Torture: The case of 4 civilians in Baja California, Mexico

“Of the more than 170 cases of torture documented by Human Rights Watch, not a single one has resulted in a state official being convicted for torture—either in the civilian or military justice system. What’s more, despite formal complaints by victims and compelling evidence of mistreatment, in most cases prosecutors have failed to even open investigations into probable mistreatment.”

Human Rights Watch:  ‘Neither Rights nor Security. Killing, Torture and Insecurity in Mexico's “War on Drugs."

The case study below is the third in a series of special blogs which will be posted over the next month with Count the Costs supporter, the Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, (Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights). These blogs, in line with the aims of the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which set off in August across the US, are intended to put a human face to the thousands of lives lost as a result of the US-led War on Drugs.

The Caravan will conclude in Washington, D.C., on September 10th and will call for an International Day of Action for Peace in Mexico. To follow the Caravan as it continues its journey across the US take a look at the official caravan website.

Case of 4 civilians; Rosarito, Baja California

On June 16th, 2009, Ramiro Ramirez Martinez, Orlando Santaolaya Villarreal, Rodrigo Lopez Vasquez and Ramiro López Vásquez were detained by members of the Army in the state of Baja California. None of the men were presented with an arrest warrant on being detained. A statement from the Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CMDPDH) reports that later that day they were transferred by an un-official vehicles to the Second Military Zone known as “Cuartel Morelos”, where they were subjected to torture and other forms of inhumane treatment. This torture included; being beaten; receiving electrical shocks to their genitals; and being suffocated with plastic bags whilst their finger and toe nails were removed. In addition, they were threatened and told that unless they took the blame for the kidnapping they would be killed.

The four men were detained on charges of organized crime. On June 17th 2009, they were forced to sign statements before the Attorney General admitting to these charges, whilst being tortured and blindfolded. Their families were unaware and uninformed of their whereabouts during this time or the fact that they were undergoing an arriago, a form of pre-trial detention in Mexico where individuals can be detained for up to 80 days before they are charged with a crime.Today, over three years on, the men remain detained at a prison in the city of Tepic.

The practice of arraigo is highly controversial and has become under sustained criticism from human rights activists throughout Mexico. As Centro Prodh state under the arraigo system; "police and prosecutors, rather than being required by law to justify prolonged detention by gathering sufficient evidence to warrant charging someone with a criminal offense, can first place the person under arraigo and then seek evidence that would justify that very detention."

Since the men’s arrest, the State has not investigated their claims of torture and has refused to admit that the confessions that they obtained were given whilst the suspects were being tortured. This has led the CMDPDH to claim that Mexico has failed in its obligations to guarantee and protect the rights of the four civilians. As Octavio Amezcua, a lawyer at the CMDPDH stated:

"Impunity in cases of torture is overwhelming and is exacerbated by the lack of a culture of combating it with a human rights perspective by the police, prosecutors and judges. It is revealing that to date there is no single conviction for this crime throughout the country".

In March 2012 the CMDPDH presented the cases to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. As Daniel Joloy from the CMDPDH stated: "the Committee Against Torture presents an opportunity for granting justice to the victims of torture in Mexico that have not had access to justice locally. This case may set a relevant precedent on the absolute prohibition of torture, in times when the presence of the Army in the streets has increased human rights violations." The cases are still under consideration by the UN Committee Against Torture and the CMDPDH await further information on the merits of the case and whether they will consider reparations.

The case above, along with the others presented on this blog emphasize the extreme human rights abuses being committed in the name of the war on drugs, and highlight the urgent need to explore an alternative approach.

This week on September 6, CMDPDH will be launching a campaign, including a new publication, against Torture. This will be available from the 6th on their website here.

To find out more read this report by Human Rights Watch:  ‘Neither Rights nor Security. Killing, Torture and Insecurity in Mexico's “War on Drugs."

To view more human stories from across Latin America watch this recently released series of videos produced by Transnational Institute and Washington Office on Latin America here.