MEXICO CITY—Human rights in Mexico have improved only nominally under President Vicente Fox, who took office six years ago promising to correct the country's long history of abusing political dissidents and criminal suspects, a human rights group said Wednesday.
Human Rights Watch credited Fox, who leaves office in December, with championing laws that give the public greater access to government information and with opening Mexico's rights practices to international scrutiny. But the group said that human rights abuses still occur and that there'd been little progress in bringing to justice officials tied to previous abuses.
"It's disappointing," said Tamara Taraciuk, one of the co-authors of the group's annual assessment. Fox "created expectations that so many things would change."
Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar disagreed with Taraciuk's interpretation, saying the report outlines unprecedented changes in Mexico and a total reversal of the government's culture of secrecy.
"This is a great recognition of the work in support of human rights by President Fox," Aguilar said.
Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit organization that reports on human rights issues in all nations, including the United States, said it focused this year's Mexico report on Fox's actions because of the significance of his election in 2000.
Fox ended the 71-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI—a political regime famous for corruption, abuse and vote-stealing—in what was considered Mexico's first truly democratic election of the modern era.
Human Rights Watch said it hoped the assessment also would suggest goals for future presidents and guard against backsliding by a new administration. Mexicans will choose a new president on July 2. Fox is prohibited by law from seeking re-election.
Among the actions for which the report praised Fox:
_Signing international human rights treaties, starting on his first day in office.
_Pushing for the passage in 2002 of a law ending government secrecy.
_Releasing millions of once-secret documents.
_Appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Mexico's "dirty war," a dark period in the 1970s and 1980s when the military kidnapped, tortured and killed untold numbers of political dissidents and massacred student protesters in 1968 and 1971.
But Human Rights Watch also documented continuing abuse of criminal suspects, often to obtain confessions, and widespread imprisonment of people who've been accused but not convicted of crimes. More than 40 percent of Mexico's prison population hasn't been convicted of a crime, according to the report.
The Fox administration also is grappling with claims that more than 30 women were raped or sexually abused in custody after a state and federal police raid on May 4 on the town of San Salvador Atenco, the site of a confrontation between local police and flower vendors.
The report also said that while the executive branch has been more open about its activities under Fox, that openness hasn't spread to other parts of the government, including Congress and the military.
The report also notes that a special prosecutor failed to gain even one conviction for atrocities committed during Mexico's dirty war.
The report faulted Fox for not lobbying hard enough with Congress to pass criminal justice reforms. Those reforms include amending the constitution so that people accused of crimes are considered innocent until proven guilty.
But the report credited Fox's reforms for allowing outside scrutiny of investigations into the murders of scores of women in Ciudad Juarez in the state of Chihuahua. Because of the scrutiny, local prosecutors and police made greater efforts to solve the crimes and state leaders proposed changes in the local judicial system, the report said.
The report recommended that Mexico's next president push to expand open-records laws to other branches of government, order the military to cooperate in human rights investigations and establish an independent truth commission to investigate past atrocities.
(Corcoran reports for the San Jose Mercury News.)
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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