Abused and Afraid in Ciudad Juarez

An Analysis of Human Rights Violations by the Military in Mexico
Maureen Meyer
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) / Center Prodh
October 2010

wola-abusedResidents in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, are caught between the drug-related violence and the human rights violations committed by the security forces. The report focuses on human rights violations that occurred in Ciudad Juarez in the context of Joint Operation Chihuahua, which began in March 2008. The five cases described in the report involve acts of torture, forced disappearance and sexual harassment of women by Mexican soldiers deployed in Ciudad Juarez.

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Ciudad Juarez is a glaring example of the damaging consequences of increasing the military's interaction with civilians in the context of counter-drug operations. Human rights violations are rampant because these soldiers are not punished for the abuses they commit. Civilians in Chihuahua are not only afraid of the drug traffickers, they are also often afraid of the security forces that are meant to protect them.

The Human Rights Commission of the state of Chihuahua reported in September 2009 that it had received more than 1,450 complaints of violations committed by the security forces during Joint Operation Chihuahua. These complaints may just be the tip of the iceberg, since many abuses are never even reported. Roberto, who was detained by soldiers while on his way to work and taken to an undisclosed location where he was tortured, recalls the warning he received from the soldiers when he was released "If anyone asks you what happened to you, tell them that you were kidnapped. Remember that we know where your family lives." As a result he decided not to pursue the complaint against the military.

Mexico's Federal Police took the lead on Joint Operation Chihuahua in April 2010. This shift in control in Juarez is an important step towards removing the military from public security tasks in Mexico, but in no way does this diminish the severity of the abuses already committed by the military which remain unpunished. The military and police forces need to receive a clear message that they will be sanctioned for any criminal behavior, including acts of corruption and human rights abuses.

The cases included in the report were documented by human rights organizations working in Ciudad Juarez. These individuals and organizations work at great personal risk to support the rule of law and the government has the obligation to protect them. Mexico's problems with organized crime won't be solved by attacking human rights defenders such as those in Ciudad Juarez.