Mexico: How is remote justice affecting torture prevention?

Article by Fair Trials

In March 2021, Fair Trials and IJPP held a meeting with members of REDD (Fair Trials Mexican network) to identify the challenges imposed by remote justice in the prevention of torture in Mexico. We had over 35 participants share their experience, and answer questions from a survey on pre-trial detention, torture and remote hearings. The main takeaways were:

1. Remote hearings impose obstacles to the exercise of an effective defence.

2. The use and duration of pre-trial detention has dramatically increased in Mexico.

3. Torture continues to be used to obtain evidence, and the prevention of torture is rendered ineffective with remote hearings and lack of access to the victims.

It was clear that the difficulty accessing detained clients has had direct consequences on the fight against torture and the documentation of cases. Lawyers have limited access to victims of torture, or no access at all, and it is not possible to follow-up on their cases to take their testimony, document their story, or allow for an independent medical examination.

Some members of REDD believe that remote justice has benefited mostly the prosecutor offices but not the defence, alluding to the lack of opportunity to meaningfully examine evidence. For example, cross-examination of prosecutor s witnesses is virtually impossible in Nuevo Leon, and in many places effective access to justice is jeopardized due to lack of access to, or recurrent problems with internet connection. REDD members report that in most states, there is no private communication between lawyers and clients. It is essential that lawyers have meaningful access to their clients in private before, during and after the hearings to safeguard their right to an effective defence. REDD members also report that in some states lawyers do not have timely access to the case files to prepare for the hearing and, to submit their evidence.

In Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, defence lawyers have no access to their detained clients. Members of REDD in Ciudad Juarez confirmed the increase of arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances. And even though police abuse, cruel treatment and torture have systematically increased since the beginning of the pandemic, REDD members report the dramatic drop of allegations of torture. The lack of proper access to their lawyers prevents victims from bringing claims of torture before the judge. Moreover, all open investigations into allegations of torture or other ill-treatment are virtually suspended in the state.

In Oaxaca, judicial activities have been suspended, and the backlog of cases is overwhelming the judicial system. Most cases stop at the investigation stage, and people in pre-trial detention suffer the consequences of a paralyzed system.

Responding to our survey, most REDD members believe that initial hearings are taking place in both modalities (in person and remotely). The majority responded that, although they can communicate with their clients, there is no proper communication and there is a lack of privacy, thus affecting the right to effective defence. Pretrial detention has increased during the pandemic, and its duration has been prolonged over time. Further research is needed to determine if this is linked to the use of virtual audiences.

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