GENEVA, December 14, 2021 — The UN Committee against Torture has called on Mexico to stop criminalizing legitimate human rights work, after deciding on the case of a human rights defender targeted for his campaigning, resulting in his being detained and tortured for five years for a crime he did not commit.
In a decision published today, the UN anti-torture body found that Damián Gallardo Martínez, a teacher and campaigner for education and indigenous people’s rights, was a victim of torture in Mexico, in violation of Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Gallardo Martínez, a member of the indigenous Ayuujk People of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec from the Mixe region, had been promoting community education in the indigenous communities in Oaxaca for several years and participated in protests led by the Oaxaca teachers’ union in 2013. In May that year, seven federal police officers broke into his house while he was asleep and arrested him without a warrant.
He was held incommunicado in a secret detention centre where he was beaten by police officers who wanted him to divulge information about other participants in the education rights movement. According to Gallardo Martínez, the officers threatened to rape and kill his daughter and partner, and also murder his parents. Gallardo Martínez was forced to sign blank sheets of paper, which were later used as a supposed confession.
Based on this “confession”, he was charged with involvement in organized crime and the kidnapping of two young nephews of one of the most important businesspeople in Mexico. Gallardo Martínez was transferred to a maximum security prison in Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, where he was held for five years until the Federal Prosecution Service finally requested the dismissal of the case in December 2018.
During this time, Gallardo Martínez was brutally beaten, subjected to oral and anal cavity searches, deprived of water and sleep, as well as placed in solitary confinement 22 hours a day.
While he was detained, his father travelled from his community to the main square of Oaxaca City every day to demand justice for his son. The entire family suffered stigmatisation and harassment and as a result were forced to leave their indigenous community.
Gallardo Martínez and family filed formal complaints about the acts of torture in Mexico, but these did not lead to any meaningful investigation. They therefore brought their case to the Committee in 2019.
“Mr. Gallardo Martínez was subjected to acts of torture to bend his will to the extreme and show him that his aggressors would not hold back from inflicting pain and even death,” said Committee member Peter Vedel Kessing.
“Mr. Gallardo Martínez’s immediate family members are also indirect victims given the psychological impact of the stigmatization and harassment they faced. They therefore are also entitled to full reparation,” Vedel Kessing added.
In its findings, the Committee stated that the criminal proceedings brought against Gallardo Martínez were part of a pattern of criminalizing protests by the Oaxaca teachers’ union. The Committee urged Mexico to take the necessary steps to provide guarantees of non-repetition, including by ensuring that those defending education and indigenous peoples’ rights are not criminalized for their legitimate human rights activities.
The Committee also requested that Mexico provide Gallardo Martínez with full compensation, make a public apology to the complainants, and widely disseminate the Committee’s decision through a daily newspaper with a large circulation in the state of Oaxaca.
The Committee Against Torture monitors States parties’ adherence to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which to date has 173 State parties. The Committee is made up of 10 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. The Committee may consider individual complaints alleging violations of the rights set out in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by States parties who have made the necessary declaration under article 22 of the Convention.