critical effect on the increase in violence generated by criminal groups, but also in crimes committed by state forces. Despite the fact that the Mexican government, acknowledging this situation, has taken measures to deal with it, the reality is that human rights violations and the lack of an adequate response by the judiciary remain the rule rather than the exception.

This is the context in which, on the night of September, 26, 2014, forty-three students disappeared from the rural teacher training college Raúl Isidro Burgos in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. Although this was neither the first nor the last case of disappeared persons in Mexico, their sheer number, the fact that they were students, the involvement of state forces at different levels, and the persistence of the victims’ family members converged to trigger national and international public indignation.

Within the framework of the precautionary measures being processed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), and as a result of the agreement reached between this institution, the Mexican state, and representatives of the victims, an Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) was created and commissioned to carry out a technical check-up of all the actions taken by the Mexican state after the students’ disappearance, not only regarding their location, but also the lines of inquiry and the assistance to the victims.

The GIEI was an unprecedented experience of collaboration between the Mexican state and the IACHR in monitoring a case in real time. Composed of five international experts, the GIEI showed that it is possible to investigate this type of atrocity by treating the victims with due respect and consideration. Its findings on the Ayotzinapa case - spelled out in two reports - were fundamental but, possibly, its most important legacy was the X-raying of the Mexican criminal justice system and its recommendations for improving it.

A perfect complement to the work done by the GIEI was the report Undeniable atrocities: confronting crimes against humanity in Mexico, published last year by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) together with five Mexican civil society organizations. This report contains an accurate analysis of the crimes committed in Mexico during the last decade and indicates the existence of reasonable grounds to think that crimes against humanity have indeed been committed, both by state and non-state actors, all of which must be duly investigated and tried.

The report also includes recommendations for different actors, and puts forward the proposal to create an international investigation mechanism for heinous crimes and big corruption cases in Mexico.

The diagnosis is clear enough: the Mexican judiciary must assume its responsibility for dealing adequately with the legacy of serious human rights violations committed during the last decade. If current conditions do not permit it, we need then to think creatively and not rule out international support - as happened in the case of the Ayotzinapa students.

The lack of political will could be effectively confronted by a judiciary determined to seriously face the challenges posed by the current situation in Mexico. There are many examples of this in Latin American history. The time has come for Mexico’s judiciary to react.

In order to contribute to this reflection, and also to help to better understand the situation of the country in the rest of the continent, the Due Process of Law Foundation has just published a special edition of its magazine AportesDPLF dedicated to the current human rights situation in Mexico.

For it is essential to provide elements of analysis which can contribute to advancing the arguments in favour of rights and appropriate justice, worthy of a democratic country, now regrettably burdened by extremely serious levels of violence and impunity, quite unprecedented in any modern democracy.

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