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UK arms exports to other countries of concern

UK arms exports to Mexico

Mexico: Country overview
The United Mexican States is a federal presidential constitutional republic located between North America and Central American, bordering the US, Guatemala and Belize. The capital is Mexico City, and it has an estimated population of 123 million. In 2017, Mexico was said to be confronting the second most deadly conflict in the world. While it was a war initially fought between the state and drug traffickers, Mexican police, military and civilian institutions were all deeply involved, and the majority of those killed, tortured or disappeared had nothing to do with the drugs trade.

In 2013, Mexico signed and ratified the Arms Trade Treaty.

How many licenses for the sale of arms to Mexico as the UK issued between 2008 and 2017?
As seen below, the number of export licenses for civilian and military equipment granted to Mexico increased steadily under the Lib-Con Coalition government, and under a Conservative government rose even more, cresting in 2017 with 350 licenses, nearly six times the number granted in 2008. In total, from 2008 to 2017, 1,602 licenses were granted for Mexico, out of which 935 were exclusively for military purposes.

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2017

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2017

What is the total value of those exports in GBP?
The value of the UK licenses exports to Mexico has been volatile, increasing tenfold from 2010 to 2011, then dropping back down precipitously in 2012. In 2015, £158.7m of weaponry and £93.3m of dual-use material was sold to Mexico, as the War on Drugs in the country raged. In total, from 2008 to 2016, £419.4m of licenses was exported to Mexico from the UK. Of these, £243.2 were for military use and £176.2 for civilian and military purposes.

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2017

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2017

What are the top 10 types of weaponry Britain is selling to Mexico?
By far the most frequent license granted for export to Mexico by the British government has been that of equipment employing cryptography. In a country where there have been scandals about spying by the government on dissidents, journalists and activists, this sort of export poses a major concern.

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2017

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?
During President Enrique Peña Nieto’s rule, security forces have been involved in a range of serious human rights violations. These include extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture. The perpetrators, including soldiers and police, continue to enjoy impunity for their abuses, with a high number of abuses being committed by security forces during former President Felipe Calderón’s “war on drugs.”

An incident that occurred on the 26th September, 2014, one that involved a murderous police attack on students has become a symbols of Mexico’s poor human rights record. Security officials confronted a group of students on their way to a protest. In the assault, six students were killed and several others were injured. 43 students were abducted by the officers, and never seen again. When state investigators examined weapons used by police, they discovered three assault rifles manufactured by German arms firm Heckler & Koch (H&K), amongst other American and Italian weapons. In recent years, Mexican government security forces have used a range of small arms, reportedly including widespread use of Heckler and Koch weapons, a company that has a manufacturing base in Britain.

Despite serious human rights abuses throughout the country, Britain sold Mexico military equipment worth £2.6 million in 2014. This shot up to £157 million in the first three quarters of 2015 – a rise of almost 6,000 per cent. This was mainly electric equipment and aircraft, but also a portion of small arms.

The massive flow of arms into a highly insecure country is a matter of great concern, as it risks fuelling an escalation of violence between governmental and non-governmental criminal groups. It also risks an increase in abuses of police and security forces against wider civilian the population. Acknowledging this, Germany has banned weapons sales to the Mexican states of Guerrero, Chihuahua, Chiapas and Jalisco due to serious human rights problems and state violence, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and forced disappearances.

What has the British government said about these concerns?
Unlike the German government, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has restrained from directly criticising the Mexican government.  It, however, did make these statements in 2015: “During 2014, 14,413 people were reported killed, 1,332 kidnapped, and a further 5,098 disappeared in Mexico, according to information from the Executive Secretariat of the Mexican National Public Security System. The Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography estimates that in 2013 impunity reached its highest recorded rate yet – with 93.8% of crimes either not reported to the authorities or not investigated, mostly due to fear of extortion, the long and difficult processes required, or lack of trust in the authorities.”

It added: “The UK was party to the statement issued by EU member states in Mexico City, which expressed serious concern about these cases, and welcomed the statements made by Mexican federal authorities, promising that those responsible would be held to account. The UK government regularly discusses human rights matters with the Mexican government as part of our bilateral dialogue.”

Despite the UK government’s awareness of the violent and dangerous conditions in Mexico, and the Mexican government’s involvement in this, UK arms sales to the country have continued, totalling some £420m worth of weapons from 2008 to 2016.

What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the Mexican government have committed since 2010?  

Events in 2010
The government security forces were allegedly involved in a number of arbitrary killings in 2010. Several reports describe how civilians, often political activists, were shot by members of the Mexican army. Likewise, there was a surge of disappearances, with many witnesses describing the official authorities’ involvement such. During 2010, the National Commission of Human Rights in Mexico (CNDH) received 1,170 complaints of cruel or degrading treatment and 10 accusations of torture by the Mexican state. Torture as a mean of forced confessions was also reported. Conditions in Mexican prisons were also raised; 150 inmates were reportedly murdered in Mexican jails this year.

Events in 2011
Again, accounts about state-sponsored killings and beatings were reported, including political and LGBT activists. Amnesty International also reported a dramatic increase in the number of forced disappearances, reportedly rising from four in 2006, to 153 in 2011. The National Commission of Human Rights in Mexico received 1,626 complaints of cruel or degrading treatment, as well as 42 allegations of torture, an increase on 2010. Human Rights Watch also obtained evidence of 170 cases of torture, including beatings, asphyxiation with plastic bags, waterboarding, electric shocks, sexual torture, and death threats.

In 2011, nearly 2.000 complaints of arbitrary arrests and detentions were submitted to the authorities.

Events in 2012
Allegations of state-involved killings, disappearances, inhumane prison conditions and torture were recurrent issues in human rights reports for this year. However, there were cases of police officers facing charges for their misconduct, such as the four Juarez police officers arrested and charged with torture and aggravated rape of two men in their custody. At the same time, the National Commission of Human Rights in Mexico received 1,503 complaints of human rights violations against the Secretary of National Defense.

Crackdowns against political opponents and violations of freedom of assembly and speech were also reported. In December, following protests of the inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexico City Human Rights Commission (CDHDF) listed at least four cases of torture and 22 arbitrary detentions. Almost 70 demonstrators were arrested during the protests.

Newly elected President Enrique Peña Nieto acknowledged in December that the “war on drugs” had led to serious abuses by the security forces.

Events in 2013
Allegations against national security forces for killings, involvement in disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrests continued in the year on 2013. For instance, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission announced in June that it was investigating 23443 disappearances where state agents were alleged to have been involved. Despite the government’s awareness such widespread human rights abuses, little effort was made to prosecute soldiers and police officers guilty of killings, enforced disappearances and torture. In case of prosecution against security officers this took place within a biased military justice system.

Events in 2014
The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions said that unlawful killings of civilians by Mexican security forces had taken “place at an alarmingly high rate”, amid an atmosphere of “systematic and endemic impunity.” One of the most prominent cases took place on September 26 in the state of Guerrero, where students were attacked by national police members on their way to a demonstration. The clashes led to the brutal killings of several students and the abduction of more. In October of that year, 43 students were still missing.

It was even reported that local government officials may have been involved. Moreover, investigators discovered possible police involvement in the atrocity, with dozens of state purchased semi-automatic weapons being linked to the deaths.  These were said to have been produced by Colt Industries in the United States, Beretta of Italy, and Heckler & Koch of Germany. The latter has a manufacturing base in Britain.

Among other human rights abuses, violations of the freedom of expression were also reported in 2014. Allegations against the state included killings, harassments and attacks on journalists – often the authorities failed to investigate such crimes. This was fuelled by the fact that twelve Mexican states have criminal libel laws that expose journalists to the threat of imprisonment by the state.

Events in 2015
Under President Enrique Peña Nieto rule, Mexican security forces were found to have been continuously implicated in grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture in its so-called ‘war on drugs’. Very few cases against police forces were investigated. By 2015, no police members or soldiers had faced convictions in connection with the killing of 22 civilians in Tlatlaya, back in November 2014, where witnesses reported that at least 12 civilians were extrajudicially executed by soldiers. State prosecutors were alleged to have attempted to conceal torture by Mexican security forces to extract false testimonies from witnesses.

Specific examples of state violations include an incident in May, where a Federal Police operation in Tanhuato, Michoacán, opened fire from a Blackhawk helicopter seeking to harm members of a drug trafficking organization. 42 civilians were reported killed.

Moreover, in November the CNDH released a report regarding the January 6th killing of 10 individuals in Apatzingan, Michoacan. The report concluded that national police had committed serious violations of human rights in six of the deaths, with at least one described as an extrajudicial execution. The army was also found to be involved in unlawful detentions of citizens.

Allegations of torture and ill-treatment against the authorities continued throughout the year. From January to October 31, the CNDH received 587 complaints of “inhuman or degrading treatment” and 49 complaints of torture by state officials.  Despite this, the UK continued to approve arms exports to Mexico.

Events in 2016
The human rights situation in Mexico remained unchanged. State officials continued to be implicated in human rights abuses against its citizens in its war on drugs. Impunity was widespread.

Concerning the disappearance of the 43 students back in 2014, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts issued its final report on the case. The group documented significant mistakes in the official investigation of the case and called for a new investigation. At the time of writing (October 2018) the trial continues.

Mexican security forces’ participation in enforced disappearances continued. In August, a report concluded that over 27,000 people had gone missing since 2006, their whereabouts still  unknown. In many cases, both prosecutors and police had failed to investigate these crimes, leaving it up to the families to do so.

In August, the CNDH found that 22 out of the 42 civilians who had died in clashes last year in Tanhuato, were arbitrarily executed by the national police. The police had killed at least 13 people by shooting them in the back, tortured two detainees, and had burnt a man alive. Finally, it was claimed that the police had sought to manipulate evidence, by moving bodies and planting guns to justify the illegal killings.

State authorities also continued to harass and limit journalists and political activists’ freedom of expression. The international NGO Article 19 reported that 47 per cent of cases of aggression against Mexican journalists in the previous seven years came from public officials.

Moreover, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico reported that 14 journalists were killed between January and mid-December. The CNDH said that 90 per cent of crimes against journalists in Mexico go unpunished, including 82 per cent of killings and 100 per cent of disappearances.

Finally, it was reported that almost 60 per cent of Mexican prisoners (at that time, at least 64,000 inmates were included in the survey), had been subject to torture or ill-treatment during their time of arrest. Electrical shocks, water torture, hitting and beating were all listed.

Events of 2017
Violence reportedly increased throughout Mexico this year. Security forces continued to be found guilty of violating human rights, and impunity still hindered justice for many victims. 2017 saw high levels of state-involved incidents involving digital attacks and surveillance, widespread arbitrary detentions, often leading to torture, as well as enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

In May, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions released a report on Mexico identifying a number of concerning violations, including extrajudicial killings and excessive use of force by security forces, impunity, and lack of reparations for victims. The UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances has issued dozens of urgent case actions in Mexico since 2012. State-sponsored violence against journalists, in particular, escalated in 2017.

Despite this catalogue of harm, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to the Government of Mexico.  Human rights abuses continue.

For more from this investigation please go here