Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Today's Mexico City Headlines: The United Nations' latest report on torture in Mexico is disturbing but not surprising. Same goes for the government response.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Man goes to a doctor. Doctor says you have a serious condition. Man says, no I don’t. Doctor says, yes you do, and you have to take medicine for it. Man says, no I don’t and who are you to tell me what’s happening in my body.
    Not much of a punch line, granted. But it’s a fairly good analogy for what’s going on between Mexico and the United Nations lately. No, let’s get that sentence right — it’s a good analogy for what’s going on between the Peña Nieto administration and the United Nations lately.
    It hasn’t been a month since the administration summarily dismissed a UN finding of "widespread" forced (i.e. government-sanctioned) disappearances throughout Mexico. Now it’s issued a similar rejection after the UN described "widespread" — yes, the same adjective, generalizada in Spanish — official torture.
    La Jornada fronts the finding: “Torture after arrest widespread in Mexico: UN.” Milenio fronts the disagreement: “Now Mexico and the UN are clashing over torture.” El Universal is the only paper to lead with it (Reforma relegates it to page two and Excelsior ignores it): “Widespread torture: UN; not true, responds SRE.”
    SRE is the Foreign Relations Secretariat. One might think the Interior (Gobernación) Secretariat or the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) would be the ones to respond to charges relevant to their functions, but it’s the SRE that has a permanent, ambassador-level representative, Jorge Lomónaco, before the international bodies in Geneva, where the report was released.
    Here’s what they’re clashing about: After an extended investigation, Juan Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, released a report Monday concluding that “torture and ill treatment during detention are widespread in Mexico, and occur in a context of impunity.”
    Who’s doing the torturing? Local, state and federal police. State and federal prosecutors. The armed forces.
    What are they doing? Punches, kicks and blows with clubs. Electric shocks, usually to the genitals. Asphyxiation with plastic bags. Forced nudity and other sexual abuse, including rape and rape with objects.
    How does the UN know? From talking to people, mostly. According to Méndez, “An alarming number of the detainees interviewed claimed to have been torture victims.” He also cited figures from the National Human Rights Commission, which reported 11,608 complaints of torture and abuse between 2006 and April of 2014 .
    The SRE actually had at least an extra 24 hours to come up with a response. The 22-page report was leaked to the magazine Proceso, which hit the newsstands Sunday morning and was available for reading by insiders Saturday night. The government response, according to El Universal, focused on that word “generalizada” and went like this: “It (calling torture “widespread”) doesn’t correspond with reality nor does it reflect the enormous efforts the country has undertaken to consolidate law and practice.”
    The second part of that sentence, echoing nearly verbatim the response to the forced disappearance report, is irrelevant. The first is almost a confession in the guise of a denial, as if to say, “Hey, UN people, we know how much we’re torturing and it’s a lot less than you claim!”
    The UN’s Méndez notes that most of the torture victims were being held on suspicion of links with organized crime, or acts carried out in its service. This might explain the muted outrage after years of reports of systematic torture; it’s us or them, many may figure.
    They should figure differently. For one thing, torture muddles the cause of justice rather than serve it. For another, ask not for whom the bell tolls — it could be us and them. Most to the point are the words of John McCain, the U.S. senator whose consistent anti-torture stance has earned him a reputation for principled moderation (that he’s worked hard to negate in just about every other area of politics): “It’s not about who they are. It’s about who we are.”

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