MEXICO CITY (AP) - Abuses by the Mexican military have surged since the government deployed troops to fight drug cartels more than two years ago, and too little is done to investigate allegations of rapes, killing and torture, a rights group said Thursday.
Mexico's government disputed the charges made by Human Rights Watch in a report to the United Nations, insisting it takes abuse allegations seriously.
Human Rights Watch criticized Mexico's reliance on military tribunals to investigate soldiers charged with abuses, saying such cases should be handled in civilian courts.
"The dysfunctional Mexican military justice system routinely takes over the investigation of even the most egregious abuses, including alleged rapes, killings, arbitrary detentions and torture," said Juliette de Rivero, the Geneva advocacy director for the New York-based organization.
De Rivero read a statement before the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, which is conducting a review of Mexico's human rights record, something the institution does for all U.N. member states every four years.
In its own report to the council, the Mexican government denied it ignores abuses. "Mexico continues its prompt investigation of all allegations of human rights violations," it said.
The statement said 14 military personnel had been convicted of abuses but provided no timeframe or details on the cases. The country's Defense Department did not return calls seeking comment.
Tamara Taraciuk, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Mexico's National Human Rights Commission, an autonomous government agency, received 1,230 abuse complaints against the military in 2008 - a sevenfold increase from 182 cases in 2006.
Human Rights Watch criticized the lack of detail in Mexico's statement, saying that only two months ago the government was unable to provide a single example of a soldier being convicted of human rights violations in a military court in the last 10 years.
"This just raises a ton of questions for us," Taraciuk said of the government's statement. "The ball is still in their court to prove the Mexican military justice system is not ensuring immunity for military abuses committed during the drug war."
Since taking office in December 2006, President Felipe Calderon has deployed more than 45,000 soldiers to fight ruthless drug cartels that control swaths of the country and are responsible for most of the narcotics smuggled into the U.S. Drug violence has since surged, claiming more than 10,800 lives.
The U.S. government has backed Mexico's battle with at least $700 million in training and equipment, but some of that aid is conditioned on State Department confirmation that Mexico meets human rights and police corruption goals.
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