Cablegate: Mexico's Human Rights Commission: The Good, The

DE RUEHME #1916/01 1771425
R 251425Z JUN 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Mexico's National Human Rights Commission
(CNDH) with its $72 million budget was created in the wake of
demands and pressure on Mexico's government to investigate
crimes of the "dirty war" and with a mandate to investigate,
report and recommend measures to address human rights
concerns. While it has won praise for its often exhaustive
reports on abuses around the country, the human rights NGO
community has criticized the CNDH for not exerting enough
pressure on government institutions to end impunity for
abuses and for not effecting positive change. Jose Luis
Soberanes Fernandez, the Commission's controversial director,
has not improved the organization's image. End Summary.

Aspiring to Autonomy

2. (U) In the face of criticism of its human rights
performance dating back the 1960's, as well as increased
expectations among international organizations such as the
UN, the Mexican Government came under increased pressure to
more effectively address concerns about abuses. Despite
several attempts at the state level, it was not until 1989,
that Mexico's Secretariat of Government (SEGOB) created a
General Human Rights Directorate as a subordinate office
tasked with looking into allegations of human rights abuses.
In 1990, under presidential decree, the General Human Rights
Directorate was renamed the National Human Rights Commission

3. (U) CNDH remained a part of the SEGOB until 1999 when the
Mexican Congress adopted a constitutional reform declaring it
autonomous and freeing it from direct government oversight.
CNDH continues, however, to rely entirely on the congress for
funding, and the Mexican Senate appoints its President.

Who Does What?

4. (U) The CNDH's structure is comprised of five major
bodies: the Presidency, the Consultant Council, the Technical
Secretariat of the Consultant Council, the Executive
Secretariat and the General Visitorship. Of the five bodies,
the Consultant Council and the General Visitorship are the
most important. The former consists of ten academic members
appointed by the Senate and is responsible for establishing
the CNDH's general guidelines, approving the Commission's
internal rules and overseeing the budget. The CNDH's
President serves as the head of the Council.

5. (U) The General Visitorship, of which there are five
undersecretaries or "visitors", is responsible for
investigating allegations of abuses committed during the
"dirty war," gender violence, trafficking in persons,
migration issues, complaints against federal agencies, prison
conditions and indigenous affairs. Each undersecretary is
assigned staff who investigates human rights complaints.
During a meeting with Poloff on 9 June, CNDH Executive
Secretary Dr. Javier Moctezuma said each undersecretary was
responsible for following up on all recommendations issued by
the Commission and for reporting to the CNDH's President when
(1) recommendations are rejected, (2) recommendations are
accepted with proof of total fulfillment, (3) recommendations
are accepted with proof of partial fulfillment, and (4) when
recommendations are accepted but lack satisfactory proof of
fulfillment. CNDH boasts its own forensics collection team
and a private lab, adding that the PGR's samples are often
contaminated. During a recent meeting with Poloff, CNDH
Second Visitor Dr. Susana Pedroza remarked the Commission's
medical expert and forensics team are available to any state
human rights commission by request.

States Commissions Get Into the Act on Their Own
--------------------------------------------- ---

6. (SBU) State human rights commissions perform the same
functions as the CNDH and are divided into autonomous and
non-autonomous bodies. State congresses fund autonomous
state commissions and appoint their presidents.
Non-autonomous commissions, on the other hand, rely directly
on state governors for their funding and to appoint their
presidents. Of the 32 Mexican states, approximately 10 host
autonomous state commissions. Of non-autonomous commissions,
Edgar Cortes, Director of Mexico City based NGO Human Rights
Network (REDTDT), complained state governors interfered with
the independence of the commissions' work by deciding which
human rights complaints should be investigated and which

7. (SBU) The CNDH and state commissions each have their own
mandates and operate independently of each other. CNDH will,
however, invoke jurisdiction over a case if (1) it involves a
federal official or agency, (2) a complainant is not
satisfied with the state commission's recommendation or (3)
if state or local authorities reject the state commission's
recommendation. National and state commissions meet
regularly but enjoy no formal relationship; issuing
recommendations independently of each other. State human
rights commissions are, according to Cortes, more open than
the CNDH to dialogue with the NGO community but only on
certain cases. He commended state commissions in Guerrerro
and Jalisco for their transparency but criticized Oaxaca for
closing avenues of communication with civil society.

Some Complaints are More Important Than Others
--------------------------------------------- -

8. (U) Anyone can file a human rights complaint with CNDH,
but complaints must be written and include the petitioner's
personal information (i.e. age, DOB, etc.), a complete
description of the alleged human rights violation and an
official signature or if the complainant is not literate, a
fingerprint. In urgent cases, complaints filed
electronically, by telephone or orally before any member of
the CNDH are also accepted. When the whereabouts of a person
are unknown, relatives or friends, including minors can file
complaints on an individual's behalf. NGOs also have legal
authority to go before the Commission and report human rights
violations. A complainant has 365 days from the date of an
incident to file a human rights complaint and if requested,
the CNDH can extend the deadline.

9. (U) Once an allegation of human rights abuse has been
analyzed and it has been determined that the CNDH has
jurisdiction to proceed, the complainant is notified and the
case passes to one of the five responsible undersecretaries
for further investigation. If there is any confusion
regarding the details of the case, the complainant has 30
working days to gather and submit the required information to
the Commission before the case is archived. (Note: If an
allegation of human rights abuse does not fall under the
Commission's jurisdiction, the written complaint is given to
the pertaining authority.) If a federal entity fails to
deliver reports or supporting documents related to an
allegation of human rights abuses, CNDH officials contend
"the facts of the complaint will be confirmed." Once the
appointed undersecretary completes the investigation, a
non-binding recommendation is issued. President Calderon has
urged all officials to accept the Commission's
recommendations and according to Dr. Moctezuma, 95% of CNDH
recommendations are accepted at the federal level. The CNDH
also promotes human rights education and awareness through
annual seminars, conferences and human rights courses.

10. (U) Over a 17 year period, CNDH has received more than
106,227 complaints and issued 1,912 recommendations.
According to its statistics, 104,685 or 98.5 percent of the
complaints were resolved satisfactorily. A resolution is
generally achieved either through formal reconciliation with
the authorities during the investigation process or through
compensation to the complainant. The CNDH reports that
federal, state and local officials generally complied with
the organization's recommendations by agreeing to participate
in CNDH sponsored courses and workshops.

11. (U) The CNDH groups complaints in several different
categories, including arbitrary detention, improper exercise
of public duty, and cruel and unusual punishment. CNDH told
us that the majority of complaints received nationally are
related to dereliction of duty, rather than conventional
human rights abuses.

CNDH Comes in for Complaints by NGOs

12. (U) CNDH's $72 million budget is appropriated by the
Mexican Congress. According to many NGO's, its GOM funding
and the fact that its President is appointed by the Senate
means it cannot fully posit itself as an autonomous
organization free of GOM influence. Jose Miguel Vivanco, the
Americas Director at Human Rights Watch remarked that while
CNDH "does a decent job documenting abuses and identifying
problems, it doesn't take crucial steps needed to bring about
change." Consensus within the NGO community is consistent
with Vivanco's observation. NGO's also complain frequently
about the Commission's lack of transparency and its thinly
disguised disdain for civil society organizations. One human
rights organization claims that a technical agreement between
the High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCR), which permits
evaluation of the CNDH's performance by international
experts, has never been honored by the latter.

13. (SBU) CNDH President Jose Luis Soberanes Fernandez has
also done little to counter such criticism. In fact, he has
courted controversy during his tenure. The first president
since the Commission became autonomous in 1999, Soberanes has
been accused of using his organization to target personal
enemies, including former President Vicente Fox. Soberanes
has also demonstrated thin-skin, reacting bitterly to
criticism of his organization's human rights efforts.

14. (SBU) However, while the organization is accused by NGO's
of being too close to the GOM, the attitudes demonstrated by
its leadership are often highly antagonistic to the
government here. Soberanes' feud with former president Fox
was fierce, and he sharply criticized both the current
Attorney General and Public Security Secretary for their role
in prior standoffs between security forces and citizens which
led to human rights accusations. More recently, he
criticized the use of the military to combat the cartels and
claimed that military officers had prevented CNDH officials
from fully investigating abuse allegations.

15. (SBU) Conversations with two senior CNDH Visitors -
Second Visitor Pedroza and First Visitor Dr. Raul Plascencia
- demonstrate the depth of the organization's antipathy
toward the GOM. Plascencia said the government's progress in
the war against the cartels was "minimal" in comparison to
the number of casualties. With civilian deaths rising, he
criticized the government for its failure to provide
concrete, statistical evidence regarding the number of
individuals arrested and detained for narcotics trafficking
since the beginning of the year. He claimed that the GOM did
not have the support of affected communities and that
narcotraffickers appeared virtually unaffected by the
government's increased public security efforts. Instead of
deterring narco-activities in precarious areas, Plascencia
said the government's efforts increased instability and
retaliatory violence. Considerably more restrained than
Plascencia, Pedroza commented that allegations of human
rights abuses had increased in the past few years and were
likely to hit record numbers this year.

16. (SBU) As for the charge that the organization's
recommendations lack teeth, Plascencia said the Commission
could inform the Mexican Congress when a federal entity
refused to implement the Commission's recommendation.
Pedroza made no mention of the Commission's ability to
consult the Mexican Congress but said it was the
responsibility of the accused organization to be accountable
for its actions and to accept the Commission's
recommendations. If the organization chose to ignore CNDH's
suggestion, she remarked, there was nothing more that could
be done.

17. (SBU) COMMENT: CNDH points to its human rights reports
and recommendations as evidence of its contribution to the
promotion of human rights in Mexico. Many of its reports are
exhaustively researched and supported by extensive forensic
evidence. Furthermore, its association with an extensive
network of state commissions provides coverage far beyond
what any private NGO could achieve.

18. (SBU) The human rights community holds CNDH to a very
high standard, criticizing it for failing to more profoundly
influence the GOM's record on human rights abuses -- far
beyond the limits of an independent organization -- while
insisting it function completely autonomous of the
government. For its part, the organization has done little
to engage civil society organizations. To garner respect for
its efforts to defend human rights in Mexico, the CNDH will
need to incorporate the broader human rights community into
its human rights agenda. End Comment.
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