Mexico: Torture in a Democratic Society?

توجه، باز شدن در یك پنجره جدید. چاپ

First of all I would like to thank the Group of Relatives and Friends of Political Prisoners in Mexico for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to speak at this event.

This day, the 28th of June, has a special meaning. On the one hand because the event commemorates the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture celebrated the 26th of June. On the other hand because today is the 10th anniversary of the massacre in Aguas Blancas, in the state of Guerrero. On this day 17 peasants, members of the Peasants’ Organization OCSS, on their way to a demonstration were killed by state police forces. Until today this crime has remained impune, although the responsibility of the ex-governor Ruben Figueroa Alcocer and the General Mario Arturo Acosta Chaparro has been clearly shown. This is just one of the many painful cases of ongoing impunity in Mexico.

I am a psychologist and psychotherapist working with the Colective against Torture and Impunity (CCTI) in Mexico (www.contralatortura.org). CCTI is an independent human rights organization that is focusing on the problem of torture, bringing together survivors of torture, their families and a team of health professionals. At this point we have a team of 3 medical doctors and 3 psychologists working in our office in Mexico City and Acapulco. I guess that Acapulco is mostly known as a tourist attraction, but we work there because one of the biggest state prisons is located there and the state of Guerrero is known for its bad record of human rights violation. Our main activities include the rehabilitation of torture survivors, which means providing medical, psychological and legal assistance for the case. We also realize activities to raise public awareness, documentation and research regarding torture as well as training for other professionals. During this year we are realizing a series of community workshops in the state of Guerrero to help the affected communities document the aggressions suffered and preventing the individual and collective psychological consequences of torture. A lot of our work is also realized inside the prisons, because a great number of survivors get long prison sentences based on the forced confessions they make under torture. Due to the fact that there are very few independent health professionals with experience in the subject, we have been involved in some of the most prominent cases of torture in Mexico, elaborating medical and psychological appraisals in order to proof the use of torture.

In order to treat the subject of torture it is necessary to define it and distinguish it from other forms of violence. That’s why I want to mention briefly the definition of the UN Convention against torture:

It states that torture means:
Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.
In order to obtain information or a confession, as a punishment, to intimidate or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.
The Convention also defines that such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
This is an operational definition that is also needed to qualify such acts as torture in legal proceedings.
Nevertheless if we want to understand and analyse the phenomena of torture in it’s complete dimensions we need a more complete description that also includes social and political aspects.

Our daily work in Mexico as well as the experiences from different countries, including the latest public reappearance of torture by the US-american forces, show that torture is one instrument from the big state repertoire/toolkit of repression. It is used in the context of state repression to secure dominance, to stabilize existing power structures, to fight social resistance and promote specific economic-political interests.

The aim of torture is to break the personality, the identity of the tortured, manipulate him/her and force him/her to show a certain behaviour favoured by the torturer. He is then left as a broken human being, visible example for everybody who could possibly show similar ideas or activities. Torture is therefore never directed only against the individual, it always aims against the social network, the political groups of reference and the society as a whole as well. The frequent or systematic use of torture is meant to provoke and spread fear, terror and mistrust, to intimidate and paralyse, to break resistance and finally control and manipulate the society.

In Mexico torture is used against leaders or members of social, student or grassroot movements, political organizations, unions, but also against the population that could support or sympathize with them. According to this it is very frequent in regions or historical moments in which poverty, discrimination, social-political conflicts (about the use of natural ressources, political rights and respect of traditions) lead to strong processes of resistance and organization against state politics.
Another context of torture in Mexico is its use in the context of crime combat. The alledged criminals are obliged to make a confession under torture, which is then used as the main element for condemnation in the court process and after all that the case seems to be resolved. This artificial production of criminals is needed to protect the real responsables and masks the inadequacies and corruption inside the police and investigative forces. We shouldn’t forget that this is happening in a situation where the different police forces up to their highest levels are repeatedly accused of being accomplices of organised crime.

Every analysis or description of torture that merely takes into account the direct participants or responsibles is therefore inadequate. It contributes furthermore to mask the real background and protagonists of torture and prevents it’s effective combat. This is especially important in the mexican context because the problem is often reduced to an inadequate preparation for their job or missing training in human rights of the police forces. The solution seems to lie in measures to raise awareness and improve training. Unfortunately these activities will not attack the structural problem and therefore not reduce the use of torture.

Another important aspect that needs to be mentioned is the role of international and transnational corporations, that are interested in the exploitation of the natural ressources of a specific region. Most frequently their projects are carried out with governmental consent against the outspoken will of the affected population or governments commit themselves beforehand to control possible future resistance in order to create favorable conditions for investment and guarantee the corporations’ unhindered activities. Although in this case the executing bodies are state forces like police, military, etc., the responsibilities reach further than the national context and make an alliance with the transnationals’ economic interests.

To give an example I want to mention the Loxicha region in the state of Oaxaca. With the pretext that the communities were the main support for the guerrilla group EPR, a massive wave of repression was started in 1998, with killings, disappeard persons, arrests and terror in the whole region. The arrested by the means of torture were obliged to make false confessions relating them to the guerilla, and many of those still remain in prison. At the same time between 1998 and the end of 1999 the Canadian company Kennekott realized drillings in the region and huge mines of Uranium and Titanium were found. In Chiapas and Guerrero we find more examples of conflicts around the exploitation of natural ressources like water, minerals, wood or genetic diversity, that go hand in hand with state repression against the population. These are states with a strong military presence and a long record of human rights violations, but also with a long history of resistance.

I put special emphasis on this topic because it is very important for Mexico. The neo-liberal economic policy with further opening for international investment and transnational corporations, privatization of basic services and the exploitation of natural resources is completely contrary to the interests and needs of the poor, rural and indigenous population.
At this moment, according to official data, more than 60% of the mexican population is living in poverty, there is a huge migration to the big cities or to the rich northern neighbour. The Free Trade Agreement NAFTA between the USA, Canada and Mexico since 1994, despite of all the promises made, has further aggravated the situation for the rural population. Cheap US American corn, beans, rice and meat are flooding the mexican market and the mexican farmers cannot compete.
Poverty, social conflicts and tensions have increased over the last years and have been confronted and controlled with repression by the state.

A very recent example is the treatment of globalization opponents who held a demonstration during the Summit of Latin America, the Carribean and the Euopean Union in Guadalajara in May 2004. There was a large number of arrests and many of the arrested reported physical and psychological torture like beatings, threats, deprivation of food and water, asphyxia with a plastic bag over the head, etc., during detention. Many women suffered sexual torture. Even the state Comission of Human Rights documented 19 cases that qualify as torture. Up to date none of the responsible police agents have been charged for their actions, whereas the tortured have to present themselves regularly at the police station and face serious charges against them. Just like in almost all the torture cases in Mexico the torturers can count on impunity, whereas the tortured have to face the physical and psychological consequences of torture, long-term imprisonment, the destruction of their life-perspectives, their families and social networks.

Unfortunately it is impossible to obtain reliable data about the number of torture cases in Mexico. Although the government states that torture doesn’t exist any more, various international organizations, like Amnesty International or the UN Commitee against torture speak of a systematic use of torture in Mexico. Our small colective has registrated about 100 cases of torture during the period of President Fox’s government. And we cannot see a decreasing tendency. The perpetrators are mostly agents of the General or State Attorney’s investigating police, militaries, local authorities or other police agents.

These facts represent a clear contrast to the bright image that the President tries to give himself since taking over the government in 2000. Fox takes every opportunity to stress that human rights are priority Number 1. During his government he signed various international treaties and agreements regarding torture. A few weeks ago Mexico ratified the Facultative Protocol to the Convention against Torture that establishes regular prison inspections by an expert commission. But despite of all this, neither the number of torture cases has decreased in the present government nor have there been real efforts to promote justice in elder cases from other governments. Accordingly we can qualify the government actions as purely rhetorical without any real intention to resolve the structural problem.

In this context I feel it is necessary to mention the individuals and organizations engaged in the battle against torture in Mexico. The independent human rights activists and organizations struggling for justice and against impunity have to face different kinds of attacks from the authorities. In order to neutralize, soften or shut up the critical and uncomfortable voices different methods are used – from open aggressions, threats, intimidations to the the manipulation of activists and organizations. Without doubt manipulation is the most elegant method because it avoids open violence and manages to bring the individuals and organizations on the state’s side.

Special importance has to be given to the attempts of northamerican so-called NGO’s handling big funds, to gain influence in the mexican human rights community. It seems that especially those organizations dealing with torture attract their interest.
I am talking especifically about „Freedom House“, an ultra-konservative organization, funded mainly by US-AID, the Agency for International Development, an agency that provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States.
Since 2003, James Woolsey, director of the CIA between 93 and 95, architect of the american Iraq policy and advisor of many neo-konservative foundations, is the Chairman of Freedom House. He has also been director of Titan, a private security corporation, who obviously employed at least one of the interrogators in the iraqui prison of Abu Ghraib.
Other members of the Board of Trustees are Samuel Huntington, or Diana Villiers Negroponte, wife of John Negroponte, director of national intelligence in the USA. Many of these personalities are well known for their ultra-konservative ideas and close relations with the administration of power.

Freedom House has chosen the topic of torture for it’s activities in Mexico and is trying to control local organizations by offering them great amounts of money and unlimited funding opportunities. Again we have to analyze the broader context of this strategy. In a political moment when the USA has to face massive allegations of having used torture on prisoners, when there is a public discussion about legally using torture in the war against terrorism, why would the USA want to get engaged in the fight against torture in Mexico.
I think one of the reasons is that organizations working with survivors of torture manage a lot of very sensitive information. Information about political activists, about political organizations, their networks, their activities, etc. Controlling these organizations means having access to all this information that can be used in the context of counterinsurgency whenever it seems necessary.
So, looking back at the different aspects I have mentioned in my speech we have to acknowledge that the struggle against torture is not only a struggle to end a serious human rights violation. It is also a struggle for political rights, against political and economic plans based on inequality and in favour of a real democracy.
Mexico and many other countries are still very far away from that!

Vancouver, June 28, 2005.
آدرس ایمیل جهت جلوگیری از رباتهای هرزنامه محافظت شده اند، جهت مشاهده آنها شما نیاز به فعال ساختن جاوا اسكریپت دارید