Mexico Aid May be in Jeopardy After State Dept. Does Not Report on Human Rights Progress

Mark Browne | December 19, 2017 | 6:36pm EST
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President Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto meet on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany in July. (Screen capture: White House)

(Note: This story has been amended to reflect the fact that Sen. Leahy’s office cannot confirm whether the aid has been withheld.)

Mexico City ( – Some $1.25 million in military aid to Mexico appears to be in jeopardy after the State Department did not certify that the government is prosecuting human rights violations, according to a U.S. senator.

The lack of a report to Congress triggers a 25 percent reduction in aid to the Mexican armed forces for this fiscal year, under the annual appropriations bill for the State Department and foreign operations, according to Tim Rieser, a spokesperson for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

The provision requiring the report applies only to Mexico and is a result of language authored by Leahy, Rieser said in an email. In a phone call Tuesday he declined to say if the funds have actually been withheld.

A copy of the provision provided by Leahy’s office states that the secretary of state must determine that the government of Mexico is “thoroughly and credibly investigating and prosecuting violations of human rights in civilian courts … vigorously enforcing prohibitions against torture and the use of testimony obtained through torture; and searching for the victims of forced disappearances and credibly investigating and prosecuting those responsible for such crimes.”

“The secretary of state apparently was unable to determine and report that Mexico has met those conditions, so he has not sent us the report,” Rieser said.

The State Department did not respond to several emailed queries from about why the report has not been filed.

Leahy said in a statement he was “very disappointed that there has been no appreciable progress on human rights in Mexico, where torture of people in custody, impunity for abuses by security forces, and forced disappearances are widespread.”

“The Mexican Government should address these issues as an urgent priority; instead, the government seems to be incapable of or unwilling to do so,” he said.

Mexico’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America said Mexico’s use of its military to fight organized crime has “exacerbated” a human rights crisis over the past ten years.

“Over 33,000 people have disappeared in the last decade, the use of torture as an investigative technique and to obtain confessions is widespread, and security forces have extra judicially executed or unlawfully killed dozens of people in recent years, amid other abuses,” she said in an email.

“There is no real progress on human rights in the country,” she said. “Impunity is the norm for human rights violations in Mexico.”

Meyer noted that the U.S. has “dramatically” shifted security aid it sends to Mexico, under the so-called Merida Initiative, to focus on improving and professionalizing Mexico’s police and judicial institutions.

“The U.S. should continue to prioritize support for institutional reforms in Mexico, the rule of law, and efforts to combat corruption, over additional support for the Mexican military's open-ended and dangerous role in public security and combating organized crime.”

Edgar Cortez, an investigator with the Mexican Institute for Human Rights and Democracy, a citizens’ group, said there has been no “significant progress” on the human rights front in 2017.

He said the problem of forced disappearances has not abated, calling the number of cases “enormous” and “scandalous.”

One positive development was the passage of two new laws this year, one addressing torture and the other forced disappearances, Cortez acknowledged.

The law on torture establishes a unified definition and sanctions for the crime, and requires the government to compile a registry of alleged cases and protocols for investigating them. Cortez noted that the registry has yet to be created.

The second law defines a forced disappearance, sets up a registry of cases and requires authorities to investigate immediately.

“We have better laws but the problem is putting them into practice.”

Cortez said the role of the military in torture and disappearances is “significant,” but that the lack of investigation makes it difficult to know just how many such cases exist.

“The main problem is the lack of our institutions’ capacity to investigate crime, the quality of their work and their ability to produce results.”

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