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Mexico's federal authorities should immediately take over the investigation into the possible enforced disappearance by municipal police of four civilians in Ciudad Juarez, Human Rights Watch said today.
In addition, authorities in Baja California should ensure a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into credible accusations of torture by Julian Leyzaola, now the police chief in Ciudad Juarez, Human Rights Watch said. Those violations were allegedly committed by Leyzaola in 2009 and 2010, when he served as police chief of Tijuana.
At approximately 7 p.m. on March 26, 2011, four civilians - Juan Carlos Chavira, 28, Dante Castillo, 25, Raul Navarro, 29, and Felix Vizcarra, 22 - were detained by municipal police in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, according to Chihuahua's State Human Rights Commission. Five eyewitnesses told the commission that police stopped the pick-up truck in which the civilians were travelling and detained them.
"Strong evidence of police involvement in the disappearances and the lackluster investigation by state officials cast serious doubt on the ability of local authorities to investigate this crime," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "With the lives of these four men hanging in the balance, federal prosecutors should immediately take over the investigation."
Family members of the victims found their abandoned pick-up truck at 1 a.m. on March 27 in a tunnel miles away from where they had been detained. The vehicle's license plates had been removed and its keys left on the floor of the interior.
On March 27, Rosa Maria and Armida Vazquez - the mother and sister of two of the missing men - went to the offices of the municipal police, federal police, and state and federal prosecutors to ask if they were holding the men. All denied having the civilians in their custody. When Armida Vazquez informed the state prosecutor's office that she wanted to file a complaint of their disappearance, she was told to return the following day, according to testimony given to the State Human Rights Commission. She returned on March 28 and filed a complaint, which was registered as case 8/77/11.
Eyewitnesses provided the State Human Rights Commission with the numbers of the police units who allegedly detained the civilians, which the commission handed over to state investigators. Two of the units allegedly involved, according to the commission, pertain to the bodyguards of Julian Leyzaola, the director of the Ciudad Juarez municipal police, accused of participating in abuses in Tijuana documented by Human Rights Watch and the National Human Rights Commission.
The state prosecutor's office has commented publicly that it is investigating the case as a crime of enforced disappearance, and that evidence points to police involvement. Meanwhile, the mayor of Ciudad Juarez, Hector Murguia Lardizabal, said that he ordered the city's department of internal affairs to investigate the case. However, the State Human Rights Commission informed Human Rights Watch that state investigators had done little to gather evidence, and had yet to question all the police officers in the cited units.
The municipal police department continues to deny having detained the four men, and no officers have been arrested in connection with the case. More than one week after the civilians disappeared, their whereabouts remain unknown.
In March 2011, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearance conducted an official visit to Mexico, during which Human Rights Watch and other organizations presented it with other cases of enforced disappearances. Among the preliminary observations the group made on March 31, was that, "impunity for crimes in general and enforced disappearances in particular remains a central challenge in Mexico at the federal and state level." The group reported that, "there have been a number of problems identified in investigations into cases of enforced disappearances, including omissions, delays and lack of due diligence," which it urged the Mexican government to address.
Background on Julian Leyzaola
Human Rights Watch documented grave abuses allegedly committed by Ciudad Juarez's police chief, Julian Leyzaola, when he served as chief of police in Tijuana, Baja California, as noted in a September 2010 letter to President Felipe Calderon. According to several victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Leyzaola participated directly in the torture of individuals who were arbitrarily detained, transported to military bases, and subjected to beatings, electric shocks, death threats, and asphyxiation to obtain false confessions.
In a report released in August 2010, the State Human Rights Commission of Baja California reached a similar conclusion, finding that police officers under Leyzaola arbitrarily detained, held incommunicado, tortured, and planted false evidence on five individuals. The report states that Leyzaola was not only present when the torture was carried out, but personally asphyxiated one of the victims by placing a plastic bag over his head and punching him repeatedly.
Jorge Ramos, former mayor of Tijuana, rejected the recommendation of the commission. Despite these well-documented allegations, Baja California's governor, Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan, promoted Leyzaola to the state's sub-director of public security in December 2010.
The National Human Rights Commission adopted the state commission's recommendation, and reissued it to Baja California's state assembly and to the new mayor of Tijuana, Carlos Bustamante, in November 2010. Both accepted the recommendation in December. Authorities in Baja California are still collecting evidence regarding the torture accusations against Leyzaola originally filed with state authorities in 2009, the National Human Rights Commission informed Human Rights Watch.
Leyzaola resigned from his position as head of public security in Baja California in February 2011. In March, he was named Ciudad Juarez's chief of police by the mayor, Murguia Lardizabal. "We are backing a person who has experience, who is honest, who has the ability to give his best to combat the lack of security in Juarez," said the mayor upon appointing Leyzaola. He added Leyzaola was, "a man who has produced results."
The credible accusations of human rights violations by Leyzaola call into question his ability to adequately investigate the recent enforced disappearances in Ciudad Juarez, and raise doubts about his leadership of the police department in general, Human Rights Watch said.
"It is reprehensible for authorities in Baja California and Chihuahua to promote an official against whom there are credible accusations of torture," said Vivanco. "It sends precisely the wrong message to security forces: that violating human rights is the mark of a good officer."
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"Today and every day let's honor King as we end racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the denial of healthcare, militarism, and this false narrative of Christian nationalism," said Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.
To mark Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, leaders of a modern iteration of the slain civil rights champion's final campaign called on U.S. politicians from both sides of the aisle—many of whose policies and actions are like those King condemned as the "evil triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism"—to step up and meet the needs of the country's poor and low-income people.
Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival released a video demanding the Biden administration and every member of Congress "meet with poor and low-wealth people, religious leaders, economists, lawyers, and public health specialists to address the systemic policy violence that threatens the soul of our nation."
"When prophets are killed or assassinated, our job is to pick up the baton and continue the work," campaign co-chair Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II said in the video. "Sadly, many will go to King events today and claim to honor the prophet. Elected officials on both sides of the aisle will go while even today, they are standing diametrically opposed to the things he fought for: addressing systemic poverty, addressing racism, ensuring voter protection, just immigration policy, just treatment of Indigenous people, healthcare for all, and dealing with the war economy and militarism."
As they do each year, officials—including Republican lawmakers who voted against an MLK Day holiday, the U.S. government King called "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," and its agencies like the FBI that tried to destroy King—all took to Twitter to sing his praises.
Poor People's Campaign Petition Congress to Truly Honor MLK Legacy | Press Conferencewww.youtube.com
Rev. Liz Theoharis, also a co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, said in the video that "this Martin Luther King Day, we must continue a campaign for social, political, and economic rights, not simply commemorate a man. Today and every day let's honor King as we end racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the denial of healthcare, militarism, and this false narrative of Christian nationalism. Let us fight poverty, not people."
The video also includes messages from low-income Americans and advocates calling for healthcare, living wages, "and more so everyone can thrive."
"I live in North Carolina. I work 60 hours a week and more and I still don't make enough money to live comfortably," Matthew Byars said in the video. "I'm chasing the American Dream, but I'm living the American nightmare. Raise the minimum wage. Impacted people matter too."
King, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, launched the original Poor People's Campaign in December 1967, months before he was assassinated in Memphis while supporting a strike by Black sanitation workers. King said the movement's demands were $30 billion for anti-poverty programs, full employment for all, a guaranteed universal income, and the annual construction of 500,000 affordable homes.
SCLC president Ralph Abernathy led the campaign after King's murder, and in May 1968—just weeks after King's murder—his widow, Coretta Scott King, led demonstrators in a two-week protest in Washington, D.C., where participants demanded an Economic Bill of Rights.
Camp life in Resurrection City 1968www.youtube.com
Thousands of poor people camped on the National Mall in a community called Resurrection City, which stood for six weeks—including on the day when Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) was assassinated on June 5—until police violently destroyed it and evicted the protesters.
"At a time when online mobilizations were one of the few forms of protest available to the public, Twitter was seemingly asked to shield the powerful from criticism," said one campaigner. "That should worry all those who care about accountability."
Drugmaker BioNTech and the German government pushed Twitter to "hide" posts by activists calling on Big Pharma to temporarily lift patents on Covid-19 vaccines—a move which would have given people the Global South greater access to the lifesaving inoculations, a report published Monday by The Intercept revealed.
Twitter lobbyist Nina Morschhaeuser "flagged the corporate accounts of Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca for her colleagues to monitor and shield from activists," according to The Intercept's Lee Fang. An email from Morschhaeuser said the German Federal Office for Information Security also contacted Twitter on behalf of BioNTech, whose spokesperson, Jasmina Alatovic, asked the social media giant to "hide" activist tweets targeting her company's account for two days.
Morschhaeuser, meanwhile, requested that colleagues track the hashtags #PeoplesVaccine—a movement for the temporary lifting of patent protections—and #JoinCTAP, a reference to the World Health Organization's Covid-19 Technology Access Pool. Morschhaeuser further warned that the advocacy group Global Justice Now shared an online signup form for a December 2020 People's Vaccine Day of Action.
"The allegations in this article suggest that government and industry tried to silence legitimate criticism during a crisis," Maaza Seyoum, Global South convener at the People's Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement Monday. "At a time when online mobilizations were one of the few forms of protest available to the public, Twitter was seemingly asked to shield the powerful from criticism. That should worry all those who care about accountability."
\u201c\ud83d\udce2 REACTION: German government and @BioNTech_Group asked Twitter to censor vaccine equity critics.\n\nNew #TwitterFiles piece by @lhfang shows how they worked to silence activists demanding a #PeoplesVaccine\n\nRead our reaction: https://t.co/VyaSBIbWnS\n\n1/\u201d— The People's Vaccine (@The People's Vaccine) 1673889107
Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden also noted the troubling timing of BioNTech's censorship request during a period of global pandemic lockdowns.
"To try and stifle digital dissent during a pandemic, when tweets and emails are some of the only forms of protest available to those locked in their homes, is deeply sinister," he told The Intercept.
It is not clear to what extent Twitter took any action on BioNTech's request. In response to Morschhaeuser's inquiry, several Twitter officials chimed in, debating what action could or could not be taken. Su Fern Teo, a member of the company's safety team, noted that a quick scan of the activist campaign showed nothing that violated the company's terms of service, and asked for more examples to "get a better sense of the content that may violate our policies."
But it shows the extent to which pharmaceutical giants engaged in a global lobbying blitz to ensure corporate dominance over the medical products that became central to combating the pandemic. Ultimately, the campaign to share Covid vaccine recipes around the world failed.
While U.S. President Joe Biden in 2021 heeded activists' calls and joined most of the Global South in backing a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver at the World Trade Organization, most rich nations—including Germany—oppose the policy and have, along with Big Pharma, fought to thwart it.
"If the German government wants to show that it is now willing to side with public health over private profit, it must change its approach to pandemic response," Seyoum asserted. "That means backing efforts at the World Trade Organization to improve access to generic Covid-19 medicines and treatments, supporting the World Health Organization's mRNA Hub in South Africa, and standing up to corporate interests in negotiations over a Pandemic Treaty."
Critics rebuke U.S. climate envoy for calling Sultan al-Jaber a "terrific choice."
Progressives on Monday reacted with outrage and disbelief after U.S. climate envoy John Kerry backed the appointment of Sultan al-Jaber to lead the the United Nations' annual conference on the climate emergency, saying the CEO of the United Arab Emirates' state-run oil company was not only qualified to preside over the summit, but that his background strengthened the case for his presidency.
As Common Dreamsreported last week, the UAE named al-Jaber as president of the 28th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), scheduled to begin in November—a decision that was met with scorn from campaigners as al-Jaber is heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and a renewable energy firm in which ADNOC holds a 24% stake.
"I think that Dr. Sultan al-Jaber is a terrific choice because he is the head of the company. That company knows it needs to transition," Kerry told the Associated Press Sunday, despite the fact that scientists and advocates across the globe have also known for decades that policymakers must lead a rapid transition away from oil and gas-generated energy. "He knows—and the leadership of the UAE is committed to transitioning."
Advocates have warned that the UAE has not made clear how it plans to reach its stated goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, especially as it plans to increase production of crude oil by a million barrels per day.
The UAE is expected to become "the third largest expander of oil and gas production" between 2023 and 2025 as ADNOC embarks on the second-largest expansion of oil production of any company in the world, locking in more than 2.7 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions.
But when asked by Sky News Arabia about whether al-Jaber would have a conflict of interest at the conference, where leaders are expected to be pushed to take significant emissions-reduction steps, Kerry dismissed the concern.
"That's a first blush, very simplistic way to look at this," Kerry said, adding that "the only way we will meet this crisis and protect our citizens and build an economy for the future, is by reducing emissions."
Putting the ADNOC executive—who is also the UAE's climate enjoy and minister of industry and technology—in charge of COP28 drew comparisons from Progressive International leader Yanis Varoufaki to naming "a jihadist to oversee religious tolerance" or "a Nazi to oversee racial harmony."
"What could go wrong?" labor historian Erik Loomis asked sardonically.
\u201cJeffrey Dahmer placed to oversee anti-cannibalism commission. \n\nhttps://t.co/D7Yyz2MMAw\u201d— Erik Loomis (@Erik Loomis) 1673888060
COP28 will follow the two most recent international climate conferences, held in Glasgow, Scotland and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists were in attendance and policymakers failed to hammer out a final agreement requiring countries to phase out oil, coal, and gas extraction.
Kerry toldSky News Arabia that the UAE was not "involved in changing" the outcome of the COP26 and COP27 talks.
The former secretary of state acknowledged that there would be "a level of scrutiny" aimed at al-Jaber's appointment.
"And I think that's going to be very constructive," he told the AP. "It's going to help people, you know, stay on the line here. I think this is a time, a new time of accountability."
Acknowledging Kerry's negotiating of the Paris climate agreement in 2015—which despite its many flaws and shortcomings represents the strongest global pact ever reached on the issue—Leo Roberts of the climate think tank E3G said on social media that the U.S. politician's endorsement of el-Jaber represents "a really rather spectacular fall from grace."