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Mexico: Congress to vote on regressive torture bill

    Monday, March 27, 2017 - 04:14

     

    The Mexican lower house of Congress has finalized its version of a General Law on Torture. It has until 30 April to vote on it. This version of the bill has key amendments that, if passed, would increase impunity for torture and undermine access to justice in relation to torture complaints. The Congress resumes on 1 February and the bill is listed for voting by the full Chamber of Deputies. 

     

    A General Law on Torture was drafted during 2016 and presented in the Senate due to pressure from civil society given the widespread problem of torture in Mexico. This law would replace the existing federal and state laws on the issue and apply nationwide. In April 2016, the lower house Chamber of Deputies received the Senate’s approved version of the bill which in general terms was in line with international human rights standards. 

    In December 2016, the Chamber of Deputies made four regressive changes on the bill without consulting civil society. These changes imply 

    • Article 16 would mean that state agents suspected of torture would remain in active service despite being investigated;  
    • Article 22 places obstacles to federal powers to intervene in state cases;  
    • Article 33 places onerous evidence requirements on judges to order investigations into torture, thus threatening to increase impunity for torture complaints; and 
    • Article 35 proposes a national torture registry that would overlook thousands of torture complaints and only register a meagre minority of cases where criminal charges are presented. 

    This would lead to completely false official statistics on torture. These four regressive changes were included in the Chamber of Deputies’ final draft of the bill that will go to vote in the coming weeks in the session of Congress that runs from February to April. 

     

     

    Please contact the three Party Whips listed below.  

    • Start with Dear Deputy for each one.
    • Call on the members of Congress to ensure participation for civil society in the final discussions regarding the bill on the General Law on Torture by meeting with the organizations that were key to drafting the original bills.
    • Urge them to eliminate the regressive aspects of Articles 16, 22, 33 and 35, using the Senate’s version of the bill as a guide. 
    • Ask them to ensure that members of Congress take into account cases, statistics, and information of survivors and victims of torture when considering discussions and voting on this law.

     

    Address your appeals to

    Party Whip for the PRI Party: 
    César Octavio Camacho Quiroz
    Cámara de Diputados, Edificio H
    Planta Baja Av. Congreso de la Unión 66
    El Parque, Venustiano Carranza
    Ciudad de México, 15960
    México

    Email:     cesar.camacho@congreso.gob.mx 
    Twitter:     @CCQ_PRI

     

    Party Whip for the PAN party: 
    Marko Antonio Cortés Mendoza    
    Cámara de Diputados, Edificio H, Piso 4
    Av. Congreso de la Unión 66
    El Parque, Venustiano Carranza
    Ciudad de México, 15960
    México

    Email:     marko.cortes@congreso.gob.mx  
    Twitter:     @MarkoCortes

     

    Party Whip for the PRD Party: 
    Francisco Martínez Neri
    Cámara de Diputados, Edificio B, Piso 3
    Av. Congreso de la Unión 66
    El Parque, Venustiano Carranza
    Ciudad de México, 15960
    México

    Email:     fmartinez.neri@congreso.gob.mx 
    Twitter:     @FMartinezNeri

     

     

    Please send a copy to

     
    His Excellency Agustin García-López Loaeza 
    Ambassador for Mexico
    45 O'Connor Street, Suites 1000 & 1030
    Ottawa, Ontario K1P 1A4
    Fax:         (613) 235-9123
    Email:     infocan@sre.gob.mx
    Twitter:    @EmbaMexCan

     

    The Honourable Chrystia Freeland
    Minister of Foreign Affairs
    111 Wellington Street
    Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
    Postage:    None required
    Fax:         (613) 996-9607
    E-mail:     chrystia.freeland@parl.gc.ca 
     

     

    Additional information

    Impunity for torture and other ill-treatment remains almost absolute in Mexico, with numerous reports of beatings, near asphyxiation with plastic bags, electric shocks, rape and other sexual assault taking place during police and military operations. Sexual violence used as a form of torture is commonplace during arrests of women. Criminal charges against torturers are hardly ever presented.  In April 2016, for the first time in two years, the Federal Attorney General’s Office announced torture charges against five federal officials, in response to a leaked video showing police officers and soldiers torturing a woman.

    In 2016 the Special Unit on Torture of the Federal Attorney General’s Office reported 4,715 torture investigation files under revision at the federal level. At a national level, as many as 12,000 torture complaints were filed in 2013 alone. 

    Further details on the recent proposed modifications by the lower house to the General Law on Torture include Article 16, while international standards stipulate that agents suspected of torture have the right to continue to receive a salary and their presumption of innocence must be maintained, the mere opening of an investigation against a suspected person is enough to suspend them from active service. As it stands, the proposed bill would require full criminal charges to have been presented against the agent, thus allowing them to remain in active service before this point. Given the fact that very few cases get to the point of presenting criminal charges, it is important that any agents being investigated for torture are separated from active service rather than having to wait for criminal charges to be laid. In regards to federal powers (Article 22), the bill waters down the circumstances in which federal powers can take over state investigations. These federal powers are important in cases where due to the gravity of the case, or due to a lack of independence at a state level, federal prosecutors need to get involved. However, the current bill makes the language of the Senate version more ambiguous in this regard. In regards to the mandate of judges to order prosecutors to investigate torture, Article 33 of the draft bill requires that there must be “reasonable evidence” for the judge to order an investigation, which places a more restrictive requirement that currently exists, whereby judges can order investigations immediately following any complaint of torture in judicial hearings. Finally, in regards to Article 35, the bill would mean that a national registry on torture would only put torture cases on record in those cases where criminal charges have been presented. As an example, this would mean that for 2014 at a federal level, the registry would have had zero cases, and for 2015 also, despite the fact that hundreds of torture complaints were filed in these years. A national registry should register the number of complaints, the number of investigations open, the age, gender, nationality of the complainant, and other vital details to monitor the phenomenon and combat impunity. 

    The General Law on Torture must improve the legal framework for the National Preventative Mechanism. In Mexico it exists since 2007, integrated into the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), in accordance with the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. It is a very important tool to fight against torture and represents a safeguard to preserve the right of persons deprived of their liberties in the country. Nevertheless, the mechanism is not working efficiently because of the lack of adequate resources (financial and human), as well as the lack of independent members from civil society.   

     

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    If you wish to receive updates on this case, email urgentaction@amnesty.ca. In the subject line, write “Keep me updated on Mexico’s General Law on Torture”.
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