Cablegate: Assessing Mexican Military's Human Rights Track

DE RUEHME #2112/01 1922115
R 102115Z JUL 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: By historic standards in the region,
Mexican military's track record on human rights is good, but
not perfect. However, prevailing military attitudes and
practices -- and incomplete and inaccurate chronicling of
alleged military abuses by human rights organizations --
reinforce the contention in a ten year old UN assessment that
"military personnel appear to be immune from civilian justice
and generally protected by military justice." The
institution has taken steps in recent months to address the
issue of accountability for soldiers accused of rights
abuses, but it remains reluctant to fully engage civil
society here on the issue. This is the first of three cables
describing the difficulties in assessing the military's human
rights track record, its relations with civil society, and
its complicated code of justice which allows it to retain
jurisdiction over serious criminal offenses involving
soldiers. End Summary.

Mexican Military Still Rates High Among Public
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (U) In comparison to other Mexican security elements
(particularly state and local), Mexico's military has a good
reputation for honesty and professionalism. In polls, it
consistently garners higher approval ratings than most other
institutions in Mexico. In the past year and a half, more
than 27,000 soldiers have been deployed throughout Mexico in
ten states. They are a highly visible presence in narco-hot
zones, patrolling in the streets of contested cities,
aggressively chasing down suspected cartel hit men, manning
roadblocks, digging up marijuana plants -- even occasionally
taking on civil functions such as manning ports of entry
along the insecure northeastern border.

3. (U) The Mexican public's support for Calderon's use of
the military in the battle against the Cartels seems to be
holding up. 57% of respondents to a June 2008 poll still
approved of Calderon's overall counter narcotics strategy,
which puts the institution front and center -- although about
half said they believed the military had committed rights
violations in the course of its duties.

Accusations Frequent, Definitions of Rights Violations Fuzzy
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

4. (SBU) Beyond that, however, there is very little
agreement in Mexico regarding the nature and scope of
military human rights abuses. Human rights abuse
accusations against the military, although less frequent than
those leveled at civilian police forces around the country,
number in the hundreds each year. Media have reported in
recent weeks that since the beginning of President Calderon's
drive against the cartels, Mexico's National Human Rights
Commission (CNDH) has "documented" 634 human rights
complaints against the military. CNDH itself says it has
received 556 preliminary rights complaints so far this year.

5. (SBU) These numbers are deceptive, however. CNDH takes
all manner of complaints against officials, including many
that would not normally be categorized as human rights
abuses. Last year, the organization estimated that more than
80 percent of the complaints it registered were for
dereliction of duty, which typically involves a soldier or
policeman who fails to respond to a request for assistance
from a civilian. The organization has yet to provide us with
a breakdown for this year, and it remains unclear why CNDH
considers these types of complaints to be human rights

6. (SBU) Further complicating the picture is that many
organizations take a very broad view of human rights
violations that inflates, and sometimes trivializes the
issue. Two years ago, for example, the Mexico City Human
Rights Commission charged the leftist opposition party with
violating the rights of city commuters through its protracted
blockade of major capital boulevards to protest the outcome
of the presidential elections. In late June of this year,
the city commission took a complaint from the police officer
in charge of the botched raid on a local nightclub, which
left 12 dead in a stampede, that his own had been violated by
accusations against his conduct during the raid. (Rights
accusations are also being lodged against officers involved
in the raid.) Like police and other security officials,
soldiers are often the subject of complaints from citizens
that we would qualify as trivial.

7. (U) Soldiers are also sometimes smeared outright by those
who most want to see them return to the barracks. Last

MEXICO 00002112 002 OF 002

month banners appeared throughout the north central city of
Torreon, charging that senior military officials were
deliberately carrying out widespread human rights abuses in
the region. The banners also charged the officials with
colluding with the Sinaloa cartel and analysts quickly tagged
their authors as being associated with the rival Arturo
Beltran Leiva organization. Similar campaigns to muddy the
waters against the military have been carried out in other
northern and border cities.

8. (SBU) CNDH tells us that typically most complaints are
either dismissed or resolved without the organization having
to take the next step, which is to issue a formal
recommendation based on a more complete investigation.
Until CNDH makes more specific information available to us,
it will be difficult to qualify the seriousness of the 556
complaints against the military, but clearly the figure cited
in the media greatly exaggerates the scope of the problem

Hard Cases Being Investigated

9. (SBU) Definitional differences and smear tactics aside,
there are credible rights allegations which most
organizations agree are serious and to which they give
sustained attention. CNDH and non-governmental
organizations focused on six such cases in 2007. (These were
reported in our annual human rights report.) So far this
year, CNDH told us it has begun formal investigations into
nine incidents. On July 10, its president announced he would
make eight formal recommendations to the military the
following day. It is unclear which incidents the organization
will include, but seven of those it said it was investigating
involved fatal shootings at military checkpoints or
installations (see below). One involved the seizure and
alleged abuse of Salvadoran migrants by members of the
Mexican Navy. Another involved the alleged abduction and
sexual humiliation of policewomen by the soldiers in the city
of Ciudad Juarez. (Comment: SEDENA told our DATT that its
attempts to interview the alleged victims and collect
physical and medical evidence in the latter case were stymied
by their refusal to cooperate.)

Roadblock Shootings on the Rise

11. (U) There have been seven reported shootings of
civilians by soldiers at military checkpoints so far this
year. Many rights workers say these shootings constitute a
pattern of gross violations of human rights. Most incidents
appear to be more in the nature of tragic chains of bad
judgment, however. In a recent case, for example, on June
8 three young men were driving erratically along a dark road
in the state of Chihuahua early on a Sunday morning, failed
to stop at a military checkpoint and knocked down (and
fatally injured, by one account) a soldier manning it.
Fellow soldiers repeatedly fired into the car when it hit a
cement barrier. All three in the car died, along with a

12. (U) NGOs say the uptick in such incidents demonstrates
the institution's unwillingness to properly train soldiers
and put in place procedures to prevent such occurrences.
While not "gross violations of human rights" by international
standards, these incidents clearly involve serious breaches
of military discipline and professionalism. The Embassy will
be watching closely in coming months for signs SEDENA is
fully investigating them -- and taking measures to avoid
future tragedies.

13. (SBU) Comment: That individuals and organizations in
Mexico cannot agree on what does and does not constitute a
violation of human rights significantly complicates
discussion of the issue in Mexico. While there are certainly
credible accusations against soldiers, until the public and
government refine their definitions, it will remain difficult
to sort them from the large number of unsubstantiated

Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at and the North American
Partnership Blog at /

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