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MEXICO 2021

The government continued to make public statements attacking civil society organizations, the media, human rights defenders and academics, as well as women protesting against gender-based violence. There were repeated reports of excessive use of force by police officials when detaining people or policing protests and by members of the National Migration Institute (INM) and the National Guard against migrants. Women and girls continued to face high levels of gender-based violence and criminal investigations for feminicides remained inadequate. The Supreme Court issued a historic ruling decriminalizing abortion.

Background

Despite international recommendations, as part of its public security strategy, the presidential administration continued to deploy the largest number of military personnel in the streets since the beginning of the “war on drugs” in 2006, according to official data released following freedom of information requests. It also presented a bill to formally incorporate the National Guard into the armed forces. The National Guard was the security force with most complaints filed against it before the National Human Rights Commission, with an increase in complaints received compared to the previous year.

A truth and justice commission was established in relation to grave human rights violations committed during the “Dirty War” (1960s to 1980s). Civil society organizations praised the inclusion of victims in the process yet highlighted the need to guarantee collaboration from the army in making historic archives available.

The independence of the judiciary was put at risk by a legislative reform to extend the term of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the counsellors of the Federal Judiciary; it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in November.

In June, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional articles of the General Health Law prohibiting the recreational use of cannabis.

In October, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional some articles of the National Law on the Use of Force and asked Congress to legislate on several principles that were left out of the law. However, it did not rule on the creation of an external police observatory, as ruled by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, regarding the serious human rights violations committed in San Salvador Atenco in May 2006.

Enforced disappearances and impunity

Authorities registered at least 7,698  cases of missing and disappeared persons during 2021, of which 69% were men and 31% were women. This brought the total number of reports of missing and forcibly disappeared people in Mexico since 1964 to over 97,000 by the end of the year. Impunity largely prevailed on this issue, with just 35 convictions for the crime of enforced disappearance. According to official figures, the bodies of more than 52,000 people remained unidentified, most of them in mass graves. Several people searching for their missing relatives were killed during the year; no one had been brought to justice for the killings by the end of the year.

In April, authorities arrested 30 marines accused of a series of enforced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, in 2018, 12 of whom were subsequently released by administrators of justice on procedural grounds. In July, the navy offered a public apology for the disappearance of 47 people in the same incidents and pledged to cooperate with ongoing investigations.

In June, the Attorney General’s Office announced the identification of the remains of Jhosivani Guerrero, the third of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa who went missing in 2014 to have been identified. After considerable delays, in September, the President sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Israel, emphasizing the importance of the extradition of Tomás Zerón, accused of torture in the Ayotzinapa case and currently seeking asylum in Israel. Parents of the Ayotzinapa students reported that the Ministry of Defence hindered the progress of the investigations in the case.

The UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) visited Mexico in November and noted the challenge of tackling disappearances as “immense” and called on authorities to redouble efforts to combat structural impunity and ensure coordination between different government ministries.

Unlawful killings

In March, several UN bodies and human rights organizations condemned the death of Victoria Salazar, a Salvadoran refugee, at hands of four police officers in Tulum, state of Quintana Roo, as a result of excessive force during her arrest.

In August, 23-year-old José Eduardo Ravelo died of multiple injuries inflicted by police officers in the state of Mérida. The National Human Rights Commission concluded that his death was the result of excessive force and torture during his detention. By the end of the year, no one had been brought to justice for these crimes.

In September, two former state and federal police commanders were arrested, accused of responsibility in the repression of a teachers’ protest in 2016 in Nochixtlán, state of Oaxaca, that left at least six people dead and more than 100 injured.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

In May, the cases of Daniel García Rodríguez and Reyes Alpizar Ortíz reached the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The two men had been held in pretrial detention since 2002.

In June, police in the city of León, state of Guanajuato, detained dozens of people for not wearing masks, without taking measures to prevent Covid-19 infection during the arrests.1 Several were held for several hours before being brought before a judge.

Torture and other ill-treatment

In August, the President issued a decree, in line with provisions of pre-existing national laws, to release prisoners held in prolonged pretrial detention who were elderly or victims of torture. However, the decree did not adopt recommendations from civil society organizations and restricted the threshold for proving torture to people who had had a medical examination based on the Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Istanbul Protocol). It also excluded prisoners accused of involvement in organized crime and kidnapping. The decree resulted in approval of the release of more than 682 prisoners and 4,233 files were under review.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on Mexican authorities to immediately release Verónica Razo Casales, held in pretrial detention since 2011, and convicted by a federal judge in December 2021. She had been arbitrarily detained and tortured with rape by members of the Federal Police.

Authorities detained a former Federal Police commander accused of torture in the case of French citizen Florence Cassez. She was detained in 2007 and released in 2013 after being cleared of the crime of kidnapping. Her co-defendant, Israel Vallarta, also a torture victim, remained in pretrial detention, 15 years after his arrest.

The National Programme for the Prevention and Punishment of Torture and Ill-treatment had still not been published by the end of the year.

Freedom of expression and assembly

Authorities continued to stigmatize and repress feminist protests and to misuse the criminal justice system to discourage people from taking part in them. Days before International Women’s Day demonstrations, the President and some other officials described the protests as violent. In the states of Querétaro, Aguascalientes and Jalisco, the security forces detained at least 44 women protesters for allegedly damaging property, in some cases demanding large sums of money to clear them of responsibility.

In May, during a protest by students from the Mactumactzá Rural Normal School in the state of Chiapas, the authorities detained 97 people. Of these, 74 were women, some of whom reported being subjected to sexual violence by police officers.

In June, a court handed down a second conviction against the former mayor of Chínipas, state of Chihuahua, for the killing of journalist Miroslava Breach in 2017.

The organization Article 19 recorded at least seven killings of journalists during the year.

An investigation revealed that the former government purchased Pegasus software to carry out secret surveillance of dozens of journalists, activists and human rights defenders.2 In November, authorities arrested a man as a suspected operator of the espionage software.

In response to student protests, police from the Federal Protection Service took charge of security at the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching in December, a public university in Mexico City, making it one of the very few academic institutions in the country to have a police presence on campus.3

Violence against women and girls

The authorities registered 3,427 killings of women in the country during the year, of which 887 were under investigation as feminicides.

In the state of Mexico, the state with the highest number of feminicides in 2021, there were serious flaws in the criminal investigations of these crimes.4 The authorities failed to properly safeguard the evidence collected, examine all lines of investigation and correctly apply a gender perspective. As a result, it was left to families to invest time and money in pursuing investigations, which increased the likelihood that these crimes would go unpunished. In addition, victims’ families continued to be threatened and mistreated by the authorities.

These shortcomings were neither unique to the state of Mexico nor new (they had already been observed in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, since the 1990s) but served to highlight Mexico’s persistent failure to investigate and prevent violence against women.

In May, a statue in memory of Karla Pontigo was installed in San Luis Potosí as part of the reparation for her killing. Her feminicide remained unpunished.

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders continued to face high levels of violence and the vast majority of attacks remained unpunished.

Organizations reported an increase in violence against defenders of the land, territory and environment. The government made statements calling into question the work of organizations and communities that opposed megaprojects promoted by the presidential administration.

The whereabouts of human rights defenders Grisell Pérez Rivera, Claudia Uruchurtu Cruz and Irma Galindo, who disappeared in March and October in the states of Mexico and Oaxaca, remained unknown at the end of the year. In June, the OHCHR expressed concern about the disappearances and killings of several leaders of the Yaqui Indigenous people in Sonora state.

In November, the media reported that instead of investigating the 2011 San Fernando massacre of 193 people, the Public Prosecutor’s Office opened criminal proceedings in 2016 for kidnapping and organized crime against a journalist and two human rights defenders who had been documenting and accompanying the families.

The Interior Minister reported that by October, 1,506 people were beneficiaries of the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, of whom 1,011 were human rights defenders. He announced reforms to consolidate the Mechanism and strengthen investigations into attacks against defenders.

By the end of the year, the recommendations of the OHCHR regarding the creation of a comprehensive policy to protect human rights defenders had yet to be implemented.

Right to health

During the year, 55.9% of the population received full Covid-19 vaccination. The authorities ignored WHO standards by omitting private sector health professionals from the first stage of vaccination.

One year on from his unfair dismissal after he spoke out about poor working conditions, Jorge Pérez, a 70-year-old cleaner in a public hospital, had not obtained justice or redress.

Sexual and reproductive rights

In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court determined in September that the criminalization of abortion in the state of Coahuila was unconstitutional. The Court opened the way for decriminalization in the rest of the country by establishing this as a mandatory criterion to be applied by judges in all states.

Months earlier, Hidalgo and Veracruz joined the list of states that authorized abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy; Baja California did so in October and Colima in December. By the end of the year abortion was legal in six states.

The Supreme Court also invalidated the clause on conscientious objection to abortion by medical professionals contained in the health law and asked the legislature to approve a new clause that guarantees that refusals to provide abortion care is exercised without putting at risk the human rights of others, especially the right to health.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers continued to face excessive use of force, arbitrary detention and unlawful returns by the authorities, as well as abductions and killings by non-state actors. In January, the burned bodies of 19 people, including 16 Guatemalans, were found in a vehicle in Camargo municipality, Tamaulipas, an area where criminal gangs operate and migrants often try to cross the border with the USA. By November, authorities had detained 252,526 people in overcrowded immigration detention centres that did not comply with basic sanitary measures, despite the pandemic. Children were among those held, although the law expressly prohibits the detention of children.

The country’s refugee agency received 131,448 asylum applications in 2021, the highest to date. For the first time, the largest number of asylum seekers came from Haiti, followed by Honduras. Tens of thousands of people, mostly Haitians, were stranded in precarious conditions in Tapachula, state of Chiapas, for months as the asylum system collapsed due to high demand, and the INM initially refused to issue humanitarian visas allowing them to work or move to another state, as required by law.5

Local organizations reported that from August onwards the authorities carried out unlawful deportations at the border with Guatemala of Central Americans and Haitians detained in the Mexican interior or at the US border. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and OHCHR condemned the excessive use of force by the INM and the National Guard against thousands of Haitians seeking to leave the state of Chiapas. The authorities subsequently carried out raids in several states of the country to detain Haitians. In October, the National Guard fired on a truck carrying migrants in Chiapas state, causing the death of two migrants.

By November, authorities had sent back 101,571 people, most from Central America. Among them were thousands of unaccompanied children whose best interests the authorities failed to take into account.6

LGBTI people’s rights

The state congresses of Baja California, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Sinaloa, Sonora, Yucatán and Zacatecas approved same-sex marriage, bringing the number of states that recognize same-sex marriage to 26 A reform approved in the state of Mexico brought to 14 the number of states that have laws guaranteeing recognition of gender identity and allow people to change the name and gender on their birth certificates.

Mexico had the second highest number of attacks against LGBTI people in the region. The National Observatory of Hate Crimes Against LGBT Persons recorded at least 72 killings and disappearances during the year.

Indigenous peoples’ rights

As in previous years, Congress failed to pass a law to regulate Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent, guaranteed under ILO Convention 169, despite a 2020 Supreme Court ruling. The President passed a decree to fast-track approval processes for infrastructure and megaprojects, overriding environmental approvals and processes for consultation with Indigenous peoples. The Supreme Court placed an injunction on the decree following a constitutional challenge presented by the national transparency agency.

Failure to tackle climate crisis

The government proposed a reform to the electricity and energy sector which experts said posed risks to investment in the renewable energy sector.

Mexicos new commitments on climate change presented at the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in November were criticized for being essentially almost the same as its commitments of 2015.


  1. “Mexico: Open letter from Amnesty International to the Governor of Guanajuato and the President of León Municipality”, 29 June (Spanish only)
  2. Mexico: Pegasus in México: No to surveillance”, 28 July (Spanish only)
  3. “Mexico: The entry of the SPF into the CIDE to carry out security and surveillance tasks has a chilling effect that inhibits the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression of people in that academic institution”, 31 December (Spanish only)
  4. Mexico: Justice on Trial: Failures in Criminal Investigations of Femicides Preceded by Disappearance in the State of Mexico (Index: AMR 41/4556/2021), 20 September
  5. Haiti: Not Safe Anywhere: Haitians on the Move Need Urgent International Protection (Index: AMR 36/4920/2021), 28 October
  6. USA: Pushed into Harm’s Way: Forced Returns of Unaccompanied Migrant Children to Danger by the USA and Mexico (Index: AMR 51/4200/2021), 11 June