May 17, 2006

Mexico’s Fox criticized on human rights record

By Lorraine Orlandi

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Six years after Mexican President
Vicente Fox set in motion ambitious plans to end rampant rights
abuse, he has barely dented chronic problems like police
torture and impunity for once powerful leaders, Human Rights
Watch said on Wednesday.

With his 2000 election win, Fox ousted the authoritarian
party that ruled Mexico for 71 years. He took unprecedented
steps to redress its abuses -- inviting scrutiny by world
rights monitors, declassifying millions of secret documents and
making government more transparent for citizens.

But Fox, who leaves office in December, failed to follow
through with political muscle to end widespread torture and
other police abuse, punish former high-ranking officials for
past atrocities, stop the murders of women on the U.S. border
or overhaul a corrupt and creaking court system, the New
York-based group said in a report.

"What's the feeling now, six years later? In a word,
disappointment," said Daniel Wilkinson, deputy director of the
group's Americas division. "Despite some real accomplishments,
Mexico's chronic human rights problems have not changed."

In a 150-page assessment of Fox's term, Human Rights Watch
urged the next president to push Fox's stalled initiatives such
as justice reform while building on his gains in public access
to information and government accountability.

Fox is prohibited from seeking a new term in the July 2
election, now seen as a two-way race between a leftist former
Mexico City mayor and the candidate from Fox's conservative

"President Fox had a broad popular mandate for change and
clear ideas for how to bring the change about," said Jose
Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch's Americas director. "What
he lacked was a willingness to go to bat for those ideas."


In what was hailed as a bold step toward ending impunity
for public officials, Fox created a special prosecutor to
investigate hundreds of deaths and disappearances under the
long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

But, shackled by a lack of cooperation from the military,
and by limited resources and legal constraints, the prosecutor
has won few arrests and no convictions. Mexico's courts
rejected bids to indict former President Luis Echeverria for
his role in two massacres of student protesters.

Human Rights Watch called for creation of a truth
commission to document the repression alongside criminal
prosecutions. It said prosecutors need more legal tools, such
as the ability to offer plea bargains for testimony, and the
army and other agencies should be forced to cooperate.

Fox has failed to fix a deeply flawed justice system.
Police brutality in putting down riots outside Mexico City this
month, like the botched handling of more than 400 murders of
women in Ciudad Juarez on the Texas border in the past decade,
shows how police and courts can undermine the rule of law in
the name of fighting crime, Human Rights Watch said.

"Instead of conducting serious investigations, they beat
confessions out of people," Wilkinson said. "You have innocent
people going to jail, while the real criminals go free. Ciudad
Juarez is the classic example but it is in no way unique."

Still, recent progress in investigating the Ciudad Juarez
murders and in modernizing local police and the courts provide
hope for national reform, the report said. It urged passage of
Fox's proposed justice overhaul that is stuck in Congress.