Monday, April 25, 2016

Tortured witnesses and other issues with Ayotzinapa investigation, new GIEI report (April 25, 2016)

A group of international experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)  investigating the September 2014 attacks on 43 trainee teachers in Mexico presented a second devastating report yesterday.

They found inconsistencies, errors and omissions in the government's official investigation, along with evidence of suspects being tortured, reports the Guardian.

Some of the students were abducted by municipal police officers, with a military intelligence official looking on and state and federal police officers in the immediate vicinity, according to witnesses, reports the New York Times. The report, together with an earlier one from last year, detail a night of terror inflicted on protesting students and bystanders by security officers.

It contradicts the government version of events, the "historical truth" insisted on by officials who say the students were killed by a drug gang, burned in a nearby trash dump and disposed of in a river, reports the New York Times in a separate piece.

Among other findings, the report asserted that five suspects whose testimony underpinned the government's conclusions gave confessions "under torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment," notes the New York Times. Such evidence is  not admissible in Mexican courts.

The allegations of torture could endanger convictions in the case, one of the highest profile human rights cases in the country's history, as the government's version of events hinges, in large part, on the testimony of some drug gunmen who now say they were tortured into confessing, reports the Associated Press.
The report says a study of 17 of the approximately 123 suspects arrested in the case showed signs of beatings, including, in some cases, dozens of bruises, cuts and scrapes, notes the AP.

The cases are only a sampling, and there are indications of torture of other suspects, reports Animal Político.

The government version of a fire at the Cocula dump in which the bodies were burned is built on the back of testimony by tortured witnesses, reports Animal Político.

Mexico's Attorney General's office announced an investigation into allegations of torture, reports Animal Político.

The GIEI report also shows an analysis of phone records that show seven of the students' cell phones remained active days after the attack, further undermining the Cocula dump fire theory, notes Animal Político.

Full report by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI).

The new report found that the disappeared students did not belong to any criminal group, nor were they planning to interrupt a political event, both tenets of the government report, according to the Guardian.

The IACHR experts again recommended investigating the drug business in the area, following up on the September report that noted avenues of investigation that went ignored by Mexican officials, such as buses being used to carry opium paste to the U.S.

The group also accused the federal government of not cooperating with the investigation and of permitting a smear campaign against them in an attempt to discredit the final report and harass them out of the country. 

"In a context of strong polarization in Mexico, the [GIEI] has become an object utilized by some to generate greater polarization," the team said in its final report.

Last week group members had already publicly complained that the government was making their work impossible, reports the New York Times.

"The conditions to conduct our work don't exist," said Claudia Paz y Paz, a panel member who earned international recognition for prosecuting a former Guatemalan dictator on charges of genocide. "And in Mexico, the proof is that the government opposed the extension of our mandate, isn't it?"

piece by Francisco Goldman in the New Yorker makes the case that the Mexican government has consistently undermined its own independent investigation. (Goldman has an eight part series for the magazine on the case, this is the last installment.)

"The Mexican government had accepted GIEI's mission in order to demonstrate that it possessed the will, if not always the capabilities, to investigate, solve, and achieve justice for a crime that had shocked the world. Ayotzinapa became symbolic of so many other crimes that have occurred in Mexico, and epitomized the lawlessness and violence of a drug war that has led to an estimated hundred and fifty thousand deaths and some twenty-seven thousand disappearances."

Mexican public officials responsible for human rights skipped the meeting, a sign of tensions between the GIEI and the government, reports the Guardian. It will be the last report by the GIEI, as it's mandate ends this week and is unlikely to be renewed by the Mexican government, notes the NYTimes.

Mexico’s attorney general’s office took to Twitter on Sunday to defend its investigation and actions, saying it had done nothing to impede the experts. It also defended claims of a controlled burn in the garbage dump and denied any allegations of mishandling evidence or allowing torture to occur, reports the Guardian.

In an earlier report the GIEI released in September already questioned Mexican investigators conclusions, including that the bodies of the students were burned in a garbage dump the night they were disappeared in Iguala after being attacked by police. (See briefs for Sept. 8, 2015.)

For those who are having trouble following the years-long chain of reports, refutations and accusations the New Yorker piece has a good review of the many events in the investigations.

News Briefs
  • Another torture video (see April 18's briefs) this time starring Mexico City police, has horrified citizens and spurred an official investigation, reports El Daily Post
  • A former Honduran police chief says documents detailing collusion between drug traffickers and high-ranking police officers in assassinations of two top antidrug officials are part of a crude set-up. In fact, the plot and corruption in the country's institutions, is far bigger, said former chief, Ramón Sabillón Pineda. The documents failed to expose the broader involvement of political figures beyond the police force, he told the New York Times. The documents divert attention from general collusion between drug gangs and the country's political elite, he said. The leaked documents show Sabillón was aware of the documents and asked for them to be kept under guard, though he said his signature was forged. (See April 6's post and April 18's briefs.) Last week Honduran authorities announced they were suspending two former national police directors as well as 25 officers for their alleged involvement in the 2009 murder of General Julián Arístides González, who at the time was the country's top anti-drug official, reports InSight Crime. Two of the former police directors implicated in the murders by the New York Times coverage have also denounced the documents as false, reports InSight Crime separately. The case will be taken up by the new OAS-backed Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH).
  • Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres (whose case will also be taken up by the MACCIH) was bombarded by death threats in the days leading up to her March murder, reports the Guardian.
  • Nómada report revealed documentation linking a Guatemalan congressman who is currently under investigation for corruption to a police unit responsible for murders, torture, and disappearances during the country's 35-year civil war. InSight Crime has the English translation.
  • A 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Ecuador over a week ago has succeeded in overcoming economic ideology: the humanitarian disaster that claimed over 600 lives has pushed the country towards tax hikes and international loans, a path that was up until now resisted by its leftist leaders, reports the New York Times. (See last Thursday's briefs.) But the country is only the latest in the region to face the facts of falling commodity prices and adjusting economic policy to match, argues the piece.
  • As expected, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff used the opportunity of a U.N. visit on Friday to appeal for international support in light of a political campaign to oust her from office, which she argues is a glorified coup d’état, reports the New York Times. Though she limited her comments at a U.N. speech, saying only that she had faith that her fellow citizens will prevent a setback to democracy, she later made her case to reporters invited to the Brazilian ambassador's residence. "In the past, coups were carried out with machine guns, tanks and weapons," she said. "Today all you need are hands that are willing to tear up the Constitution." said she would appeal to the Mercosur bloc of South American nations for Brazil to be suspended if democratic process is broken, reports Reuters. Mercosur has a democratic clause that can be triggered when an elected government is overthrown in any of its member states, as happened in Paraguay in 2012. Her words was criticized by Brazilian media and politicians who said it would paint a negative international picture of the country.
  • Poor economic performance, especially high inflation, have eaten away at prosperity promised to Brazil's lower classes, and undermined the popularity of the governing Workers' Party, opening up Rousseff to impeachment, reports the Washington Post.
  • Street protests yesterday marked the date of yet another missed election deadline in Haiti, reports Reuters. April 23 was the agreed on date in a February political accord that created an interim government, aimed at carrying out a delayed and questioned presidential run-off election, reports the Miami Herald. The timeline was affected by a political battle over the formation of an interim government, delays in the creation of a new electoral body and demands for a vote recount. Provisional President Jocelerme Privert told the Miami Herald that he expects an elections calendar by the end of May. 
  • The horrific killing of three deaf women in Haiti highlights the pervasive victimization of people with disabilities -- especially women and girls -- and and prompted rare public protests by their advocacy groups, reports the Associated Press.
  • A much anticipated push for reform in world drug policy fizzled last week at UNGASS 2016, despite earnest attempts from Latin American countries pushing for a less prohibitionist regime, reports InSight Crime. "With the huge obstacles to a new international consensus made apparent, reformist countries around the region instead look set to continue national level experiments with drug policy." (See last Wednesday's and Thursday's posts.)
  • An opinion piece by Transform's Steve Rolls warns that the drug warriors who blocked reform made a terrible miscalculation. "A striking element of the General Assembly meeting has been the series of member states taking the floor to berate the failings of the outcome document – not so much what it says, but what it doesn’t say: its weakness on human rights, harm reduction, and regulation," he writes.
  • Speaking at the U.N. special session on drugs last week, Venezuela's Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez denied that her country has an endemic drug trafficking problem, "despite overwhelming evidence the country has become a key drug transshipment point," reports InSight Crime.
  • The death of five rave attendants in Buenos Aires last week, apparently of drug overdose, has prompted police investigation and political hand wringing regarding drug use at music events. In response, the Rosario municipal council passed a measure mandating harm-reduction policies at electronic music festivals such as pill testing. Another proposal would force organizers to provide potable water to party goers, in an attempt to avoid dehydration spurred by synthetic drugs, reports Página 12.
  • El Daily Post's Alejandro Hope has more on the relatively null impact of Mexico's proposed marijuana reform. (See last Friday's post.) An internal government report leaked to the press found that "raising the personal possession threshold for marijuana from 5 to 28 grams would allow somewhere between 2000 and 2500 prison inmates to regain their freedom. That represents between 0.8 and 1 percent of Mexico's total prison population and approximately 5 to 7 percent of all inmates charged with a drug-related offense."
  • Colombia's Inspector General said the country's softened approach to coca eradication benefits criminal organizations known as BACRIM, which means the paramilitary groups could be the big winners of a peace deal between the government and the leftist FARC rebels, reports InSight Crime.
  • A new poll in Peru shows presidential candidates Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in a statistical tie ahead of the June 5 runoff, reports Reuters. It's the third opinion poll in a week that shows PPK's lead shrinking.
  • Peru's poverty rate fell more slowly last year than in previous years, reports Reuters.
  • Clarification note: A reader pointed to an apparent discrepancy in two articles I cited on Friday, on the subject of homicide stats in Mexico. El Daily Post columnist Alejandro Hope wrote about how the numbers in general went up, but were down in March in Sinaloa compared to last year, while El País reported an increase in Sinaloa in the first months of this year. Both are apparently right. Hope is comparing government stats for March 2016 to the same month of last year, while El País is pointing to a 52 percent increase in homicides from January to February of this year. Trends might not be as clear cut as the articles make them seem, however. El País does not note that government stats then show a 56 percent decrease in March of this year. And the decrease that Hope notes in March is tempered if you look at the average for the first three months of this year compared to the same period of last: there were 211 homicides in the first three months of last year, and 246 this year.

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