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UN questions Mexican Army's role in drug war

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Debate over pulling back Army

Abuse claims against the National Defense Ministry hit about 1,500 last year, up from fewer than 200 claims in 2006, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.

Because troops are tried in military courts instead of civil courts for rights abuses, most cases go unpunished, the UN and other groups say. While President Calderón has sent a proposal to Congress that would try cases of torture, rape, and disappearance in civic courts, watchdogs say it is too limited because the Army can easily avoid civil trials by reclassifying torture crimes as abuse while extrajudicial killings at checkpoints are not on the list.

Despite these frustrations, the semi-autonomous commission and most rights groups stop short of calling for the removal of the Army, which still enjoys relative popularity even though polls show Mexico is losing faith in the drug war. Instead, NGOs pressure President Calderón to stick to a longer-term exit strategy.

Pulling back troops “is not something you can do from one day to the next, but what we haven’t seen is a well-thought-out strategy of how the government plans to withdraw the Army from drug operations,” says Maureen Meyer, a Mexico analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America. The border city of Ciudad Juárez is one of the only places the Army has been replaced by federal police, she adds.

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