07/08/2016 02:18 EDT | Updated 07/09/2016 10:59 EDT

Three Amigos Must Speak On Mexican Human Rights

Chris Wattie / Reuters
(L-R) Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama wave while posing for family photo at the North American Leaders' Summit in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 29, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

By Rachel Vincent and Jim Hodgson

As a neighbour and 'real friend,' Canada must speak up at summit.

The North American Leaders' Summit, or so-called Three Amigos summit, is a not-to-be missed opportunity for Canada to have a real conversation with Mexico. As the Canadian government advances with a series of consultations aimed at reviewing its international assistance and starting a new chapter of our foreign policy, its stance on the Mexican human rights record is a huge test. Today, Mexicans live under the constant threat of extreme violence at the hands of law enforcement officials who violate international human rights norms with near total impunity. Those who speak up for human rights are at particular risk. Democracy is at risk.

By all accounts, the national security strategy to combat organized crime, which was put forward by the previous Mexican government in 2006, has failed to curb criminality and has coincided with a massive increase in reports of grave human rights abuses. This strategy, which has seen the military deployed on the streets in anti-crime operations that frequently include the indiscriminate use of force, has resulted in rising rates of killings in Mexico. According to Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, over 150,000 people were killed in Mexico between December 2006 and August 2015.

President Enrique Peña Nieto acknowledged this problem when he took office in 2012. His administration announced several positive reforms, including strengthening safeguards against the use of torture in criminal investigations and announcing that a General Law on Disappearances would soon be tabled before Congress.

However, the government has made little progress on these promises. Impunity for those responsible for torture and forced disappearances remains the norm, as well as attacks on human rights defenders, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and widespread use of torture. Indigenous and environmental leaders who oppose the government's model of development are victims of paramilitary and state agent violence. Mexico is a top destination for Canadian mining investment. It is vitally important that Canadians be aware of the violent context in which Canadian mining companies are operating and profiting, while land defenders, workers, journalists, and communities face deadly risks.

The three "amigos" should be able to have a frank discussion.

Journalists are also a prime target of violence. Excluding countries that are at war, Mexico is now considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. According to the independent and non-profit organization Committee to Protect Journalists, 82 journalists were killed since 1992 in Mexico. The killing of members of the press is often a symptom of the breakdown of law and of the justice system. Prosecution of homicide is rare in Mexico. According to Open Justice Society Initiative, federal prosecutors issued indictments in only 16 per cent of the homicide investigations they opened between 2009 and July 2015, and 98 per cent of crimes in Mexico fail to result in convictions.

In Mexico, people disappear on a daily basis. The government's own statistics show that more than 26,000 persons were listed as disappeared or missing in the National Registry of Disappeared or Missing Persons as of September 2015, most under the current administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. The majority of such cases are not investigated with due diligence, let alone brought to justice. The now-notorious forced disappearance of 43 young students from a rural teacher's college in the State of Guerrero in September 2014 represents just one such incident, and is emblematic of collusion between agents of the state and members of organized crime, as well as glaring deficiencies in state investigations.

The three "amigos" should be able to have a frank discussion. It is time for action. At a minimum, such action should include implementation of the recommendations made by UN and inter-American human rights experts who called for prompt and independent investigations of human rights violations to bring perpetrators to justice, as well as the strengthening of the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists so that it provides effective and timely protection for people at risk. There is also strong consensus around the withdrawal of the military from public security operations.

What is vital, above all, is that the dimensions of the human rights crisis in Mexico be acknowledged, rather than downplayed or ignored. Canada's assistance and diplomatic pressure is crucial. Mexico is facing a serious crisis of violence and impunity. Canada, as a real friend and neighbour, must speak up.

This blog was first published in the Hill Times, on June 29, 2016.

Rachel Vincent and Jim Hodgson are the co-chairs of the Americas Policy Group, a regional working group of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members.

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