Tortured, imprisoned, and innocent: Israel Arzate, the case that must set a precedent against torture in Mexico’s new criminal justice system (Sólo Inglés)
Oral presentation by Center Prodh, the OMCT, the Women’s Network of Ciudad Juárez, and the Juárez Migrant Support Center
Committee Against Torture, October 30, 2012
We have presented an alternative report to the Committee regarding the paradigmatic case of Israel Arzate Meléndez, a young man from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua State, who was abducted by soldiers as he walked down the street in February 2010, taken to a military base and tortured for several days using electric shocks, beatings, asphyxiation and threats to rape and kill his partner if he did not falsely confess to a high-profile murder case. When brought before a judge, he told her he had confessed falsely under torture and tried to show her the marks still on his body. She replied that that was not her concern. The judge arbitrarily dismissed the testimony of six witnesses who placed Israel at another location the night of the murders. She ordered that he be tried for the murders, based solely on his confession obtained under torture. She did not order any investigation into the acts of torture that Israel denounced before her.
When the National Human Rights Commission applied the Istanbul Protocol, it confirmed that Israel had been tortured, finding extensive areas of electric burns on his body. When Israel tried to offer the Istanbul Protocol as evidence in his case, judicial authorities refused to admit it as evidence. When Israel made a formal criminal complaint to the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) regarding the acts of torture, this office also considered that the Istanbul Protocol carried out by the National Human Rights Commission, did not constitute an official state document that could be used as evidence. When the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared Israel’s detention arbitrary last year and called on Mexico to release him immediately, the government ignored the Working Group. When several UN Special Rapporteurs asked the government for information, Mexico replied with a series of false and incorrect statements. Meanwhile, the Chihuahua state government disseminates false statements in the media, constantly alleging that witnesses have identified Israel Arzate as a murderer, when this is simply an invention, as can be seen clearly in the case file, because no such testimony exists.
All of the above – the arbitrary detention, the illegal and prolonged incommunicado detention in a military base, the use of torture to obtain a false confession from an innocent person, the admission of that confession as the sole piece of evidence against the victim, the refusal to investigate torture, the use of the media to disseminate a false version of events – represents the systematic pattern of conduct that occurs every day in Mexico. Simply put, this is how the Mexican criminal justice system works. It relies on torture not only as an option, not only as a short-cut, but as the modus operandi used to “investigate” crimes, leaving the true criminals unpunished and filling Mexico’s prisons with innocent torture victims. The reports of Mexican NGOs, international NGOs like Human Rights Watch and investigations by UN bodies confirm the systematic and widespread practice of torture in Mexico, yet this crime remains almost universally unpunished. Official statistics from the federal government demonstrate that at most, 2 federal agents have been punished for torture in the last 18 years.
What is different in Israel’s case is that all of the above is occurring in the new, adversarial criminal justice system mandated in the Constitutional reform of 2008, which was supposed to be the historic reform that would put an end to the use of confessions obtained under torture. Chihuahua State was the pioneer in installing this system, which is still not operational in the majority of Mexico’s states. Thus, this case serves as the example that if left uncorrected, will give the green light to the remaining states to use torture to imprison innocent people in the new system. If corrected, this case can set the precedent that torture will not be admitted in the new system. Due to the historic role of this case in the transition to the new system and the grave and confirmed nature of the human rights violations involved, just one week ago, Mexico’s Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction over the case and will now have the chance to set Israel free.
We ask the Committee to recommend in the strongest terms that Mexico use this paradigmatic and extensively documented case to establish: (1) that a confession alleged to have been obtained under torture, cannot be admitted as prosecution evidence until the prosecution demonstrates that the confession was not coerced; (2) that the Istanbul Protocol is always admissible when offered into evidence by the defense; (3) that in Mexico’s new, adversarial criminal justice system, a confession made without the presence of a judge, and retracted in a judicial hearing, is inadmissible, since the pillar of the adversarial system is the weighing of evidence presented to the judge, not evidence given previously during detention by prosecutors, police, or soldiers.
By making these recommendations, and in light of the Supreme Court’s pending decision in the case of Israel Arzate, the Committee will help not only to achieve justice in this case, but also to assist Mexico in preventing the importation of the historic and ongoing use of tortured confessions into the new criminal justice system. This is Mexico’s best hope for breaking with its traditional reliance on the widespread, systematic, and unpunished use of torture that currently characterizes daily life for Mexicans.
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