The United States has withheld millions of dollars of aid from Mexico aimed at helping the country’s authorities combat drug cartels, amid concerns over its human rights record.

The State Department confirmed the decrease in funding on Monday – a 15% reduction that experts said is a symbolic slap on the wrist given the US’s previous unwillingness to criticize its partner despite widespread evidence that the country’s police and army have been involved in abuses.

The Washington Post first reported on the reduction in assistance to the Merida Initiative, an agreement under which the US has allocated $2.3bn to Mexico as part of a broader effort to fight organized crime and threats pertaining to drug trafficking.

Mark Toner, a deputy spokesperson for the State Department, told reporters on Monday that the agency was required to withhold 15% of certain Merida funding for Mexico until a report on human rights was submitted to the US Congress. This year, he added, the State Department “was unable to confirm and report to Congress that Mexico fully met all of the criteria”.

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