MEXICO

Footage of torture implicates Mexican army and police

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Footage recently shared online shows a young woman being tortured during an interrogation by Mexican soldiers and police. They threaten and insult her, suffocate her and perform a mock execution. Widespread condemnation of the acts forced the authorities to release an apology, but for our Observer, this isn’t enough. She says use of torture is becoming more common.

The young woman sits on the ground. Her sobs can be heard despite the yellow plastic bag tied over her face. Another woman, crouching beside the prisoner in military fatigues, begins to pull the prisoner’s hair. That’s just the beginning of this four-minute long video. The soldier then puts a gun to the prisoner’s temple. The prisoner starts screaming. Finally, the soldier removes the plastic bag.

The respite is short however, because a policewoman quickly puts another plastic bag over the victim’s face.

The prisoner chokes and screams. The policewoman puts a hand over her mouth. She waits 20 seconds before removing the plastic bag.

"So, do you remember it now? Do you want it again? Are you asking for it again?” asks the soldier, in Spanish.

The soldier again puts the plastic bag over the prisoner’s head. She slumps to the floor. At the end of the video, she is lying of the floor and seems to be only semi-conscious.

A policewoman uses a plastic bag to suffocate this young woman. Image blurred by France 24 due to its graphic nature.

According to Mexican authorities, this interrogation took place in Ajuchitán, in Guerrero state [Editor’s note: a state in southern Mexico] on February 4, 2015, but the footage didn’t start circulating on social media until last week. The woman being tortured is supposedly linked to “La Famille Michoacana”, one of the largest cartels in Mexico, and she was arrested in possession of arms, alongside two men.

After the video appeared on social media, the Defence Minister immediately responded by saying that he had been made aware of the incident last December. He said that he alerted the attorney general a month later and had an army captain and a soldier arrested. He also publically apologised for the “reprehensible acts” carried out by these soldiers

The federal police also publically apologised a few days ago and announced that three of its agents had been suspended. However, it seems as though the police had taken no action to investigate the incident before the scandal broke.

At the end of the video, the young woman has collapsed on the ground. Image blurred by France 24.

“It’s too easy to say that these acts are carried out by black sheep when, in reality, they happen all the time”

Javier Enríquez Sam is the general coordinator of the Collective Against Torture and Impunity, a Mexican NGO.

Even though we already knew that this kind of thing occured, it is the first time that a video showing police and soldiers carrying out torture has been leaked. The techniques that you see in the videos are often used because they don’t leave any physical marks, so there’s no proof that it happened.

"I think the authorities spoke out about these attacks to preserve their image"

The authorities immediately spoke out against the torture acts, which is rare. But I think that they that to save face – because their public image has been tarnished by several different scandals of late.

Firstly, there’s an ongoing conflict between the government and an international group of independent investigators (GIEI), who are working on the disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa.

The GIEI rejected the conclusions made by the official investigation [Editor’s note: the authorities affirm that bodies were burned in a rubbish tip, which experts contest]. The GIEI has also accused authorities of interfering in its independant investigations.

Moreover, the government recently refused to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on torture entry to Mexico. Last year, the Rapportuer published a report saying that torture was “widesperead” in Mexico. The authorities are trying to discredit this report by denying everything.

“The number of reports of torture increased a hundred-fold in eight years”

Yet the numbers speak for themselves. For example, the general prosecutor received 23 complaints alleging torture carried out by the police and army in 2006. Eight years later, a shocking 2,403 complaints alleging torture were made.

It's true that more people are reporting these cases than before, but the number of cases of torture has also risen during this period. These years were marked by the war on narcotrafficking, launched by former president Felipe Calderón and continued by his successor Enrique Peña Nieto. Torture is often used against members of these criminal gangs. But, historically, it was used to stop the leaders of social movements.

Over the past few days, the authorities publically apologised, but that isn’t enough. It is too easy to say that “black sheep” carried out these atrocities when, in reality, these practices are widespread.

Moreover, no apology was made to the young woman. The army said that the soldiers had disobeyed orders by torturing her, because torture is officially banned.

It’s not speeches that are going to end torture but the fight against impunity. Currently, 98% of cases of torture go unpunished. We must punish those who carried out the acts, but also those responsible for the acts. In the army, soldiers rarely do anything without having received an order to do so.