Committee against Torture hears replies of Mexico

1 November 2012

The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the replies of Mexico to questions raised by Committee Experts on the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Responding to questions raised by Committee members on Tuesday, 30 October, the delegation of Mexico, led by Ruth Villanueva, Deputy Prosecutor for Human Rights, Crime Prevention and Community Services of Mexico, explained that the preventive detention known as “arraigo” was only applicable in cases of serious or organized crime and when approved by a judge or public prosecution office. It was mainly carried out in three federal arraigo institutions. The delegation said that Mexico was aware of its problems in terms of conditions of detention and had invested millions of dollars to improve state prisons and build new facilities.

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 Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Mexico will be issued towards the end of the session, which concludes on 23 November.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Friday, 2 November when it will hear the replies of the delegation of Norway, which presented its report on Thursday, 1 November.

Response by the Delegation of Mexico

Responding to questions raised on Tuesday, 30 October on the reform of the judicial penal code, the delegation of Mexico said that the reforms had been in place since 18 June 2008 and that the State had put in place a new system concerning proof that provided for the provision of anticipated proof, this was guided by legal standards. There were requirements for validity, in accordance with rules for due trial, which included that it be subject to the control of a judge and that a reason be given why this evidence was advanced to official hearings. Hearings were fully recorded and available to all parties.

As to the Committee’s doubts about the manner in which Mexican judges played their role, the delegation reassured that judges acted independently and in line with the Constitutional role entrusted to them. Training courses dispensed to federal judges since the 2012 reform covered both domestic issues and international standards and the criteria drawn up by the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice were being used for guidance.

The Mexican State had various mechanisms to provide redress to victims of human rights violations, the delegation went on to say. Following the reforms of July 2011, the Constitution established the State’s duty to provide redress for such infringements. In August 2012, the President had presented a draft law to Congress which included redress to victims of human rights violations. Redress was commensurate with the injury caused and very comprehensive. It involved not only payment for loss of economic income, but also the restoration of dignity and, where State officials were involved, adequate guarantees to ensure non-repetition. With the involvement of the national human rights commission, there were also efforts to begin to provide redress for violations which had occurred in the past, in the 1970s and 1980s. Redress had been provided to 43 families.

Mexico acknowledged the work of human rights defenders and reaffirmed its commitment to providing them with proper protection. Several coordinating bodies were implementing measures called for by the human rights commission and the Interior Ministry and steps promoted by international bodies such as the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, which had made 48 recommendations.

Each state of Mexico was fully autonomous but they could not run counter to the national Constitution, the delegation reassured. Throughout the country, there were several criminal codes and 16 laws dealing with torture. The Government had carried out actions to promote an understanding of torture, including through training and awareness raising. Nonetheless, further discussion of the tools was needed to eradicate torture, which must be supported by immediate recordings of detentions.

Organized crime had led to exceptional criminal laws for specific cases, but this should not lead to human rights violations, including torture, said the delegation. As far as the state of Guerrero, to which Committee Experts had referred, was concerned, its laws dealt with torture since 1992. The delegation also pointed out that there was a draft Criminal Code Bill targeting torture so as to include it in the law dealing with the accusatory system.

The Marine Secretariat had received five recommendations from the human rights institution between 2007 and 2011. In line with these, it had paid reparations and signed agreements with the national human rights commission and the International Committee of the Red Cross regarding participation in human rights trainings. The Secretariat had trained 95 per cent of its staff and was cooperating with military prosecution services. Likewise, it was cooperating with the internal supervisory body to clear the backlog of procedures.

Turning to the preventive detention known as “arraigo”, which had triggered significant interest from the Committee Experts, the delegation underlined that this practice was only applicable in cases of serious or organized crime. Arraigo, which was enshrined in the Constitution, had been included in the recent reform because this type of measure was geared towards safeguarding the social interest. Arraigo existed in all Mexican laws but the necessary legal safeguards were guaranteed, including full access to lawyers. Some rulings by federal judges concerning arraigo had now been declared inadmissible, and others which had involved statements obtained under arraigo had been dismissed. Arraigo, which was only justified once requested by a judge or public prosecution office, was mainly carried out in three federal arraigo institutions. While it could be implemented elsewhere if justified, its practice in military prisons only took place in exceptional circumstances. So far no case of a person who had disappeared under arraigo was known.

Turning to crimes against women, the delegation said female homicide was included in the Federal Penal Code. Mexico also had a special protocol for investigating homicides, murders and disappearances of women. This protocol would be sent to the Committee along with statistics on sexual violence, of which there had been over 3,000 cases in 2010 alone.

The delegation said that, based on the Constitutional human rights reform, migrants and foreigners had the right to a prior hearing before being expelled from Mexico. All immigrants were entitled to be notified of procedures against them, to receive legal aid for an effective appeal, to receive interpretation assistance and to have family members notified of the procedures. Special federal officers were responsible to ensure the well-being of child migrants, who were particularly vulnerable.

Addressing Committee concerns about family violence, the delegation explained that the prosecutor’s office had a specialized unit and four regional coordinators dealing with this issue. There was also an investigating police unit, as well as units which provided medical and psychological support to women who had been victims of crime and required specialized assistance. A number of protocols had also been entered into, the delegation underlined.

Mexico was aware of its problems with regards to detention conditions and the Government had decided to take on the question of overcrowding. Millions of dollars had been invested to improve state prisons, an intensive programme of building new facilities had been initiated and some $ 800,000 had been invested to build new infrastructure in replacement of inadequate facilities. Some 66,000 detainees had further been transferred to federal prisons, but greater efforts were needed in individual states, with 50 per cent of the prison population concentrated in six states. Other measures were also taken to improve prison conditions, including reviews and visits, training, and the establishment of a national academy for prison staff – this was the first of its kind in Mexico and a model for other countries. A full report of all measures taken would be submitted to the Committee in due course.

The delegation reiterated the firm commitment of the Government to investigate and punish all offences set out in the Convention. Mexico was committed to cooperating thoroughly with the Committee.

Follow-Up Questions from Experts

FERNANDO MARINO MENENDEZ, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the report of Mexico, wondered what guidelines were being followed regarding the draft federal law on justice for minors, and whether it would be implemented soon.

Was there universal jurisdiction over the crime of torture, the Rapporteur further wished to know? What happened for instance if torture was committed on Mexican territory by foreigners against foreigners?

ABDOULAYE GAYE, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the report of Mexico, thanked the delegation for its meaningful replies. Coming back to a few points that had been mentioned, Mr. Gaye said it was his understanding that Mexico had opted for the gradual implementation of the new criminal procedure. However, in his experience, legal discrepancies were often a source of problems, and the Government must ensure that all citizens were on an equal footing vis-à-vis the law.

The reason why he had asked about reparation for victims of human rights violations was because this was covered by the Convention. Victims of torture, especially, should be provided with full reparation. In the Mexican context it would seem that if victims did not agree with the reparation offered by the State they could go to court. Was this indeed the case, did the amparo procedure allow for full reparation by the courts?

An assessment of training provided under article 10 of the Convention against Torture would be appreciated, said Mr. Gaye.

Another Committee member noted that several international experts had called on Mexico to do more for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists, two groups who were highly vulnerable to reprisals. The Committee had been pleased to hear about the President’s announcement of a protection mechanism last year. Could the delegation provide an update on the status of that law and the measures that were likely to be brought into action?

An Expert said the new law on refugees Mexico had adopted in 2011 was significant and had been noted both in Mexico and in Central America as an important feature.

A Committee Expert noticed that that only seven people had been accused of torture before regular courts since 2007. This low figure pointed to the need to implement other measures in addition to legislative changes, possibly including training.

Other Committee members raised a number of questions, pertaining to, inter alia, the arraigo procedure.

Response by the Delegation

Responding to these and other questions, the delegation said that the establishment of an accusatory system was undertaken in an eight-year timeframe. Mexico was now half way through the implementation, with some states being well underway towards a 100 per cent implementation, but the process had not been fully implemented as of yet.

The delegation insisted that people under order of arraigo did not lose contact with human rights institutions, family members and their lawyers. They were informed of their rights, which were being monitored by technical and legal staff. The automatic system recording people under arraigo furthermore protected them from disappearing. The practice of arraigo was in line with the Constitution and perfectly legal.

Mexico did everything to protect human rights defenders and journalists. The Government had started to implement the relevant law this year. To this end, it had created a board bringing together 26 state agencies to fine-tune the implementation which spanned a wide array of measures, including protective measures such as cameras and armoured cars.

The delegation confirmed that there was a timeline for the implementation of the provisions of the penal system to avoid discrepancies. A Government entity representing the three branches of the State was in charge of implementing the policies and monitoring the process.


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