MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's security forces are committing widespread human rights violations such as torture and forced disappearances in their battle against drug cartels, a report by Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
There is evidence Mexican police and armed forces were involved in 170 cases of torture, 24 extrajudicial killings and 39 forced disappearances since the government launched a war on drug gangs in late 2006, the rights group said in the report.
"Instead of reducing violence, Mexico's war on drugs has led to a dramatic rise in killings, torture and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in much of the country," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
President Felipe Calderon's time in office has been dominated by his decision to send in the army against the drug cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
More than 45,000 people have died in the conflict.
Since becoming president Calderon has pumped up the public security ministry's budget threefold, growing federal police ranks from 6,000 agents to 35,000 now.
Financial aid from the United States has helped pay for top-of-the-line equipment and training aimed at creating a model force to outperform inefficient and underpaid state and municipal officers, often accused of working for drug gangs.
But the results have not met the government's hopes, and reports of abuses are rising.
The findings in the new 212-page report are based on public information requests and interviews with over 200 civilians and government officials in five Mexican states that researchers selected as a sample group, Human Rights Watch said.
The study details a number of instances in which individuals were detained abruptly by security forces, tortured and forced to sign confessions in which they admitted to participating in drug trafficking, homicides and kidnappings.
Calderon's office issued a statement saying the president had discussed the report with Human Rights Watch and that he would create a working group to analyze its findings.
However, Calderon stressed that criminals posed the main threat to Mexicans' human rights, his office said.
"The government is therefore ethically and legally obliged to use every means at its disposal, under the principal of joint responsibility, to reinforce the presence of authorities in communities with the highest incidence of gang rivalry," it said.
Writing by Dave Graham; editing by Anthony Boadle