31 October 2012
The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report submitted by Mexico on how it implements the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Introducing the report, Ruth Villanueva, Deputy Prosecutor for Human Rights, Crime Prevention and Community Services of Mexico, said that Mexico recognized that life without torture was a fundamental right for all human beings. It was for this reason that the country had acceded to and ratified almost all the international human rights treaties. Mexico had undertaken a real judicial revolution with recent constitutional reforms in the field of human rights, resolutions and decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice, important progress in transforming the national justice system, and strengthened independent human rights organs.
Fernando Marino Menendez, Committee Rapporteur for the report of Mexico, asked what legal aid was available to persons detained under what was known as “arraigo”, a form of preventive detention. It would seem that people were being held in military facilities in such contexts, while, in the absence of appropriate guarantees, there was a risk that arraigo led to cases of torture. The problem of forced disappearance was to be seen in the light of arraigo, too, as this practice could occur in secret.
Abdoulaye Gaye, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of Mexico, said he noticed a lacuna of information about human rights training in Mexico. Could the delegation inform the Committee how people dealing with asylum seekers in the country were trained? Also in relation to training, there seemed to be issues in the way the Istanbul Protocol was being implemented. It would appear that experts were not independent, and there were doubts about staff competence.
Committee Experts asked in-depth questions about the maximum occupancy rate in detention facilities, requesting information on what measures had been taken, or were envisaged, by authorities to fight overcrowding. It would also be good to examine the manner in which courts interpreted the decisions of the Supreme Court, saying a number of specific examples pertaining to torture would be appreciated.
In an initial response, Ms. Villanueva thanked the Committee for giving Mexico the opportunity to provide an overview of the accomplishments it had made and the challenges it was facing. The questions of the Experts went to the heart of the issues Mexico was dealing with.
The Mexican delegation consisted of representatives from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the National Defense Ministry, the Ministry for Public Security, the National Judiciary Organ, the Supreme Court, the Office of the General Prosecutor, the armed forces, the National Migration Institute, the National Commission for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women, other representatives of the national and regional Governments, and the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be this afternoon at 3 p.m. when it will hear the responses of the delegation of Peru, which presented its report on Tuesday, 30 October in the morning. The Committee will hear the replies of Mexico on Thursday, 1 November at 3 p.m.
Report of Mexico
The combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Mexico can be read via the following link: CAT/C/MEX/5-6.
Presentation of the Report of Mexico
RUTH VILLANUEVA, Deputy Prosecutor for Human Rights, Crime Prevention and Community Services of Mexico, introducing the report, said that Mexico recognized that life without torture, as set out in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, was a fundamental right for all human beings. It was for this reason that Mexico had acceded to and ratified almost all international human rights treaties. Mexico had undertaken a real judicial revolution with recent constitutional reforms in the field of human rights, resolutions and decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice, important progress in transforming the national justice system, and strengthened independent human rights organs.
The constitutional reform in the field of human rights, undertaken in June 2011, was the broadest human rights reform. Among other matters, it strengthened authorities’ obligation to prevent, investigate, sanction and redress human rights violations. Through this reform, the Convention against Torture had been fully incorporated into the Mexican judicial system. A second major reform was the Amparo law, a constitutional protection mechanism ensuring that people could challenge judicial sentences which may harm them. Much progress had been made in this regard. Thirdly, the criminal justice and public security system reform conducted in 2008 was one of the most important restructuring programmes of the Mexican criminal justice system. Justice could now be handed down through oral procedures, the rights of both victims and offenders had been strengthened, and the practice of due process had been improved. There was no doubt that these constitutional reforms allowed for better protecting the rights enshrined in the conventions that Mexico had ratified.
Mexico had also been tackling the serious threat posed by organized crime, Ms. Villanueva went on to say. While the executive needed to use the armed forces to ensure public security, this had only happened at specific locations and at particular moments in time, based on resolutions of the Supreme Court of Justice.
Turning to the implementation of the Istanbul Protocol, Ms. Villanueva reported that the Public Prosecutor had in 2003 established national guidelines for public officials, doctors, forensic experts and other relevant personnel. Another significant protocol was that governing the custodial chain and the preservation of proof, which also established guidelines for conducting criminal investigations and punishing offenders of torture. This protocol established levels for the use of force, in particular the action taken by authorities, and prohibited the use of firearms in cases of regressive resisting such as fleeing.
Ms. Villanueva reaffirmed Mexico’s full commitment to combating human rights violations, saying this was also true regarding violations perpetrated by military personnel, an area in which much progress had been made. For instance, the Congress of the Union was considering a project to amend the practices of the military justice court, and the Supreme Court of Justice had reaffirmed the rules in cases when the rights of civilians were offended by military personnel.
Questions from Rapporteurs on Mexico
FERNANDO MARINO MENENDEZ, Committee Rapporteur for the Report of Mexico, extended a warm welcome to the large delegation from Mexico. The country had always cooperated with this Committee and the torture mechanism of the Convention. The Subcommittee had visited Mexico on two occasions.
The in-depth reform of the legal system, including the bill on domestic security, the constitutional reform of 2011 and the reform of the criminal system, was affecting the issues dealt with by the Committee against Torture. While the reforms were gradually showing results, they also gave rise to some problems. Several well-known difficulties also persisted in Mexico, including, in particular, organized crime.
The validity of the concept of torture at the federal level seemed to be an objective of the current Government and a draft model law to punish torture was in place. Could further information be provided on this, particularly whether states had participated in its drafting and whether the Guerrero state had accepted that definition of torture?
Mr. Marino Menendez noted that there was a significant discrepancy between the number of complaints logged and the number of punishments which had been handed down. This might be because cases of torture had not been investigated properly, or due to impunity. What was the delegation’s view on this?
The Rapporteur asked what legal aid was available to persons detained under what was known as “arraigo”, a form of preventive detention. It would seem that people were being held in military facilities in such contexts, while, in the absence of appropriate guarantees, there was a risk that arraigo led to cases of torture. The problem of forced disappearance was to be seen in the light of arraigo, too, as this practice could occur in secret. Were the confessions obtained in short-term detention excluded in processes? He knew that this would be the case with the entry into force of the new legislation, but did judges still use confessions obtained in short-term detention as proof in the meantime, Mr. Marino Menendez wondered.
He was cognizant of Mexico’s efforts in training experts on the Istanbul Protocol, the Rapporteur said, but he wondered how many times the protocol had actually been used. There were different ways of using the protocol, of course, but it was really a guideline and proved to be efficient in some cases. The Committee had some doubts whether the promotion of the Istanbul Protocol gave rise to sufficient results in Mexico.
ABDOULAYE GAYE, Co-Rapporteur for the Report of Mexico, said he noticed a lacuna on information about human rights training in Mexico. Could the delegation inform the Committee how people dealing with asylum seekers in the country were trained? Also in relation to training, there seemed to be issues in the way the Istanbul Protocol was being implemented. It would appear that experts were not independent, and there were doubts about staff competence. The Committee had been informed that 300 people had applied for remedies according to the Istanbul Protocol between 2003 and 2012, which included 128 cases of torture. It was surprising, therefore, that none of these cases led to judicial proceedings.
It would be interesting to obtain more complete information concerning the ways and means that Mexico was making use of recommendations, and how these were being followed up. The Co-Rapporteur noted that no information had been provided on the follow-up of the recommendation of this Committee concerning cases of arbitrary detention.
Mr. Gaye said that the practice of arraigo was initiated by a judge but its implementation was not subject to his control. There were reports that interventions resembling those of private militia occurred when individuals were being taken in this context. This was all being undertaken to receive confessions in the framework of a procedure which was still dominant in most federal states.
Coming on to reparation, Mr. Gaye wondered whether those beneficiaries who refused the compensation offered by the State, because they deemed it to be inappropriate, could go to the justice system to obtain full reparation for the damage they had suffered? And was there a system to rehabilitate torture victims? More information regarding prosecutions, convictions and redress for victims of family violence would also be appreciated, and whether the databank system for disappearances had led to progress in stemming the flow of disappeared persons.
Mexico was making considerable efforts to prevent disappearances of women and to deal with such cases when they occurred. But could more information be provided on the specific results of such efforts? The report contained many lacunae in this regard, the Rapporteur noted.
Questions by Committee Members
An Expert enquired about the maximum occupancy rate in detention facilities, asking what measures had been taken or envisaged by Mexican authorities to fight overcrowding. Furthermore, as the strategy in this regard was coming to an end in 2012, what were the most difficult challenges ahead?
Another Committee member said the delegation had referred to a number of decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice. It might be worth it, however, to examine the manner in which courts had interpreted these decisions; a number of specific examples pertaining to torture would be appreciated.
Other questions regarded people with disabilities, both children and adults. Judging from a report published in 2010, conditions in such facilities practically amounted to torture. It would seem that some people were being detained for life without legal safeguards. Had there been any follow-up to this report, and what would be done to change the state of affairs?
Moving on to the typification of torture in different states, the Expert said she read about an incident in a school where two people had been killed in 2011 in Guerrero, requesting information about the excessive use of police force in that instant.
It was noted that overcrowding was a serious issue in detention facilities, and that authorities lacked control inside prisons. There were even reports of prison staff being killed in facilities due to a lack of protection. What did the authorities plan to address these shortcomings, as well as the widespread extortion and corruption? The situation of irregular migrants ending up on Mexican territory was also of concern, as numerous reports said such people were living in poor conditions of detention. Could the delegation comment on this?
Response of the Delegation
RUTH VILLANUEVA, Deputy Prosecutor for Human Rights, Crime Prevention and Community Services of Mexico, thanked the Committee for giving it the opportunity to provide an overview of the accomplishments Mexico had made and the challenges it was facing. The questions of the Experts went to the heart of the issues Mexico was dealing with.
For use of the information media; not an official record