Torture in Mexico: the facts

How widespread is torture in Mexico?

Torture and other ill-treatment is out of control. The number of reported complaints in 2013 (1,505) was 600% higher than in 2003, according to the National Human Rights Commission. Even that increase is probably an underestimate of the true figures. Between 2010 and the end of 2013 the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received more than 7,000 complaints for torture and other ill-treatment. The CNDH has seen a recent reported drop in complaints in 2014, but rates are still far higher than a decade ago.

Who carries out torture?

Torture plays a central role in policing and public security operations by military and police forces across Mexico. These practices are widespread and are frequently condoned, tolerated or ignored by other law enforcement officials, superior officers, prosecutors, judges and some human rights commissions.

Why are people tortured?

Torture is often used to obtain “confessions” and testimonies which serve as evidence to prosecute people who may or may not have been involved in a crime. This results in unfair trials and unsafe convictions, with many innocent people behind bars and criminals in the street. Society distrusts the justice system and the victims and their families’ lives are destroyed.

How are people tortured?

A number of torture techniques are reported consistently from different parts of the country. These include the use of near-asphyxiation, beatings, mock executions, sexual violence, death threats and electric shocks.

What happens to those who torture?

Many of those who torture go unpunished. According to the Federal Judicial Council, federal courts dealt with 123 prosecutions for torture between 2005 and 2013; just seven resulted in convictions under the federal law.

How do Mexicans feel about torture?

64% of Mexicans are scared of being tortured if taken into custody, according to a recent survey commissioned by Amnesty International.

What’s contributed to the rise in torture?

The large-scale deployment of the army and navy marines in recent years to combat organized crime has been a key factor in the increased use of torture. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment increased as violence spiralled in Mexico after 2006, as a result of the government’s “war on drugs”.

Do alleged torture victims get medical examinations?

In 2003 the Federal Attorney General adopted a special medical examination to document alleged cases of torture and other ill-treatment based on a UN procedure. But only 1 in 20 alleged victims of torture who file complaints with the National Human Rights Commission are given an official forensic examination by the Federal Attorney General’s Office. And only one in eight of those forensic examinations conclude that there is evidence of torture, as official experts often fail to detect physical or mental signs of torture or reach wrong conclusions. 

But even in the cases where torture is detected, the investigation often comes to a halt soon afterwards. The Federal Attorney General had only filed 12 charges of torture between 2006 and the end of 2013.