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NEWS

Ending torture evidence in Mexico: Summary of meetings with REDD members in the context of COVID-19

FairTrialsAdmin - June 18, 2020 - COVID-19 Updates, Court closures, Remote Justice, Prison conditions

Fair Trials and IJPP have published their second Bulletin as part of their project “Ending Torture Evidence in Mexico.” This bulletin recaps the discussions and recommendations that resulted from our two online meetings held during the months of April and May, with experts from different civil society organizations, and members of REDD.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the sanitary measures of social distancing, we asked the members of REDD the following key questions:

  • What were their main professional challenges in this context?
  • If they had been able to continue to litigate cases and accompany their clients?
  • If the justice system had responded effectively?
  • What solutions or alternatives had they found?

Thanks to their responses, we were able to assess the dimension of this health crisis and their concerns about the criminal justice system.

 

1. Courts closure:

In general, the courts chose to suspend judicial deadlines and to establish urgent cases on an on-call basis with duty judges (jueces de guardia). REDD members agreed that, although these measures are necessary, they have had a negative impact on the defence because state and federal courts have not necessarily responded effectively to urgent requests; for cases of gender violence, for example, we have reports of a complete absence of effective measures.

In certain districts, various judicial tasks are being carried out remotely. However, in some other districts, digital measures have not been taken and access to justice is seriously impaired, given the effective court closures. This is also the case with pre-releases that depend entirely on the authorization of the execution courts and judges; their function is key to release as many prisoners as possible, and in practice, most of these courts are closed with no remote alternative, rendering prisoner releases ineffective and hampering prisoners’ health and risking their lives.

 

2. Remote justice

Throughout the country, contexts are far from homogeneous. The use of technologies to supply face-to-face activities entail complex human, economic and cultural challenges, and even in cases with minimal conditions for digital communication, the learning curve has been slow.

REDD members stated that while in states such as Guerrero, remote justice via digital platforms is unattainable; however, in others, such as Coahuila, virtual hearings of abbreviated procedures and executions are being conducted. There are also cases in which public defenders were previously trained to use the new technologies.

Evidently, those courts that have already started to develop the electronic file have a clear advantage. For example, this permits the use of the virtual or electronic court system, which allows not only for the consultation of files, but also that the public ministries, public defenders and litigants present motions online, contributing to the effective implementation of social distancing. Digital files are available in courts in Aguascalientes, Baja California, the State of Mexico, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, but they carry a certain degree of complexity, since these services are accessed through an electronic signature. Other states, such as the State of Mexico, are actively looking for alternatives to avoid in-person hearings and to mostly use remote hearings. At least fourteen states have already implemented remote hearings.

In any case, the participants insisted that it is essential to bring justice to those who need it most today, through all possible means.

 

3. Detention

During the meetings, the participants expressed growing concern about the great vulnerability to contagion in prisons and other detention centres, due to the lack of effective protocols and measures, and the few opportunities for human rights defenders to monitor compliance with human rights standards.

Some important measures have been taken, such as the complete or partial suspension of visits, and their replacement by telephone or video calls. However, in most cases there is minimal sanitation and limited access to health care. Only in a few centres, the necessary hygiene measures have been implemented to guarantee the basic standards of hygiene and the sanitation of spaces.

Among the participants specific concerns, they mentioned that infections continue to rise in the federal maximum-security prison in Puente Grande, in Jalisco. Colleagues from Chiapas reported that it has been impossible to verify the status of some detainees, and that the only option has been to exercise public pressure on the government. The federal public defender's office has promoted amparos (‘litigation of rights’) to achieve screening tests, but federal judges have refused to actively respond on the pre-release of persons, while the prison administrative authorities have responded insufficiently.

On the other hand, although the Amnesty Law was approved and promulgated quickly, as an intended timely response to the situation, its design allows for the release of a very small number of prisoners, around 3-4 percent of over 200,000 prisoners in Mexico.

This will certainly not solve the excessive use of pretrial detention, nor the persistence of torture, a matter of special interest to REDD, as stated in these meetings, since in Mexico thousands of people have been prosecuted for crimes related to organized crime, drug trafficking, and the possession of prohibited weapons, with illicit evidence, obtained through torture methods. These kinds of crimes are excluded from the amnesty law.

 

4. Prevention of torture and other Cruel and Inhumane Treatment

The topic of prison conditions is one of the major concerns for REDD members, especially the challenges regarding the prevention of torture. Additionally, new arrests highlight the possibility of human rights violations; a situation that intensified with the presidential decree of May 11 that since provides for the Armed Forces to carry out public security tasks, effectively extending the militarization of Mexico’s cities. It is a well-known and documented fact that the army in Mexico carries out and is responsible for the use of widespread and systematic torture. Academics, civil society organizations, and the Office in Mexico of the High Commissioner of the United Nations, all counsel against the decree and the use of military forces on the streets.

Since the emergency declaration, prison monitoring, by monitoring bodies, including the NPMs, has also decreased almost entirely. REDD members continue to do their best to monitor and stay vigilant on these issues. For example, they shared that in Chihuahua the monitoring networks remain active and have promoted amparos (‘litigation of rights’) against arbitrary arrests by the Ciudad Juárez municipal police.

* * *

The current situation regarding the COVID-19 emergency declaration, suggests a looming collapse of the criminal justice system in Mexico, if measures are not taken in the short and medium term to address the above concerns. Moreover, cases of Covid-19 continue to rise in the country, with little to no testing available in prisons. Governments have an obligation to protect the health of people in their custody. In the context of the current pandemic, most Mexican prisons remain far too crowded to ensure that social distancing, to prevent the spread of the virus, is feasible.

In sum, in our meetings with REDD members, IJPP and Fair Trials, we have all agreed to remain vigilant and to promote and advocate for the correct application of the Amnesty Law and the effective response of the execution courts to release as many detainees as possible.

You can read the full Bulletin here (in Spanish)

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please call the media team on +44 (0) 7749 785 932 or email [email protected]

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