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Sunday, 28 November, 1999, 10:53 GMT
Mexico criticised over human rights
Mary Robinson Native Indian women help Mary Robinson into a traditional costume

By Peter Greste in Mexico City

The United Nations human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson, has criticised Mexico for its treatment of native Indians.

At the end of a five-day tour of Mexico examining the country's human rights problems, the commissioner said the army had a "heavy and oppressive" presence in indian communities across the country.

Soldier The army: "oppressive presence"
Impunity - particularly for the military - was at the heart of Mexico's human rights crisis, she said.

Mexico consistently comes near the top of the list of the world's worst human rights abusers.

Political murders, disappearances, illegal detentions, torture - all are disturbingly common here.

Which is why Mary Robinson toured the country talking to human rights organisations, victims and government officials.

The UN human rights commissioner visited Mexico City, the Northern border city of Tijuana and the troubled Southern state of Chiapas, which is mired in a war between the Zapatista rebels and the army.

Military courts

In a closing news conference, Mrs Robinson said the problems were not so much the result of officially-organised human rights abuses, as impunity for the perpetrators.

President Zedillo President Zedillo: "refreshingly honest"
She slammed what she described as widespread impunity for government officials and members of the military accused of abuses and she singled out the military courts for special criticism, attacking them for taking on cases that should be heard in civilian courts.

Indian communities were at the mercy of the army, she said, not just in Chiapas, but in many other states across the country as well.

"I believe the extensive role the military is playing could be reduced, especially in police functions."

It is not clear just how much impact her visit will have on Mexico's human rights record.

Mrs Robinson said the government and the president, Ernesto Zedillo, in particular, were refreshingly honest in admitting that they had serious problems with protecting human rights.

But most analysts here believe the abuses and the deeply-corrupt legal system that protects them are so entrenched that it would take unprecedented political action to match the rhetoric before the problems are solved.

From Mexico, the commissioner was scheduled to travel to Ecuador.

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See also:
08 Sep 99 |  Americas
Mexico initiative on Chiapas
20 Jul 99 |  Americas
Villagers jailed for Chiapas massacre
23 Dec 98 |  Americas
Massacred Mexicans remembered
26 Dec 97 |  Despatches
Mexican villagers flee after massacre

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