In the aftermath of the May Day 2007 police riot targeting migrant workers, members of the MacArthur Park area, youth and others joined together to support those targeted, those with no papers, those with less means, all others, from the bottom up.
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As well as extra-judicial killings and disappearances, the US-based group says it documented more than 170 cases of torture.
"Instead of reducing violence, Mexico's 'war on drugs' has resulted in a dramatic increase in torture and other appalling abuses by security forces," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon began deploying troops against organised crime gangs shortly after taking office in late 2006.
To date some 50,000 soldiers have been used, as well as members of the Navy, federal police and state and local police forces.
According to the latest official figures, from January, about 35,000 people have died. However, other estimates suggest the number now exceeds 40,000.
Human Rights Watch says it found evidence in the states it examined - Baja California, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nuevo Leon and Tabasco - that soldiers routinely use torture to get information about cartels.
The group says none of the cases of alleged abuse it documented are being properly investigated.