United Nations reporter on torture, Juan Méndez. United Nations reporter on torture, Juan Méndez.

Torture expert decries ‘personal attack’

Mexican officials dispute charge that torture is widespread

The tiff between Mexican diplomats and the United Nations’ special reporter on torture continues, with the latter charging yesterday that he has been the subject of a “personal attack.”

Juan Méndez presented a scathing report on March 9 that said the use of torture was “widespread” by officials in Mexico, a conclusion he had reached after visiting last April and personally obtaining “hundreds of testimonies.” The interviews led to the identification of 14 cases of torture in which the rights of 107 citizens had been violated.

Méndez’ report drew some equally scathing responses from the Mexican government.

The Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, Juan Manuel Gómez Roblado, described the U.N. representative as “irresponsible and not very ethical” during an appearance before the Senate, and his statement was backed up by his boss, Foreign Affairs Secretary José Antonio Meade.

For Mexican officials the crux of the issue is the use of the word “widespread.”

Indeed, Méndez said he had been pressured with phone calls and a letter from Gómez Roblado attempting to persuade him to drop the word from his report.

Jorge Lomónaco, Mexico’s permanent representative at the U.N.’s office in Geneva, wrote the organization’s Human Rights Council charging that Méndez’ assessment was unfounded because it was not properly documented and cited only 14 cases.

The U.N. torture expert responded yesterday with a letter of his own. “I understand perfectly that we have different visions about the conclusions I have found in my visit, but it seems to me there is no need to personally attack me.”

He went on to state that if he was lacking in ethics he would have followed requests by Mexican officials to change his report, despite the fact that all the evidence confirms his conclusions.

Méndez stated that while he doesn’t expect an apology, he demands respect and civilized dialogue in future collaborations with President Peña Nieto’s administration.

In his controversial report he writes “torture occurs in the first 24 to 48 hours of detention. Torture includes threats, electrocutions, drowning, strangling, beatings with hard instruments and sharp objects, destruction of property and sexual abuse.”

He charged that torture is practiced by federal, state and municipal police, the Attorney General’s office, state officials, as well as the Army and the Navy.

Méndez pointed out that in the last 10 years, out of thousands of claims, only five perpetrators have been convicted by a judge. “The facts are very convincing.”

Gómez Robaldo said this week that the claim of “widespread” torture is the government’s only issue with Méndez, many of whose recommendations have been accepted and implemented.

However, the Undersecretary said the government could no longer work with him.

Sources: El Universal (sp), Milenio (sp)

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