Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a letter delivered Thursday to make the defense of human rights in Central America a priority of U.S. foreign policy. The letter, signed by 37 Members of Congress, also encouraged Tillerson to make human rights in Central America a cornerstone of the Central America Prosperity and Security Conference being held in Miami and co-hosted by the United States and Mexican governments.
The letter highlights abuses being faced in Mexico by refugees and asylum seekers as they flee violence in Central America, and the troubling murders of numerous Mexican journalists and human rights activists who has investigated or spoken out about the Mexican government’s systematic human rights violations.
“There is little doubt that many Central Americans are fleeing horrific violence in their home countries and need international protection,” Congressman Lowenthal said. “Since the 2014 launch of Mexico’s Southern Border Program with US-support, abuses against Central American migrants and asylum seekers transiting through Mexico have risen dramatically. Cases of Central American asylum seekers being returned to situations of danger in their home countries in violation of international refugee law represent particularly egregious violations.”
In the letter, Congressman Lowenthal writes, “We are concerned, however, by proposals from Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and other senior officials to enlist the assistance of Mexico’s security forces to address citizen insecurity in Central America in light of widespread human rights abuses at the hands of these forces. We are especially wary of suggestions that the United States deepen security collaboration with Mexico along its southern border due to evidence that Mexico’s Southern Border Program has led to wide-spread human rights violations and abuses against migrants and asylum-seekers.”
The letter also points out that to date the government of Mexico has been unable to make meaningful progress toward addressing abuses committed by its own security forces. As the State Department reported in 2015 and again in 2016, “The most significant human rights-related problems included involvement by police and military in serious abuses, such as unlawful killings, torture, and disappearances. Impunity and corruption in the law enforcement and justice system remained serious problems.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations, and Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission have also documented the prevalence of these abuses and high rates of impunity.
“It would be counter-productive and short-sighted to expand Mexico’s role in Central American security programs and migrant interdiction without accompanying strategies to address these human rights abuses,” Congressman Lowenthal said. “This letter to Secretary Tillerson encourages the administration to find ways to ensure the defense of human rights is a priority of our nation’s foreign policy and to use the upcoming Central America Prosperity and Security conference as a true opportunity to express that position to Central American officials.”
To read the full text of the letter and see a list of the signatories, click here