Fueled by the US-backed, transnational drug war, alleged cases of torture by Mexico's security forces and military increased at least six-fold in the last decade, Amnesty International said in a special report released September 4.
The report, titled "Out Of Control," says Mexico's national human rights commission received more than 7,000 complaints of torture from 2010 to 2013. In 2003, the commission received 219 reports of alleged torture. By 2013, that number increased to 1,505 — a dramatic spike that corresponds with the extreme levels of violence seen in Mexico since the country's military was sent to the streets to combat drug traffickers.
"It is [within] the context of the fight against drug trafficking, but I think it also has to do with a widespread cultural tolerance [of abuse]," Perseo Quiroz, director of Amnesty International in Mexico, told VICE News. "As a society, we have normalized torture as just common practice."
Although a few of these cases have gone before a judge, less than a dozen officials have been convicted of torture in a federal court in Mexico in the past decade, a paltry figure, Amnesty International reports.
The organization collected information from government sources, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and testimony from survivors of torture in Mexico. The group said torture is used to illegally procure confessions in order to fit a police or state agenda. Victims allegedly suffered near-asphyxiation, sexual violence, electrical shock, and simulated executions. According to Amnesty's report, these methods are commonly used by Mexican officials and tolerated by authorities at all levels.
Such was the case with Amilcar Colón, a Honduran migrant who belongs to the Afro-descendant Garifuna minority. Colón was detained in Tijuana in 2009 as he travelled toward the US to search for work to fund a son's cancer treatment.
In March 2009, Colón was detained by police, who subsequently raided his home and later processed him for organized crime, drug trafficking, and possession of military-grade firearms after he signed a confession under conditions that Amnesty International considers to be torture. Colón remains detained in a federal prison in Nayarit state.
"They made him sign something that wasn't true," Yuli Baltazar, Amilcar Colón's wife, told VICE News. "They mentioned his skin color a lot."
"They called him a 'damn negro,'" she added. "Those are strong words in Mexico as well, aren't they? They turned him into their clown."
Colón told Amnesty International that he had been blindfolded and beaten multiple times, and that he was then transferred to a military base where he listened to the screams of other detainees. Over the course of 16 hours, he received constant abuse as authorities interrogated him. He said that he was forced to walk on his knees naked, and to lick the boots of other detainees.
Colón said officers held a plastic bag over his head nearly to the point of asphyxiation.
At some point during the ordeal, Colón says he was forced to sign a declaration in the presence of a public prosecutor. This is how the police allegedly obtained his confession.
"No Mexican government authority made the effort to let the Honduran Embassy know that they had detained a citizen," Baltazar said. "They didn't do their job."
Amnesty International believes Colón was tortured because of his racial identity, making him what Amnesty refers to as a "prisoner of conscience," or someone who is imprisoned for their political or religious beliefs, their gender, socio-economic status, or, in the case of Colón, for nationality, language, or ethnic origin.
The discrimination was even apparent during a psychological examination that was requested to look into Colón's persistent claims of torture. The examiner declined to investigate his case further, citing "cultural differences," according to the report.
His wife, speaking after Amnesty International's presentation of the torture report in Mexico City, said the government was persistently unfair to Colón, noting that his case was virtually ignored until it was made public by human rights NGOs in Mexico. The Honduran man's wife said that she's been able to transfer money to Colón so that he could buy toilet paper and a pencil behind bars.
A video released by Amnesty International to raise awareness about their anti-torture campaign.
"The authorities can't keep looking in the opposite direction," the Americas director for Amnesty International, Erika Guevara, said during a press conference in Mexico City last Thursday evening. "The fact that measures to prevent torture and other abuses are just barely being taken — and that investigations into complaints often only lead to minimizing the gravity of the abuses — is a clear indication that the government is not protecting human rights."
Amnesty International published 14 recommendations aimed at curbing torture in Mexico. The group recommends that Mexico keep public registries of detainees, and eliminate the use of soldiers in police functions.
The Mexican government has previously said that it is on the correct path toward eliminating torture. This past April, Mexico's congress approved a series of reforms to the military justice code, which will allow military officials to be tried in civilian courts when they are suspected of torturing a civilian.
But in spite of the changes to the laws, human-rights organizations have taken cases like Colón's as a clear indication that torture remains a widespread policy and tactic of the Mexican government.
"It requires police, military, and functionaries to execute, physicians to validate, judges that do not listen, and an entire system that supports it," said Valeria Moscoso, a human rights social worker.
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