Mexican police, army accused of widespread torture


MEXICO CITY -- Mexico is doing little to stop its police and military from torturing hundreds of people, including women and children, Amnesty International charged yesterday.

In a 48-page report, "Mexico: Torture with Impunity," the London-based human rights organization said it had received reports of more than 200 cases of torture over the past two years.

"Despite the seriousness of the problem, the Mexican authorities are doing little to put an effective stop to torture and ill treatment," it said in a statement. Complaints rarely are investigated by courts and perpetrators rarely brought to trial, it DTC added.

"It's time for the U.S. government and the international community to stop turning a blind eye to the flagrant human rights abuses being committed by the Mexican government," said John G. Healey, executive director of Amnesty International's U.S. branch.

The State Department has long acknowledged the use of torture in Mexico. But the Amnesty report comes at a time when members of Congress are showing increasing concern over Mexico's human rights violations and its lack of democracy.

Those concerns could affect how members of Congress will vote next year on a proposed free-trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.

Representative Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, is weighing a proposal to hold hearings on Mexico's human rights and electoral abuses.

Those hearings could prove embarrassing to the reform-minded government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and to President Bush, especially since Mr. Torricelli is a staunch free-trade advocate.

Mr. Salinas has won international praise for creating the National Human Rights Commission and for enacting this year an anti-torture law that prohibits judges from using confessions as the sole basis for a conviction.

But Amnesty noted that despite those good intentions, "This terrible pattern of violations clearly contradicts the government's repeatedly stressed commitment to human rights."

A spokeswoman for the Mexican attorney general said the government would have no comment until it has seen the report. She said the attorney general had complied with 21 of 29 recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission concerning police abuses.

Yet Amnesty International says those cases represent only a fraction of abuses by police. Dozens of police officers cited for torture have never been punished and continue on the payroll, the report said.

The report cited the case of Salomon Mendoza Barajas, the mayor of Aguililla, who was arrested by federal police in May 1990, held prisoner for seven months and tortured.

Mr. Mendoza, a member of the opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution, had gone to a local army barracks to complain about a killing by the police only to find himself under arrest on a phony drug charge.

The attorney general's spokeswoman said 13 government officials were arrested in that case.

But according to Isabel Molina, head of the PRD's human rights commission, one of the police culprits was transferred to Durango, where he killed another person.

Amnesty noted that Enrique Alvarez de Castillo, former attorney general, and his chief anti-narcotics deputy were both promoted despite charges that federal police under their commands had committed murder, torture and rape.

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