October 30, 2015 / 5:44 AM / 4 years ago

Mexico's full switch to oral trials unlikely in 2016-U.S. official

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico will struggle to meet its deadline next year to have a new system of oral trials operating nationwide, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said on Thursday.

Mexico is working on implementing a constitutional reform, passed in 2008, that would replace its current system of closed trials based on written testimony, with more transparent oral trials similar to the United States.

“It is clear that a lot would have to get done very quickly to meet the deadline right on time and probably it will be staggered in different communities,” Power told reporters in a conference call from Monterrey.

Mexico committed to have oral trials up and running across the country by June 2016, but so far less than a third of the country’s 31 states have implemented the new system.

Human rights groups blame the current system for locking up people for years before they get a trial while many are wrongly convicted, sometimes with confessions extracted by torture.

The United States has committed nearly $250 million to Mexico to help it make the transition to oral trials as part of the Merida Initiative, a security agreement between the two countries.

Power met with Mexico’s Attorney General Arely Gomez on Wednesday as part of a three day visit to the country.

Power also said the United States has offered Mexico aid in constructing a database to track missing people, and that Gomez was enthusiastic about exploring the offer.

According to official figures, nearly 25,000 people have gone missing in Mexico since the previous administration launched a military led battle against the nation’s drug gangs in 2007, sparking a surge in violence.

The disappearance of 43 student teachers last year at the hands of local police in the southwestern state of Guerrero has battered the government’s image at home and abroad.

“It is extremely important that progress be made on these cases, some of which are iconic cases but many of which are ones that never make the headlines,” Power said.

Reporting by Michael O'Boyle; Additional reporting by Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein; Editing by SImon Cameron-Moore

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