Ten years since the start of the so-called “war on drugs and organized crime”, the use of military personnel in public security operations continued and violence throughout the country remained widespread. There continued to be reports of torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detentions. Impunity persisted for human rights violations and crimes under international law. Mexico received its highest-ever number of asylum claims, mostly from people fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Human rights defenders and independent observers were subjected to intense smear campaigns; journalists continued to be killed and threatened for their work. Violence against women remained a major concern and “gender alerts” were issued in the states of Jalisco and Michoacán. Congress rejected one of the two bills presented to allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.
The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party lost a number of governorships in various states in June elections. A prolonged social conflict between the government and teachers' unions led to mass protests and blockaded highways throughout the country, with unions calling for the government to revoke its 2013 educational reform.
Mexico completed its transition from a written, inquisitorial criminal justice system to one based on oral trials, after an eight-year preparatory period came to a close. Many challenges of the prior system remained – including a failure to respect the presumption of innocence – despite the implementation of the reform.
A 10-point security plan announced by President Peña Nieto in November 2014 had yet to be fully implemented, with promises to pass laws against torture and enforced disappearances as well as disappearances by non-state actors yet to be fulfilled. A package of anti-corruption laws was passed by Congress. The new legislation was widely criticized as falling short of earlier drafts.
Official records noted that the number of soldiers and marines employed in security operations throughout the country increased. In October the Minister of Defence admitted that the war on drugs had taken its toll on the exhausted armed forces and called for further legal clarity regarding their role in public security tasks. Legislators vowed to discuss reforms regarding the armed forces in security operations.
Police and security forces
There was a marked increase in violence, with 36,056 homicides registered by the authorities up until the end of November – the highest number since the start of President Peña Nieto’s term in 2012 – compared to 33,017 in 2015.
In response to widespread protests from teachers’ movements, the authorities carried out a number of police operations, some of which resulted in civilians being killed and injured. Several leaders of the movements were arrested and detained in federal prisons. Many of them were subsequently released pending further investigation.
Perpetrators of extrajudicial executions continued to enjoy impunity; the crimes were not properly investigated. The armed forces continued to contribute to investigations in cases involving military personnel, contrary to the 2014 reform of the Code of Military Justice. For the third consecutive year, the authorities failed to publish the number of people killed or wounded in clashes with the police and military forces.
Dozens of mass graves were uncovered throughout the country, often on the initiative of family groups rather than authorities or official forensic experts. Local authorities illegally disposed of over 100 unidentified bodies in at least one grave in the municipality of Tetelcingo, Morelos state. The perpetrators of the killings remained unidentified.
On 19 June, at least eight people were killed and dozens injured in Nochixtlán town, Oaxaca state, during a police operation following a roadblock as part of a demonstration against the government’s education reform. Footage published by media outlets contradicted the authorities’ original assertion that the policemen were unarmed.
In August, the National Human Rights Commission found that federal police members had tortured at least two people in the municipality of Tanhuato, Michoacán state, in May 2015 as part of a security operation; that at least 22 of the 43 people killed during the operation were victims of arbitrary execution; and that the police had tampered with evidence including by planting firearms on the victims.
Investigations into the killings by soldiers of 22 people in 2014 in Tlatlaya, Mexico state, had yet to produce concrete results. The authorities failed to take responsibility for the order “to take down criminals” (meant as “to kill” in this context) that was the basis for military operations in the area in 2014, or to investigate any officers with command responsibility.
No one was known to have been prosecuted for the killings in 2015 of 16 people by federal police officers and other security forces in Apatzingán, Michoacán state; the authorities failed to adequately investigate the killings or to look into the responsibility of those in command.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Impunity for torture and other ill-treatment remained almost absolute, with numerous reports of beatings, near asphyxiation with plastic bags, electric shocks, rape and other sexual assault taking place during police and military operations. Sexual violence used as a form of torture was commonplace during arrests of women.1 For the first time in two years, the Federal Attorney General's Office announced charges of torture against five federal officials in April, in response to a leaked video showing police officers and soldiers torturing a woman. Also in April, in a rare case a federal judge sentenced an army general to 52 years’ imprisonment for having ordered an operation which involved torture and homicide as well as destruction of a body in Chihuahua state in 2008.
In April, the Senate approved a bill for a General Law on Torture which complied with international standards. The bill was amended and remained pending a general vote in the Chamber of Deputies at the end of the year.
The Special Unit on Torture of the Federal Attorney General’s Office reported 4,715 torture investigation files under revision at federal level.
As in previous years, the special medical examination procedure of the Federal Attorney General’s Office for cases of alleged torture was not applied in most cases, with a backlog of over 3,000 requests on file. In many cases, investigations into torture and other ill-treatment failed to advance without an official examination.
In September, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) referred the case of 11 women who were subjected to sexual violence as a form of torture in San Salvador Atenco in 2006 to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, given Mexico’s failure to fulfil the Commission's recommendations on the case.
Refugees’ and migrants’ rights
A record number of asylum claims were registered, with 6,898 lodged as of October – 93% of whom were nationals of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Refugee status was granted to 2,162 people, despite estimates that more than 400,000 irregular migrants crossed Mexico's southern border each year, half of whom could qualify for asylum status, according to international organizations and academics. In the majority of cases, the authorities failed to adequately inform migrants of their right to seek asylum in Mexico.
In August, a constitutional reform to recognize the right to asylum entered into force.
The implementation of the Southern Border Plan again led to a surge in security operations on the Mexican border with Guatemala and Belize, with frequent reports of extortions, mass deportations, kidnappings and other human rights abuses against migrants. As of November, 174,526 irregular migrants had been apprehended and detained, and 136,420 returned to their country. Of those deported, 97% were from Central America. Data from the US Congress in February showed that the US government plans to allocate US$75 million to “security and migration enforcement” on Mexico’s southern border, through the Mérida Initiative.
The Federal Attorney General's Office established a new Unit for the Investigation of Crimes against Migrants. Civil society organizations participated in the design of a Mexican Mechanism for Foreign Support in Search and Investigation to co-ordinate Mexican and Central American authorities’ efforts to ensure justice for migrant victims of disappearances by non-state actors and other crimes in Mexico.
In September, President Peña Nieto announced a plan on refugees at a UN summit and officially acknowledged the refugee crisis in Mexico and Central America. The plan promised to increase funding of Mexico's refugee agency by 80%, to ensure that no child migrant under 11 years of age be detained, and to strengthen the inclusion and integration of refugees in the country. In May, a special report by the National Human Rights Commission identified at least 35,433 victims of internal displacement in Mexico, despite the fact that credible estimates based on official data were at least four times higher. In October, the Commission published a report highlighting the poor living conditions in migration detention centres, especially for unaccompanied children.
Enforced disappearances with the involvement of the state and disappearances committed by non-state actors continued to be widespread and those responsible continued to enjoy almost absolute impunity. The investigations into the cases of missing people continued to be flawed and unduly delayed. The authorities generally failed to immediately search for victims.
By the end of the year, 29,917 people (22,414 men and 7,503 women) were reported as missing by the government. The figures by the National Register of Missing and Disappeared Persons did not include federal cases that occurred prior to 2014 nor cases classified as other criminal offences such as hostage-taking or human trafficking.
Enforced disappearances and disappearances by non-state actors inflicted serious harm on victims’ relatives, which constituted a form of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Available data suggested that a majority of victims were men; women made up the majority of relatives seeking truth, justice and reparations. Some relatives of disappeared people who were searching for their family members received death threats.
The Senate held public hearings with relatives of disappeared people on the General Law on Disappearances that had been presented to Congress by President Peña Nieto in December 2015. The bill remained before Congress.
In March, criminal charges were presented against five marines for the enforced disappearance of Armando Humberto del Bosque Villarreal, who had been found dead weeks after his arbitrary arrest in 2013 in Nuevo León state.
In April, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) appointed by the IACHR published its second report on the 43 students from a teacher training college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero state, who were victims of enforced disappearance in September 2014. The GIEI confirmed that the authorities’ assertion that the students had been killed and burned in a local rubbish dump was scientifically impossible. The GIEI also revealed that in October 2014, officials had irregularly visited a scene later linked to the crime and handled important evidence without proper permission or documentation. A man held in custody in relation to the case was forced by the authorities to participate in the visit without his lawyer present or any oversight from a judge. The visit took place a day before the government discovered a small piece of bone in the same place, later identified as belonging to student Alexander Mora Venancio. The leading official involved in these investigations resigned from his post within the Federal Attorney General’s Office, even though an investigation into his actions was ongoing. He was immediately appointed by President Peña Nieto to another senior federal position. In November, the IACHR presented its work plan for a follow-up mechanism on the Ayotzinapa case after the GIEI recommendations and the 2014 precautionary measure issued by the IAHCR ordering Mexico to determine the status and whereabouts of the 43 missing students.
Human rights defenders and journalists
Human rights defenders and journalists continued to be threatened, harassed, intimidated, attacked or killed. At least 11 journalists were killed during the year. The federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists left human rights defenders and journalists inadequately protected. In February, international human rights organizations denounced the smear campaign against the GIEI and local NGOs involved in the Ayotzinapa case – a campaign that appeared to be tolerated by the authorities. The number of requests for protection under the Mechanism remained steady in relation to the previous year.
In July, Humberto Moreira Valdés, former governor of the state of Coahuila and former president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, sued prominent journalist Sergio Aguayo for US$ 550,000 in a civil lawsuit for alleged moral damage to his reputation due to an opinion piece published by Sergio Aguayo. The excessive amount demanded could constitute a form of punishment and intimidation, potentially affecting freedom of expression in public debate.
In August, prisoner of conscience and community environmental defender Ildefonso Zamora was released after nine months’ imprisonment on fabricated charges.
Freedom of assembly
The Supreme Court continued to analyze a legal challenge to Mexico City’s 2014 Law on Mobility. It ruled in August that the law should not be interpreted as imposing a prior authorization regime for demonstrations, but only as a rule allowing people to notify authorities in advance of any planned demonstration. The Court considered that the lack of provisions on spontaneous demonstrations did not mean that such acts were forbidden in any way. Finally, it voted in favour of a rule banning protests in the city’s main avenues.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
In May, President Peña Nieto presented two draft bills to Congress to reform the Constitution and the Federal Civil Code. The proposed constitutional reform to expressly guarantee the right to marry without discrimination was rejected by Congress in November.
The second proposed reform to the Civil Code would prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in allowing couples to marry and people to adopt children; the reform also included the right of transgender people to have their gender identity recognized by Mexico. The bill had yet to be discussed in Congress.
In September, Supreme Court jurisprudence upholding same-sex couples’ rights to marry and adopt children without being discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity became binding on all judges in the country.
Violence against women and girls
Violence against women and girls remained endemic. In April, dozens of thousands of people demonstrated around the country, demanding an end to violence against women, including sexual harassment. The “Gender Alert” mechanism was activated in the states of Jalisco and Michoacán after it had already been activated in the states of Morelos and Mexico in the previous year. A lack of accurate, up-to-date and disaggregated data about gender-based violence constituted a major obstacle to tackling the problem.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
Due to last-minute information from the Ministry of Economy regarding the cancellation of two mining concessions by companies in the community of San Miguel Progreso, Guerrero state, the Supreme Court declined to consider the effect that the Mining Law of 1991 had on Indigenous Peoples’ rights. A legal framework on Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent remained largely absent from the legislative debate, despite the fact that a bill had been discussed in public forums and the National Human Rights Commission issued a recommendation in October to the Congress that it legislate on this matter. In September, the Indigenous municipality of Guevea de Humboldt, Oaxaca state, allowed women in the community to exercise their right to vote for the first time in local elections.
- Surviving death: Police and military torture of women in Mexico (AMR 41/4237/2016)