THE BLOG
18/12/2013 12:36 GMT | Updated 17/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Tortured at Random

Miriam López had just finished the school run. Suddenly, two balaclava-wearing men grabbed this 30-year-old mother of four and forced her into a white van. It was in 2011, at Ensenada near Mexico's border with the USA.

"I didn't know who they were, and when I asked them, they put a gun to my head and told me to shut up or they would blow my head off," Miriam later said. It turned out the men were soldiers in plain clothes, and they drove her to a military barracks in nearby Tijuana.

"They tortured me: they repeatedly put wet cloths over my face and poured water over it so I couldn't breathe," Miriam said. "I then felt a stream of water up my nose... they did this repeatedly as they kept on asking the same questions."

They gave her electric shocks and raped her; they showed her recent pictures of her children and partner and told her they "would go for them" if she didn't cooperate.

The soldiers were trying to force Miriam to confess to trafficking drugs through a military checkpoint. They tortured her until she signed a statement falsely implicating herself.

Torture is one of the nasty legacies of Mexico's "war on drugs," initiated during president Felipe Calderón's administration. Soldiers and the police regularly tortured civilians to extract confessions in the fight against cartels. Few of these soldiers and police have been punished.

In Mexico prosecutors can hold suspects without filing charges for up to 80 days. This is what happened to Miriam, and she was denied access to a lawyer the whole time she was in prison. The case eventually collapsed but not before she had undergone seven months of this kind of detention.

Most torture victims in Mexico are too scared to complain. Many women who have been sexually assaulted fear being stigmatised if they speak out. Miriam is bravely pursuing her case, because she is determined to get justice and to protect others from suffering what she went through. Mexico's National Commission of Human Rights confirmed that Miriam had been tortured and that she was entitled to compensation. But no one has been held to account, even though she has identified some of her attackers and their accomplices.

Mexico has a new government now, but the police and the military continue to commit serious human rights violations such as torture, rape and forced disappearances. The judiciary has not upheld basic human rights. As a result, impunity is one of the most serious problems in Mexico, and torture is still something you have to fear if you fall into the hands of the police.

President Enrique Pena Nieto has failed to acknowledge the "torture epidemic" and to take action to stop it. He says he will put into effect the recommendations of the UN Committee on Torture in November 2012, but so far there is little evidence that he has done so.

People from all over the world have heard about Miriam's case and many messages of goodwill have poured in as part of Amnesty International's Write for Rights campaign. She recently expressed her gratitude on her Facebook page: "I know that with each of the signatures, campaigns and support I will achieve what I am looking for!! Justice. I really thank each of you very much."

Miriam needs all the encouragement she can get in these difficult times. Please leave a message on her Facebook page and let her know that she is not alone.