Wednesday, 9 December 2009

hrw and amnesty: "civil war" crimes in latin america



Rights group faults Mexico over alleged army abuse

Amnesty International, citing cases of alleged slayings by the military in the drug war, criticizes civilian officials, saying they fail to properly investigate or prosecute crimes by the army.

Reporting from Mexico City - The Mexican army, deployed across the nation as part of the government's campaign against drug cartels, has killed prisoners, tortured civilians and captured suspects illegally, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

In a scathing report, the human rights organization was especially critical of Mexico's civilian authorities, saying they had failed or refused to investigate or prosecute military abuses. Complaints against the military are almost entirely handled by military courts, and only a handful of cases, among thousands of denouncements, has been prosecuted.

"The abuses we have seen contribute to the deterioration of the security situation in Mexico," Kerrie Howard, deputy director of Amnesty's Americas Program, said in a statement. "By failing to take action to prevent and punish serious human rights violations the Mexican government could be seen to be complicit in these crimes."

Some human rights advocates have urged the U.S. to hold back part of its drug war aid to Mexico because of alleged abuses, but the Obama administration has declined to do so.

The report highlights five cases involving 35 people, providing what Amnesty International called a representative "panorama" of a bleak human rights record. It cited two factors that impeded a more exhaustive investigation: "unnecessary restrictions" that block publicizing complaints against military personnel or releasing pertinent information, and threats against victims and their families if they denounce abuse.

Cases cited included that of Saul Becerra, whose body was found near the violent border city of Ciudad Juarez in March. He was last seen being taken away by army troops several months earlier. Five men detained with him reported being held in the barracks of a motorized cavalry regiment and beaten and threatened for days.

In another case, 25 municipal police agents from Tijuana said they were seized by the army and held and tortured inside an infantry base for more than a month. Electrical shocks were applied to their feet and genitals, their heads were covered with plastic bags and they were beaten, they said, in an effort to exact false confessions.

In most of the cases, efforts by frantic families to find their missing relatives faced general inaction on the part of authorities, Amnesty International said.

Three men picked up by the army after dinner one night in March in the northern city of Nuevo Laredo were found burned to death about a month later. The families obtained photos and video of soldiers driving around in one of the dead men's cars.

In this case, a rarity, 12 soldiers were arrested by the army, but, Amnesty International said, because of the military's opaque justice system, it has not been possible to find out more about what happened and whether the soldiers were punished.

"Human rights violations by the members of the military are not rare, they are frequent and in some areas routine," Amnesty International said. "The failure of the civilian authorities to effectively oversee military law enforcement operations to ensure respect for human rights is a grave omission."

The government of President Felipe Calderon said it would examine Amnesty International's findings but defended its respect for human rights and noted that the army had received human rights training. The army's role in fighting drug traffickers was necessary but temporary, a government statement said, to "rescue public spaces seized by criminals."

As drug violence and the pace of killings have soared exponentially -- more than 14,000 people have died in drug-related slayings in the last three years -- so has the number of complaints filed against the army with the National Human Rights Commission: 182 in 2006 compared with 1,230 in 2008 and almost 2,000 this year.

The highest number of human rights complaints has been registered in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's deadliest city, triple this year over last, officials say. Thousands of residents of Juarez took to the streets over the weekend in a march demanding protection from both traffickers and the army. It was a rare show of united public protest against the violence engulfing the region.



2009/12/08 21:48:35 GMT

Brazil police 'use lethal force'

Police in Brazil's two biggest cities, Sao Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, routinely commit unlawful executions, Human Rights Watch has alleged.

The New York-based group says a two-year investigation found evidence that officers often covered up such killings as justified self-defence.

Authorities in Rio, due to stage the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, are under pressure to reduce violence.

But officials argue the police face often well-armed drug gangs.

Human Rights Watch says a detailed study of 51 cases showed there was credible evidence that police in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro shot alleged criminals and then reported that the victims had died in shootouts while resisting arrest.

Post mortem reports showed that 17 of these victims had been shot at point-blank range, the HRW report said.

"The 51 cases do not represent the totality of potential extrajudicial killings, but are indicative of a much broader problem," HRW said.

Human Rights Watch says government statistics also indicate the scale of the problem.

Police in Sao Paulo and Rio states have killed more than 11,000 people since 2003, while over the past five years there were more police killings in Sao Paulo (2,176) than in South Africa (1,623), which has a higher murder rate.

'Armed combat'

Human Rights Watch says that while some police killings are legitimate acts of self-defence, many others amount to "extra-judicial executions".

The report argues that what is required is more effective policing, not more violence from the police. There was a chronic failure to hold officers to account for murder, it says, and the authorities should set up specialist units that are able to carry out proper investigations.

"There's a system in place where police in many poor neighbourhoods are completely out of control. It's a system of toleration that basically relies on the police to police themselves and they don't do it," said Daniel Wilkinson, Human Right Watch's deputy director for the Americas.

Reacting to the report, a Sao Paulo police statement said that every time someone dies following an armed confrontation with their officers an investigation is opened, and the results are sent to the judicial authorities.

They also pointed out that 50% of criminals involved in confrontations with police were arrested without being harmed, 33% escaped, and 17% were killed.

Human Rights Watch says state officials in Rio have promised a considered response to the report.

Authorities there have highlighted a new community-style policing approach which has been adopted in a small number of favelas or shanty towns, but critics says it needs to be much more extensive.

Officials also argue that critics do not take into account how officers must constantly take on violent drug gangs.

"We have to deal with something few others face: armed combat with drug-traffickers who are equipped with heavy weapons coming from abroad," Rio's state public security director Jose Beltrame told the Associated Press in October.

He was speaking after three police officers died when their helicopter was shot at and brought down in Rio de Janeiro during clashes involving police and drug gangs.

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