Mexico vows to eradicate torture of detainees

GENEVA (Reuters) - Mexico’s new government vowed on Thursday to eradicate the torture of detainees which U.N. experts and activists said is systematically committed by security forces and investigators who go unpunished.

The U.N. Committee against Torture, composed of 10 independent experts, began a two-day review of Mexico’s record in complying with an international treaty banning the crime.

Activists said on Wednesday that Mexico’s security forces and prison authorities commit systematic torture and rape of detainees with “near-universal” impunity.

Asphyxiation and electric shocks are used, as well as sexual violence, 120 groups said in a joint statement.

Out of 8,335 torture investigations, the federal special prosecutor’s office reported last year that it had brought charges in only 17 cases, the groups said.

Mexico’s delegation told the hearing that under the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, which came into office in January, the prosecutor’s office no longer reported to the executive, thus “guaranteeing independence” in criminal investigations.

“We still have a long road to ensure that torture and other cruel or inhumane treatment are eradicated once and for all,” Marta Delgado Peralta, under-secretary for multilateral issues and human rights in the foreign ministry, told the panel.

Stephanie Brewer of the Mexican human rights group Centro Prodh told reporters ahead of the review: “This is going to be a litmus test of whether the government is really going to change in its actions.”

A government survey carried out in 2016 in some 300 prisons, found that more than 75 percent of inmates suffered violence during their arrest, the activists’ groups said, identifying members of the army and navy as the “worst offenders”.

Panel members raised the allegations, including of deaths in custody and mistreatment of Central American migrants, with the government delegation which will reply on Friday.

“There is still a high level of torture and mistreatment by the state party (Mexico),” said panel member Diego Rodriguez-Pinzon. “There is also a climate of impunity.”

Some 200,000 prisoners are in custody in Mexico, where more than half of the jails are “ruled or co-ruled by criminal gangs”, panel chair Jens Modvig said, citing the country’s National Committee for Human Rights.

He called for Mexico to establish an independent forensics institute instead of relying on doctors in the prosecutor’s office to document torture.

“Substandard medical reports remain the main cause of impunity because the courts tend to dismiss cases without clear medical evidence,” he said.

“We have a vicious circle that will maintain the problem of torture and evidence produced by using torture,” he said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams