Thursday, April 29, 2010

Collateral Attacks: Amnesty International and Undocumented Immigration in and Through Mexico

Timing is everything in politics and policy.  That might be something to consider now in the midst of the organization of international efforts to force Arizona to reconsider its unfortunate migration enforcement legislation, SB 1070.  It is curious that just as the international furor increases over Arizona's recent legislation targeting undocumented migrants, Amnesty International issued a report that condemned Mexico for serious violations of the rights of undocumented migrants  in Mexico or passing through Mexico to reach the United States. Amnesty International, Report:  Invisible Victims: Migrants on the Move in Mexico, AMR 41/014/2010, published April 28, 2010. The Report is also available in Spanish as: VÍCTIMAS INVISIBLES MIGRANTES EN MOVIMIENTO EN MÉXICO

Migrants on the move in Mexico
© Amnesty International
In January, police stopped a freight train carrying over 100 
migrants in Chiapas State
In January, police stopped a freight train carrying over 100 migrants in Chiapas State
© Amnesty International (Photo: Ricardo Ramírez Arriola)

Most migrants travelling through Mexico are Central Americans 
headed for the US border for work
Most migrants traveling through Mexico are Central Americans headed for the US border for work
© Amnesty International (Photo: Ricardo Ramírez Arriola)

Main routes taken by Central American migrants travelling through 
Mexico 2001-2005
Main routes taken by Central American migrants travelling through Mexico 2001-2005
© Amnesty International

Amnesty International Widespread abuse of migrants in Mexico is 'human rights crisis', 28 April 2010.  This web site story urges that "The Mexican authorities must act to halt the continuing abuse of migrants who are preyed on by criminal gangs while public officials turn a blind eye or even play an active part in kidnappings, rapes and murders, Amnesty International said in a new report released on Tuesday."  Id.  The Report is notable for its documentation of violence perpetrated by both elements of the state and private individuals. 
Kidnappings of migrants, mainly for ransom, reached new heights in 2009, with the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reporting that nearly 10,000 were abducted over six months and almost half of interviewed victims saying that public officials were involved in their kidnapping. An estimated six out of 10 migrant women and girls experience sexual violence, allegedly prompting some people smugglers to demand that women receive contraceptive injections ahead of the journey, to avoid them falling pregnant as a result of rape. 
Id.  The Report recommendation included a number of generally framed reforms to address the situation:
  • Legislative reforms to ensure access to justice
  • Establish a federal task force to coordinate and implement measures
  • Compile and publish data on abuses against migrants and the steps taken to bring those responsible to account, including public officials.
Amnesty International Widespread abuse of migrants in Mexico is 'human rights crisis', 28 April 2010.   These recommendation would also serve as a useful  foundation for approaching reform efforts in Arizona within the U.S. federal system.

For good or ill, this report received wide coverage in the English language media, and was prominently featured by the BBC.  It is not clear whether this reporting diverts attention from Arizona's efforts.

Migrants in Mexico are facing a "major human rights crisis" as the authorities fail to tackle widespread abuses, Amnesty International has warned.  The human rights group said officials ignored or even played a part in the rape, kidnap, and murder of migrants, often carried out by criminal gangs. Tens of thousands of Central American migrants pass through Mexico every year to try to reach the US and find work. . . .   The majority of migrants are from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Mexico migrants face human rights crisis, says Amnesty, BBC NewsOnline, April 28, 2010.

It would be lamentable if Amnesty's efforts draws attention away from the debate on Arizona's legislative approaches, approaches which are rightly subject to intense interrogation.  On the other hand, Amnesty reminds us all of the obligations of all states, and of the importance of human rights and human dignity concerns.  These do not end or change character beyond the territorial frontiers of the United States.    As Amnesty well put:
En virtud del derecho internacional, los gobiernos tienen la obligación de utilizar su poder para garantizar que los derechos humanos se respetan, se protegen y se hacen realidad.1Esto incluye no sólo garantizar que sus funcionarios cumplen las normas internacionales, sino también actuar con la “diligencia debida” para abordar los abusos cometidos por personas o grupos particulares (agentes no estatales). Los indicadores de falta de diligencia debida incluyen: falta de castigo o prevención de los abusos; falta de intervención por parte de las autoridades; ausencia de prohibición legal u otras medidas para erradicar los abusos; falta de reparación o indemnización a las víctimas.

under international law, governments have an obligation to use their power to ensure that human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. this includes not only ensuring that their own officials comply with human rights standards, but also acting with “due diligence” to address abuses committed by private individuals or groups (non-state actors). Indicators of the lack of due diligence include: failure to punish or prevent the abuses; failure by officials to intervene; the absence of legal prohibition or other measures to eradicate the abuses; and the failure to provide reparation or compensation to victims. This applies in equal measure to all states.

Still, the timing of the report was curious.  And its power to distract the conversation in the United States ought not to be underestimated.  Still, while efforts to induce Arizona to reconsider its legislative approaches ought not to be sidetracked by these attacks on collateral actors adversely affecting the human rights of migrants, it is worth remembering that Arizona is one small part of a global system of migration in which it will be difficult for any state, or for the political cultures of any reason, to claim the high moral ground.  

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