Mexico 2017/2018

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Mexico 2017/2018

Violence increased throughout Mexico. The armed forces continued to undertake regular policing functions. Human rights defenders and journalists were threatened, attacked and killed; digital attacks and surveillance were particularly common. Widespread arbitrary detentions continued to lead to torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. Impunity persisted for human rights violations and crimes under international law. Mexico received a record number of asylum claims, mostly from nationals of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Venezuela. Violence against women remained a major concern; new data showed that two thirds of women had experienced gender-based violence during their lives. The rights to housing and education were compromised by two major earthquakes.

Background

Early in the year an increase in gas prices caused social unrest, including road blockages, lootings and protests throughout the country, leading to hundreds of arrests and some fatalities. Throughout the year, security forces carried out a number of operations to crack down on a spate of clandestine robberies of petroleum. At least one of these security operations resulted in a likely extrajudicial execution by the army in May. The National Human Rights Commission raised concerns over deficient security measures in prisons that affected the rights of people deprived of their liberty. There were riots in prisons including in the states of Nuevo León and Guerrero, and a hunger strike in the federal maximum security prison at Puente Grande, Jalisco state.

The new adversarial criminal justice system, fully operational since June 2016, continued to replicate problems from the old inquisitorial system, including violations of the presumption of innocence and the use of evidence collected in violation of human rights and other illicit evidence. Bills were introduced in Congress that would weaken fair trial guarantees and expand the scope of mandatory pre-trial detention without a case-by-case assessment by a judge.

Congress approved long-overdue laws against torture and other ill-treatment and against enforced disappearance by state actors and disappearances committed by non-state actors. Legal reforms allowed the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Sustained public debates over the transformation of the federal Attorney General’s Office, responsible for law enforcement and prosecution, into an independent body were conducted during the year. In August, civil society organizations and opinion leaders presented a proposal for the design of this institution.

In October, the acting Attorney General removed the Special Prosecutor for Electoral Crimes, regarded as independent by different political forces, after he publicly reported being subjected to political pressure to disregard a high-profile corruption case.

Police and security forces

There was a marked increase in the number of homicides, with 42,583 recorded nationally, the highest annual number of homicides registered by authorities since the start of the presidential term in December 2012. The real number may be higher, with some crimes not being reported to police, and not all of those reported triggering official action.

In December, Congress passed a Law on Interior Security enabling the prolonged presence of the armed forces in regular policing functions without any effective provisions for transparency, accountability or civilian oversight.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

Arbitrary arrests and detentions remained widespread, and often led to further human rights violations including torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. Arbitrary arrests often included the planting of evidence, commonly guns and illicit drugs, by law enforcement officials. Authorities appeared to especially target those who had historically faced discrimination, in particular young men living in poverty.

The police routinely disregarded their obligations during and following an arrest. They usually did not inform the persons of the reasons for the arrest or of their rights, such as the right to legal counsel and to communicate with their families. Unjustified delays in bringing the detainee before the relevant authorities were common and often enabled other human rights violations. Police reports of arrests often contained significant errors, fabricated information and other serious flaws, including inaccuracies in recording date and time of arrest.

The reasons for arbitrary arrests were varied, but included: to extort money from detainees; to detain a particular individual in return for payment from a third party; for politically motivated reasons; and to investigate detainees in connection with another crime by detaining them for a misdemeanour that they usually had not committed.

There was no unified and accessible register of detention, consistent with international human rights law and standards, in which every detention by law enforcement officials is recorded in real time.1

Torture and other ill-treatment

In February, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture issued a follow-up report to a previous visit to Mexico in 2014; the report concluded that torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread, including the alarming use of sexual violence as a frequent method of torture.

In June, a new general law on torture came into force, replacing existing state and federal laws with nationwide application. Civil society organizations welcomed it as an advance that better incorporated international standards compared to the previous legislation. The Special Unit on Torture of the Federal Attorney General’s Office reported 4,390 cases of torture under revision at the federal level and commenced 777 investigations under the new adversarial justice system. Federal authorities did not announce any new criminal charges against public officials, nor provide any information on arrests made for the crime of torture. In Quintana Roo state, a federal judge sentenced a former policeman to five years’ imprisonment for the crime of torture.

Enforced disappearances

Enforced disappearances with the involvement of the state and disappearances committed by non-state actors continued to be common and those responsible enjoyed almost absolute impunity. The official National Register of Missing and Disappeared Persons indicated that the fate or whereabouts of 34,656 people (25,682 men and 8,974 women) remained unclarified. The actual numbers were higher because the official figure excluded federal pre-2014 cases and cases classified as other criminal offences such as hostage-taking or human trafficking.

Investigations into cases of missing persons continued to be flawed and authorities generally failed to immediately initiate searches for the victims. Impunity for these crimes continued, including in the case of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college who were forcibly disappeared in Guerrero state in 2014. The investigations into the case made little progress during the year. In March, in a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, state representatives reasserted the government’s version of events that the students had been killed and burned in a local rubbish dump − a theory that was proved to be scientifically impossible by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts appointed by the Commission.

In October, Congress passed a general law on disappearances that defined the crime in accordance with international law and provided tools to prevent and prosecute it. The implementation of the law was expected to require a sufficient budget allocation in the following years.

Extrajudicial executions

Cases of extrajudicial executions were not properly investigated and perpetrators continued to enjoy impunity. For the fourth consecutive year, the authorities failed to publish the number of people killed or wounded in clashes with the police and military forces. No information was made available regarding criminal charges in the cases of Tlatlaya, Mexico state, where soldiers killed 22 people in 2014; Apatzingán, Michoacán state, where federal police and other security forces killed at least 16 people in 2015; and Tanhuato, Michoacán state, where the security forces killed 43 people during a security operation in 2015.

On 3 May, military personnel carried out public security operations in Palmarito Tochapan town, Puebla state, and reported that seven people died, including four soldiers. Days later, video footage from security cameras installed at the location were published on the internet. One of the videos clearly showed a person in military uniform shooting dead a man lying on the floor. Amnesty International independently verified the video and concluded that there was sufficient reason to believe that an extrajudicial execution took place.2

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

A total of 8,703 asylum claims were lodged between January and August, a similar number as for the whole of 2016. The percentage of claims that resulted in the granting of refugee status decreased from 35% in 2016 to 12% in 2017. The majority of asylum claims came from Honduran and Venezuelan nationals, the latter surpassing for the first time the number of refugees and asylum-seekers from El Salvador and Guatemala.

Between January and November, 88,741 irregular migrants were detained and 74,604 deported, in most cases without the opportunity to challenge their deportation. Of those deported, 94% were from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, countries which have registered some of the highest homicide rates in the world in recent years, and 20% of those deported to these countries were children. In February, Mexico’s Foreign Minister announced that Mexico would not receive foreign nationals turned back from the USA under the US Border Control Executive Order announced by US President Donald Trump on 25 January.

In June, the government met with North American and Central American governments, ostensibly to tackle the root causes of the regional refugee crisis; they did not publish any agreements reached.

The Unit for the Investigation of Crimes against Migrants of the Attorney General’s Office marked two years in operation, yet remained marred by institutional challenges in its operation and problems in co-ordinating with other authorities. These problems limited advances in criminal investigations, including into massacres of migrants, that remained shrouded by impunity.

In August, a citizen consultative body published research demonstrating the involvement of the National Migration Institute in a number of human rights violations against those deprived of liberty in migration detention centres run by the Institute. Violations included overcrowding, lack of access to adequate medical services, solitary confinement used as punishment, allegations of torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities denied allegations of torture committed by the Institute, despite the National Human Rights Commission having also confirmed evidence of torture on prior occasions.

Human rights defenders and journalists

Human rights defenders and journalists continued to be threatened, harassed, attacked and killed.

At least 12 journalists were killed, the highest number recorded in one year since 2000. They included prize-winning journalist Javier Valdez, founder of the newspaper Ríodoce, who was killed on 15 May in Sinaloa state. Many of the killings of journalists occurred in daylight in public places. The authorities made no significant advances into the investigations of these killings. The Special Prosecutor’s Unit for Attention to Crimes against Freedom of Expression failed to investigate the journalists’ work as a possible motive in the majority of cases of attacks. The federal Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists left human rights defenders and journalists inadequately protected.

Former Goldman Prize winner Isidro Baldenegro López and Juan Ontiveros Ramos, two Indigenous human rights defenders of the Raramuri (Tarahumara) Indigenous People, were killed in January and February respectively. In May, Miriam Rodríguez, a human rights defender leading the search for her daughter and other disappeared persons in Tamaulipas, was killed. In July, Mario Luna Romero, leader of the Indigenous Yaqui People in Sonora state and beneficiary of protection measures from the federal protection mechanism, was subjected to an intrusion in his house by unidentified assailants who set fire to his partner’s car.

In January, it became known that a network of people was using the internet to harass and threaten human rights defenders and journalists throughout Mexico.3 In June, evidence emerged of surveillance against journalists and human rights defenders using software that the government was known to have purchased. The federal Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists provided no strategy to respond to digital attacks and unlawful surveillance for those who have been granted protection measures.

Violence against women and girls

Gender-based violence against women and girls was widespread. Most of the cases were inadequately investigated and perpetrators enjoyed impunity. Sufficient and current data on gender-based killings was not available. However, official data for 2016 was published indicating that 2,668 women were considered to be victims of homicide, pending further investigations.

In August, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography published a survey estimating that 66.1% of girls and women aged 15 or above had experienced gender-based violence at least once in their lives, and that 43.5% of women had experienced gender-based violence committed by their partners.

Mechanisms known as “Alerts of gender-based violence against women” were active in 12 states. Established by the General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free from Violence, the Alert mechanisms relied on co-ordinated efforts to confront and eradicate violence against women and girls. By the end of the year, the Alerts mechanisms were not shown to have reduced gender-based violence against women and girls.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

Same-sex couples were able to marry in Mexico City and 11 states without recourse to judicial proceedings. Couples in states where laws or administrative practice did not allow for same-sex marriage had to file a constitutional complaint (amparo) before federal tribunals to have their case reviewed and their rights recognized.

Supreme Court rulings continued to uphold same-sex couples’ rights to marry and to adopt children without being discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In March, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the Law of the Institute of Security and Social Services for State Workers because it protected only different-sex couples’ rights.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Two earthquakes in September had a serious impact on vast areas, mostly in central and southern Mexico. More than 360 people died; in Mexico City the majority of fatalities were women. According to official figures, more than 150,000 households were affected and at least 250,000 people were made homeless.

The government implemented survivor rescue and emergency care actions with the participation of both civil and military personnel and with the support of the international community. However, several reports emerged of inadequate co-ordination among authorities, inaccurate and untimely information on the rescue and recovery of bodies, illegal commandeering of food and other essential services meant for survivors, and insufficient aid deliveries to many devastated areas, especially in small, impoverished communities.

Expert preliminary assessments published in the media suggested that some of the collapsed structures might have been in breach of building regulations. There was no comprehensive strategy to guarantee that people made homeless were provided with safe and adequate housing options. On 6  October, President Peña Nieto called on affected families to organize themselves to rebuild their houses.

Educational services, including many primary schools, were disrupted for weeks or months while safety checks and reconstruction of schools were underway. Thousands of national monuments and other culturally significant public buildings were destroyed or damaged by the earthquakes.

  1. False suspicions: Arbitrary detentions by police in Mexico (AMR 41/5340/2017)
  2. Mexico: Open letter to the President on a possible extrajudicial execution by the military (AMR 41/6347/2017)
  3. Mexico’s misinformation wars: How organized troll networks attack and harass journalists and activists in Mexico (News story, 24 January)

Get the Amnesty International Report 2017/18