Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mexico criticized on torture, reporters' deaths at UN rights review

Geneva - Mexican Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont said Tuesday that while his country had progressed in terms of democracy and human rights in recent years it still had to strengthen the rule of law and overcome the challenges of poverty.

Specifically, the country needed to better combat human trafficking, prevent torture, protect indigenous peoples and end forced disappearances, said Gomez Mont said during his country's periodic review at the United Nations' Human Rights Council.

Some 40 million Mexicans, particularly the indigenous, live in poverty, a UN report said.

Human rights activists from Mexico, speaking on the sidelines of the session, said that while legislation and the constitution defend many basic rights, impunity in the country was a major concern along with corruption. This meant crimes, including torture by officials, went unpunished, they alleged.

While Gomez Mont said his country showed clear improvements when it came to women's rights and preventing domestic violence, delegates of other nations recommended to Mexico that it take further steps to protect and provide assistance to women, especially in the area of Ciudad Juarez, where femicide has become an 'ongoing reality.'

Also of concern was the status of journalists and the media.

At least 24 journalists have been killed in the Latin American country so far this decade and eight 'disappeared,' many while investigating criminal stories, making it one of the more dangerous places for reporters in the world.

Some delegates said the media were controlled by too few businessmen and the regulation system needed restructuring.

The rights activists also presented the problem of judicial recourse for citizens negatively affected by the army's role in public security.

Though Mexico has an organized crime problem, they said, the methods used by the government to contain the violence have violated human rights. A UN expert has called for the military to step away from its policing capacities.

The Universal Period Review process was introduced in 2007 by the UN and is supposed to check each country's rights record once every four years. So far, some 55 countries have been reviewed.

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