GENEVA Mexico must rein in its security forces to stop them committing grave crimes against civilians, members of the United Nations Human Rights Council said on Wednesday.
At a hearing in Geneva, European and some Latin American countries were the most vocal in their criticism, and in demanding that Mexico thoroughly investigate all disappearances, particularly of women and migrants.
Dozens of delegations raised concerns about deadly attacks on activists and journalists. Others denounced widespread violence against women and limited access to safe abortions, even for rape victims.
"Regarding the fight against organized crime, there are reports indicating widespread human rights violations by the state security forces," Czech delegate Viktor Velek said.
"Both criminal groups and state security forces continue to threaten or attack human rights defenders and journalists."
Swiss representative Michael Meier said: "Despite Mexico's will to improve the training of relevant authorities, the number of officials suspected of being involved in enforced disappearances is very alarming."
In one recent example, authorities said on October 8 they had detained a gang of 18 suspected kidnappers - the majority of whom were members of the federal police - in Acapulco. The Pacific tourist resort is one of the country's most violent cities, with a murder rate of 77 homicides per 100,000 people.
Latin America's second-biggest economy is plagued by kidnappings and murders, many linked to a gruesome war with drug cartels. While the violence has eased somewhat since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in December, turf wars are still claiming almost 1,000 lives a month, official figures show.
Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade told the hearing that reforms had been made, but challenges remained. "Levels of violence have decreased and the National Human Rights Commission has received considerably fewer complaints against members of the armed forces," he said, without giving any figures.
In the past year, Mexico had enacted a law to provide crime victims with "restorative justice" including reparations, and a law protecting journalists and rights defenders, he said.
"The attention provided to victims of crime and of human rights violations is proof of the new approach through which Mexico is addressing the problem," Meade said.
Killings soared under Pena Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderon, as drug cartels splintered after he sent in the armed forces to bring traffickers to heel. Around 70,000 people died in the explosion of gang-related violence.
Mexico has created a registry of missing persons and efforts are under way to locate all the disappeared, Meade said.
Ruben Moreira, governor of Coahuila state and coordinator of a human rights commission of Mexican governors, said steps had been made to tackle "the painful issue" of disappearances.
"We have created a special prosecutor for enforced disappearances responsible for investigating and punishing those responsible for such crimes. We have created victims' organizations and networks," Moreira told the forum, which reviews the records of all U.N. states every four years.
Western countries welcomed the steps but said that they needed to be implemented at all state and local levels.
"We recommend that Mexico continue efforts to ensure transparent adjudication of members of the security forces for human rights abuses, and continue efforts to reform the civilian police," said U.S. diplomat Peter Mulrean.
Britain urged "continued efforts to increase transparency and reduce impunity and corruption, which remain significant obstacles to respect for human rights and the rule of law".
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)