Some 40,000 soldiers are involved in the drug war
Mexico's army is committing human rights violations while engaged in anti-narcotics activities as an arm of the police, a human rights group says.
The armed forces are involved in rape, murder and torture, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
A new HRW report documents apparent abuses against environmentalists, indigenous women and others, many with no link to illegal drugs.
The army investigates abuses, but HRW says a culture of impunity exists.
In one of 17 examples cited by the organisation in its Uniform Impunity report, six civilians returning from a party in a car were chased and shot by armed soldiers in Sinaloa state.
Four people - the driver and three passengers - were killed despite pleas by the civilians that they were unarmed, it said.
The two survivors were forced to lie face down in the dirt with their hands on their necks for several hours before being released without charge. One was also beaten, the report said.
No weapons were found in the car.
But the military initially claimed the occupants were "four suspected assassins of the drug trade" who had shot at the soldiers first.
Official investigations led the state prosecutor to conclude that the [civilian] account of the events was more credible that the military's, the HRW report says.
After an inconsequential military tribunal the families of the victims were presented with an offer of compensation by the military - and given an afternoon to accept it. If they did not do so they were told it would be withdrawn.
The HRW report says abuses continue because they go unpunished, and blames this on the military investigating most cases itself.
It says the military system is not transparent and "by allowing the military to investigate itself through a system that lacks basic safeguards to ensure independence and impartiality, Mexico is in practice allowing military officers involved in law enforcement activities to commit egregious human rights violations with impunity".
It calls on military suspects of human rights violations to be tried under Mexico's civilian justice system.
By BBC News, 29th April 2009
Original Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8025312.stm