Monday, September 8, 2008

Fundar: Merida Initiative begins in the context of deterioration of Human Rights

Fundar Center for Analysis and Investigation
Press release No. 83 / July 2, 2008
Translation and footnotes by Kristin Bricker

Merida Initiative begins in the context of deterioration of Human Rights

  • Since the beginning of 2008, complaints against military and police for human rights violations have doubled
  • The lack of effective oversight mechanisms and control of resources destined for public security forces promotes impunity, corruption, and a lack of transparency

On July 1st President Bush signed the 2008 Supplemental Funding bill which kicked off the Merida Initiative in Mexico, beginning with the approval of financing of USD$400 million which will be utilized between September 2008 and September 2009. However, there has been a lack of effective controls that would assure an environment of respect for human rights and a true exercise of accountability.

The 2008 Supplemental Funding bill was turned into the United States' Public Law 110-252--the previously discussed initiative[1] remains frozen in the House of Representatives. Due to the fact that this is a US initiative, this document gives the US State Department 45 days to present to the Appropriations Committee of both houses a spending plan that identifies how the anticipated resources will be used (which should be turned over on August 14).[2] Even though Mexican authorities have to agree to the spending plan and the plan has to include concrete objectives, activities, and precise benchmarks, the controls included in the 2008 Supplemental Funding bill for the implementation of the Merida Initiative in Mexico are minimal.

Said controls, formally accepted by the Mexican Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Foreign Relations on June 27, require the US State Department to hand over a report, after consulting with Mexican authorities, which would report on compliance with four processes: substantial improvement in matters of transparency and accountability in the police; the creation of a consultation mechanism between authorities and Mexican civil society organizations; guarantees that district attorneys and judicial authorities investigate and hold responsible federal police and military soldiers accused of violating human rights; and guarantees that Mexican authorities act in compliance with the law in relation to the use of testimony obtained by means of torture as evidence.[3]

The enactment of the Merida Initiative comes in the context of a dangerous uncertainty of full respect for human rights caused by the militarization associated with the Felipe Calderón's federal strategy of combatting organized crime.[4] During the first months of this year, complaints against military and police for human rights violations doubled. The annual average of recommendations issued by the CNDH[5] to SEDENA[6] and Marines authorities also doubled during the current administration, going from 14 (an average of 2.3 per year) during the Fox administration to 9 recommendations during the current administration (4.5 is the annual average).

It is essential that the Mexican government establish a transparent mechanism defining priorities, activities, and objectives, not only of the resources associated with the Merida Initiative within the next 45 days, but also of the resources from the 2008 Mexican budget destined for the combat of organized crime, which amounts to more than $100 billion pesos. This is particularly true for the USD$116.5 million in military assistance approved in the Merida Initiative, which should at least be meticulously monitored by the Defense, Foreign Relations, Justice, and Human Rights legislative committees, with the goal of minimizing the risk that unlawful pressure threatens national sovereignty.

The lack of effective oversight mechanisms and control of resources destined for public security forces promotes impunity, corruption, and a lack of transparency. The implementation of significant changes in the systems of control and evaluation of public policy regarding cooperation in combatting drug trafficking and organized crime is urgent.

"At Fundar we are convinced that the billions of pesos that will come from the Merida Initiative should be utilized, just like any other public resource, with criteria of transparency, being subjected to parameters and clear indicators, to oversight of the Legislative Branch, and to the scrutiny of civil society. The participation of Mexican civil society in the monitoring, tracking, and evaluation of these policies and programs is a key element to guarantee its long-term effectiveness," said Jorge Romero, Executive Director of Fundar.

For more information, please contact:

Juan Carlos Martínez
55 54 30 01 ext. 129
juancarlos@fundar.org.mx


Footnotes:

[1] This refers to the Berman Authorization bill. The Berman bill's human rights safeguards conditioned 25% of Merida Initiative funding on meeting certain human rights benchmarks. It also specified how Congress would like Merida Initiative money spent. The Supplemental Funding bill, which actually passed, does not specify how money should be spent. It simply hands the State Department money for foreign military cooperation and international narcotics law enforcement without specifying how the money should be used within those categories. It also contains fewer human rights conditions, less strict language, and only conditions 15% of Merida money on taking steps towards meeting human rights benchmarks.

[2] According to Tim Rieser, aide to US Senator Patrick Leahy, who is a member of the Appropriations Committee, as of September 2 the State Department has still not turned over the spending plan. The State Department has so far ignored all our requests for the spending plan.

[3] Mexican law prohibits torture and prohibits the use of testimony or evidence obtained under torture in a court of law. However, the practice continues to be widespread in Mexico. The Merida Initiative requests that the State Department certify that the Mexican government is taking steps towards eradicating this practice.

[4] Felipe Calderón deployed 40,000 soldiers and 5,000 federal police to eleven Mexican states to combat drug cartels.

[5] The CNDH is the National Human Rights Commission, the Mexican government's theoretically independent and autonomous human rights watchdog.

[6] SEDENA stands for National Defense Secretary, or Mexico's Defense Department. Due to the drug war and military occupation of rebel territory, SEDENA has a bigger domestic role than the US Defense Department.

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