The Peña Nieto administration chose Easter Sunday to renew its attack on a United Nations human rights investigator who had reported widespread official torture in Mexico.
Foreign Relations Secretary José Antonio Meade issued a point-by-point summary of the government’s refutation of the UN findings. Then, having got in what he no doubt hopes is the final word, he declared an end to the dispute — a dispute that the secretariat itself had started.
You may remember that after a UN special rapporteur on torture released the findings in February, Mexico’s ambassador to the UN, Jorge Lomónaco, immediately rejected them as divorced from reality. Then in March, a foreign relations undersecretary went off on the rapporteur, questioning not only his conclusions but also his methodology, facts, and motives. Meade endorsed the tirade.
What the diplomats may not have seen coming was a response in kind by the rapporteur himself. Juan Méndez is not the reckless parvenu that the officials tried to paint him as. His career in human rights is long and distinguished, and much of it has involved Mexico.
It’s not a line of work for the easily intimidated. Méndez sent Lomónaco a blunt letter dated April 1, in response to what he called the secretariat officials’ “personal attack on me.”
“My integrity and ethics had never been questioned before,” he wrote. Yes, he said, some governments have used code of conduct provisions against his efforts, "But I must say I never expected Mexico to do so," he said.
In the letter, Méndez sticks by the conclusions that rankled the Peña Nieto administration, most notably the finding that official torture is “generalized” (i.e. widespread) in Mexico. “I stated it with a heavy heart, but also in the understanding that your Government had invited me to give you my honest assessment of the situation, and not to sugarcoat it,” he wrote.
Meade, too, is holding to his position, which is that the UN report exaggerated the incidence of official torture of suspects. That’s what Sunday’s communication was about, and it was dutifully run almost verbatim by La Jornada this morning under the front-page lead headline “Subject of torture and the rapporteur exhausted: SRE.” Milenio also leads with the story using a similar headline. Excélsior and El Universal photo-reefer it, both emphasizing the “end of discussion” angle.
Whether the discussion is really over remains to be seen, but we can certainly hope so. What did these diplomats think they stood to gain by getting themselves into a pissing war with United Nations human rights officials? Mexico comes off looking like a petty rogue state digging in against world opinion. Whatever happened to the high road?
Besides, the disagreement is trivial compared to the matter at hand. In yesterday’s communication, Meade acknowledges that “torture constitutes a practice that is still used in various ways and has not been totally eradicated.”
That may not be the same in degree as “widespread,” but what difference does it make? The government and the UN both think that official torture exists in Mexico and needs to be done away with. What’s to argue about? Just do it.