Scores of prisoners of conscience were detained, and scores of human rights defenders threatened and attacked. Torture by law enforcement officers and the army was widespread. At least three people died as a result of torture. Prison conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were reported. At least 20 people "disappeared" and the whereabouts of hundreds who "disappeared" in previous years remained unknown. Scores of people were extrajudicially executed. Those responsible for human rights violations continued to benefit from impunity. In March, the government established the Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Pública, National Public Security Council, which incorporated the army and the navy into law enforcement operations. Human rights violations, including torture, by members of the military increased. Peace talks between the government and the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), Zapatista National Liberation Army – an armed opposition group – stalled in September, following EZLN allegations about the authorities' failure to implement previous agreements on indigenous people's rights (see Amnesty International Report 1996). In June, the Ejército Popular Revolucionario (EPR), Popular Revolutionary Army, another armed opposition group, launched attacks against military targets, resulting in dozens of deaths. The government launched army operations in several states, especially in Guerrero, Oaxaca and Veracruz, during which widespread human rights violations were reported. In December, the Attorney General's Office established a unit to investigate the growing number of threats and attacks against human rights defenders and prosecute those responsible. In July, a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited Mexico for the first time and investigated reports of human rights violations in the states of Chiapas and Guerrero. Scores of prisoners of conscience were arrested and dozens continued to be imprisoned for their peaceful political or civil rights activities. In January, José Carrillo Conde and Gerardo Demesa Padilla, leaders of the Comité de Unidad de Tepoztlán (CUT), Committee of Unity of Tepoztlán, a civil rights organization, were imprisoned on charges related to their opposition to a local development project in Morelos State. José Carrillo Conde was released in October, together with Fortino Mendoza, another CUT activist arrested in December 1995, but Gerardo Demesa Padilla remained in prison at the end of the year. Hilario Mesino Acosta, a leader of the Organización Campesina de la Sierra del Sur (OCSS), Southern Sierra Peasants' Organization, in Guerrero State, was arrested in Mexico City in July on charges of participating in violent activities; the charges were believed to be politically motivated. He was tortured and threatened with the "disappearance" of his daughters, Rocío and Norma Mesino, who had received previous death threats after lodging complaints about the massacre of 17 peasants in Guerrero State in 1995 (see below). Scores of prisoners of conscience were imprisoned on politically motivated charges and denied the right to fair and prompt trial. In July, Cecilia Elizalde Mora, aged 69, and Maximina Escobar Sánchez, aged 70, both Nahuatl Indian peasants, were arrested at an army road-block in San Felipe Neri, Morelos State. They were reportedly held incommunicado for several hours, denied legal assistance, and charged with drug-trafficking, solely on the basis of the soldiers' statements. They remained in prison awaiting trial at the end of the year. Seven members of the Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros de la República Mexicana, the Mexican oil workers' union, including 75-year-old Joaquín Hernández Galicia (known as "La Quina") who was imprisoned in 1989, remained in prison at the end of the year. Brigadier General José Francisco Gallardo, detained in 1993 for calling for the establishment of a human rights Ombudsman for the armed forces, remained in the Campo Militar Número Uno, a military prison in Mexico City. In June, his son, Marco Vinicio Gallardo Enríquez, who campaigned for his father's release, survived an attack by unidentified individuals in Mexico City. Eight shoe-factory workers, including a 16-year-old and four women, imprisoned in 1995 on charges of belonging to the EZLN, were released in November (see Amnesty International Report 1996). Scores of human rights defenders received death threats, and some were attacked, abducted and tortured. The authorities failed to bring those responsible to justice. Among those repeatedly threatened with death were members of the church-based organization Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, a.c. (PRODH), Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Centre, in Mexico City. They included Pilar Noriega, Digna Ochoa, Enrique Flota, Víctor Brenes, José Lavanderos and David Fernández, a Jesuit priest; and Araceli Muñoz, a member of Acción Cristiana para la Abolición de la Tortura, Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture, in Mexico City. Civil rights activists and politicians also received death threats. For example, in July, Leticia Moctezuma Vargas received death threats for her community activism in Tepoztlán, Morelos State (see above). Her 11- and 13-year-old daughters were also threatened. Graco Ramírez Abreu, state congressman for the opposition Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), Democratic Revolutionary Party, in Morelos, received death threats in October for campaigning against human rights violations by the police. Dozens of journalists were targeted for reporting on politically sensitive issues, including human rights violations. In January, José Barrón Rosales, a Nahuatl Indian journalist in Veracruz, survived an armed attack. He had received death threats for his work campaigning for Indian rights. In September, the Guerrero State Attorney's Office published a list of 27 journalists whom it accused of having links with the EPR. Some of those listed later received anonymous death threats. In October, Filiberto Lastra and Martín Enríquez, reporters for Radio Xeva in Villahermosa, Tabasco State, survived an attack by three men, including an official of the Dirección de Seguridad Pública, Department of Public Security, who had threatened them with death for criticizing the State Governor. Hundreds of detainees, including children, human rights defenders, journalists and members of ethnic minorities, were tortured by the security forces, including the army and paramilitary groups. At least three people, including a minor, died as a result of torture. The courts continued to admit as evidence confessions extracted under torture. Methods of torture included beatings, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags and with water, forcing peppered water into the nose and electric shocks. Proper medical treatment for the victims was unavailable in detention. Impunity for the perpetrators prevailed. In June, 25 members of the Amuzgo Indian community of Coachapa, Guerrero State, suspected of theft, were subjected to beatings, prolonged hanging by the wrists and semi-asphyxiation by state police to extract a confession. Among them was 16-year-old Alfredo Ramírez Santiago, who was hanged by the neck from a tree and beaten on the head and body. In June, journalist Oswald Alonso was abducted from his home in Cuernavaca, Morelos State, by three men believed to be members of the security forces. He was tortured and threatened with death for criticizing the state police before being released the following day. Manuel Ramírez Santiago and Fermín Oseguera Santiago, respectively chairpersons of the Comité de Defensa de los Derechos del Pueblo, People's Rights Defence Committee, and the Unión de Tablajeros a.c., the woodworkers' union, were abducted in October in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca State, by members of the security forces and interrogated under torture, including beatings and burning with cigarettes. Both were released without charge in November. In November, Javier López Montoya, administrator of the Coordinación de Organismos No Gubernamentales por la Paz (CONPAZ), Coalition of Non-governmental Organizations for Peace, his wife and two children, were abducted in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas State, by unidentified individuals believed to be members of the security forces. They remained in secret detention for two days during which Javier López Montoya was interrogated about CONPAZ' activities. His interrogators beat him and threatened him and his family with death. Scores of peasant activists in Guerrero and Oaxaca States were tortured to confess to having links with the EPR. Eight people arrested in July in Guerrero State were subjected to beatings, electric shocks, semi-asphyxiation and prolonged hanging by the wrists for up to seven days by members of the army and state police. They were charged with having links with the EPR on the basis of statements extracted under torture and remained in prison awaiting trial at the end of the year. On 8 July, Pedro Valoy Alvarado and 17-year-old Marcelino Zapoteco Acatitlán, members of the Organización de Pueblos y Colonias de Guerrero, a peasant organization, were arrested by the state police in Chilpancingo, Guerrero State, and tortured in a local police station to confess to burglary. Pedro Valoy Alvarado was released on 10 July, but Marcelino Zapoteco Acatitlán, a Zapotec Indian, remained in detention with serious injuries, from which he died on 15 September. On 12 October, Valentín Carrillo Saldaña, a Tepehuan Indian peasant, was arrested by soldiers near his community of San Juan Nepomuceno in Chihuahua State. Witnesses saw him being beaten and carried away. His body, bearing signs of torture, was discovered on 17 October. This was the only known case in which reports of torture resulted in the arrest of the alleged perpetrators. Those believed to be responsible for his death were awaiting trial at the end of the year. Prison conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment continued to be reported in many prisons. In October, scores of inmates of the Barrientos prison in Mexico City rioted, demanding better conditions and an end to torture by prison guards. At least 30 were seriously beaten by the police. The authorities later acknowledged that police had used excessive force and promised to improve conditions. However, those responsible were not brought to justice and prison conditions had not improved by the end of the year. At least 20 people "disappeared". Students Juan Emerio, Jorge Cabada and 17-year-old Abrahám Hernández were detained in June by members of the municipal police in Culiacán, Sinaloa State. Their whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year. In September, Rómulo Rico Urrea "disappeared" after his arrest by members of the security forces in Culiacán, Sinaloa State. His detention was initially acknowledged but later denied by the authorities. Gregorio Alfonso Alvarado López, a teacher and trade union and Indian rights activist who had received death threats, "disappeared" on 26 September in his home town of Chilpancingo, Guerrero State. The state authorities later told his relatives that he had been abducted by a paramilitary group, but failed to disclose his whereabouts. The whereabouts of Cuauhtémoc Ornelas Campos (see Amnesty International Report 1996) and Gilberto Romero Vásquez, who "disappeared" in 1995, remained unknown. No progress was reported in the investigations into the "disappearance" of hundreds of political activists in previous years, including those of at least 14 peasants who "disappeared" in Chiapas State in January 1994. The whereabouts of political activist José Ramón García, who "disappeared" in 1988, also remained unknown (see Amnesty International Report 1996). Scores of people, including political activists, were extrajudicially executed by members of the security forces and paramilitary groups. Most perpetrators benefited from impunity. In January, Gildardo Dorantes Muñoz, a member of the OCSS and the PRD, was murdered in Mexcaltepec, Guerrero State, by local officials who had previously threatened him for his political activities. In February, nine peasants from El Paraíso, Guerrero State, were killed by the state police. They had reportedly discovered evidence of local police involvement in kidnappings. In April, Marcos Olmedo Gutiérrez, a CUT activist, was extrajudicially executed by members of the Morelos state police. He had been wounded and arrested during a peaceful demonstration which was attacked by police. In September, Manuel Martínez de la Torre, a peasant activist, was detained, hooded and shot twice in the head, outside his home in Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas State, by members of the Alianza San Bartolomé de los Llanos, a paramilitary group with close links with local government officials. In November, three peasant activists were killed in Laja Tendida, Chiapas State, when soldiers and state police shot into a peaceful demonstration. Soldiers responsible for extrajudicial executions reported in January 1994 in Morelia and Ocosingo, Chiapas State, continued to benefit from impunity (see Amnesty International Report 1995). Human rights defenders working on these cases, including lawyers from the PRODH, received death threats (see above). On 4 March, President Ernesto Zedillo ordered a Supreme Court investigation into the 1995 massacre of 17 peasants in Aguas Blancas, Guerrero State (see Amnesty International Report 1996), and on 12 March Rubén Figueroa Alcócer, the State Governor, resigned. In April, the Supreme Court announced its findings, which included evidence of the involvement of senior state officials in the massacre. However, the former governor and other senior officials were not brought to justice. At least one person was deliberately and arbitrarily killed by an armed opposition group. In August, Alberto Zamudio Estrada, a municipal police officer in Papalotla, Mexico State, was shot dead at close range by members of the EPR. During the year, Amnesty International repeatedly urged the authorities to release prisoners of conscience, to end the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of human rights violations and to bring an end to the practices of torture, "disappearance" and extrajudicial executions. Amnesty International delegates visited the country in June, and again in November and December, to investigate reports of human rights violations. In March, the organization published a report, Overcoming fear: Human rights violations against women in Mexico. In December, it published Human rights defenders on the front line, expressing growing concern about the threats and attacks suffered by human rights defenders in central America and Mexico.

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