MEXICO CITY — Citing alleged rights abuses by Mexican soldiers assigned to the drug war, Human Rights Watch urged the Obama administration Monday to not release tens of millions of dollars in withheld security aid unless Mexico allows such abuse cases to be tried in civilian courts.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the U.S.-based group said Mexico's military courts had failed to bring to justice troops whom Human Rights Watch holds responsible for a "rapidly growing number of serious abuses."
Under the $1.4-billion multiyear aid package known as the Merida Initiative, the U.S. government is to withhold a 15% portion until the secretary of State reports that Mexico is meeting certain human rights conditions. One condition is that civilian authorities are investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses by troops and federal police "in accordance with Mexican and international law." Withheld funds so far amount to more than $100 million.
The conduct of Mexico's soldiers has attracted growing scrutiny since President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led crackdown on drug traffickers 2 1/2 years ago. He has dispatched 45,000 troops to the country's most violent trafficking zones. In places such as Ciudad Juarez, they carry out basic police duties.