On Sept. 21 the Mexican government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) urged President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa to start “the gradual withdrawal” of the military from a high-profile anti-crime campaign he launched at the beginning of the year. The CNDH based its recommendations on its finding that 78 soldiers, including a colonel and a general, had been involved in human rights violations during the campaign; the abuses included rape, torture, arbitrary detention and murder.
“It’s time for the government to produce a plan to bring the soldiers back to the barracks,” said CNDH president Jose Luis Soberanes Fernandez, “and to stop exposing them in missions for which they aren’t prepared and which aren’t strictly in their jurisdiction.” Soberanes also called for criminal prosecutions of the soldiers responsible for the abuses, and expressed his opposition “on my personal account and as a lawyer” to the practice of trying such cases in military courts. Only cases involving military discipline and the discharge of military duties should go to the army’s courts, he said. “[I]n the rest of the cases, it should be the civilian courts that investigate the crimes.”
Soberanes gave details on several of the cases. From May 2 to May 4 soldiers committed multiple crimes against the population in Nocupetaro, Caracuaro and Huetamo municipalities in Michoacan state, he said, including the rape of two adult women and two minors. On May 7 soldiers killed four alleged drug traffickers in a confrontation in Apatzingan, Michoacan, and then illegally detained and tortured eight suspects at an army installation.
On the night of May 31-June 1, soldiers fired on a family’s van in Sinaloa de Leyva municipality, in Sinaloa state, killing two young women and three children under eight; three of the victims died of their wounds “because the soldiers prevented them from receiving medical attention.” The soldiers had been smoking marijuana, and one had taken cocaine, according to the CNDH; a colonel was involved in the incident.
On July 11, 2006, soldiers raped 14 women in the El Persico Dancing and Las Playas Cabaret dance halls in Castaños, Coahuila state. This was in reprisal for the establishments’ detention of a soldier. A general took part in the attack. (La Jornada, Sept. 22)
In the past Soberanes has been attacked by the Mexican left for having too close relations with the military. Many Mexicans dispute the CNDH’s conclusions on the case of Ernestina Ascension Rosario, a 73-year-old campesina who died on Feb. 26 after allegedly being raped by soldiers in Zongolica, Veracruz state. Soberanes insisted before Congress that she was not raped and had died from an acute anemia resulting from pre-existing conditions, including an ulcer and pneumonia. (LJ, April 26)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 23