Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings of criminal suspects. Most killings occurred during security force operations to stem cattle rustling by armed criminal groups in the central, west, and southwest areas as well as during police raids to combat insecurity in urban areas.
The gendarmerie and police inspection offices investigated abuses perpetrated by their officers. The office of army command conducted investigations of military personnel. These offices investigated formal complaints and, more often, incidents that were widely covered in traditional and social media and triggered a backlash from the public. There were more investigations related to such incidents than in previous years. In isolated cases these investigations led to arrest, conviction, and jailing of accused security force members.
Between January and September, press reported at least 135 deaths during security force operations, including members of the security forces and ordinary civilians, as well as those suspected of crimes. Usually the security forces involved were composed of police and gendarmes, but occasionally they included military personnel and prison guards. There were reports of security forces executing suspected cattle thieves or bandits after capture; in most cases security forces claimed those killed attempted to escape and refused to respond to warning shots. These statements by security forces often could not be substantiated. In isolated cases the government launched investigations, arrested, and jailed the accused security force members.
On August 7, soldiers from the Second Inter Arms Battalion (BIA2) shot and killed two villagers and injured another in Ampamoriana in the Bongolava region. The army command reported an armed confrontation, but villagers reported to the local gendarmerie that they had not heard any gunshots from the villagers. Media reported on August 10 that the army command launched an investigation and dismissed the commander of the BIA2 battalion, his deputy, and the chief of the contingent that carried out the raid. There was no reported trial as of November.
A mass prisoner escape from Farafangana Prison in August resulted in security forces killing 23 detainees. International organizations, local civil society groups, and human rights activists characterized the incident as showing excessive use of force by the security forces. A preliminary investigation by the Ministry of Justice revealed that acts of violence and corruption by prison staff incited detainees to organize the massive prison break. The resulting investigation led to the replacement of the prefet (administrator) of Farafangana, the regional director of the penitentiary administration, and the manager of the prison. As of September authorities took no other action against those responsible for the killings (see also section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law provide for the inviolability of the person and prohibit such practices, but security forces subjected prisoners and criminal suspects to physical and mental abuse, including torture during coerced confessions, according to the National Independent Human Rights Commission (CNIDH) in 2019.
Security personnel reportedly used beatings as punishment for alleged crimes or as a means of coercion. There were reports that off-duty and sometimes intoxicated members of the armed forces assaulted civilians. Investigations into these incidents announced by security officials rarely resulted in prosecutions.
On August 1, security forces patrolling in Antohomadinika caught two alleged pickpockets and reportedly forced them into a pool of sewage, made them apologize in front of the large crowd of onlookers, and then handed them over to police investigators.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Factors contributing to impunity included corruption and a lack of reporting of abuses. Offices that investigated abuses included inspection bodies within the gendarmerie, police, and army command. The government did not provide human rights training for security forces, but it collaborated with international organizations to build security forces’ capacity on specific law enforcement problems such as trafficking in persons and child protection.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate food, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and insufficient medical care.
Physical Conditions: Lengthy pretrial detentions, inefficiencies in the judicial system, and inadequate prison infrastructure created a serious overcrowding problem. One penitentiary surpassed its official capacity by nearly eightfold. As reported on UNICEF’s website in June, the country’s 82 prisons and detention centers held 27,600 inmates. This population was more than twice the official capacity of 11,000.
Lengthy pretrial detention was pervasive, contributing significantly to overcrowding. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In August 2019 the CNIDH noted worsening conditions during its visits to 23 of 83 facilities.
Authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults, and some children younger than school age shared cells with their incarcerated mothers. According to the Ministry of Justice, 65 percent of the 44 prisons holding juvenile detainees had separate areas for minors in 2018.
Amnesty International stated in April that detainees continued to be affected by problems such as malnutrition, lack of hygiene, and limited access to medical care. Detained persons were crowded in cells without appropriate lighting and ventilation and slept on the ground with no mattress or blanket.
In August the UN High Commission for Human Rights considered the country’s overcrowded detention centers as a “hotbed” for COVID-19 proliferation. Prisons were overcrowded with generally unhygienic conditions, poor food, and no proper access to health care.
The Ministry of Justice recorded 43 deaths between January and October 2019 compiled from all the detention and prison facilities of the country. The most frequent causes of death from physical conditions were tuberculosis, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal problems. Prison authorities took few remedial actions concerning these deaths.
Ministry of Justice officials indicated that overcrowding at Farafangana Prison contributed to the August violent prison break in which 23 detainees were killed (see section 1.a.).
Administration: While a formal process exists to submit complaints to judicial authorities, few detainees used it due to fear of reprisal. Authorities rarely investigated the complaints they received. Officials authorized weekly visits from relatives and permitted religious observance. Visits outside scheduled days were reportedly possible by bribing guards and penitentiary agents. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported bribes could purchase small privileges, such as allowing family members to bring food for prisoners.
In March the government suspended all family and NGO visits to prisons to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, but relatives continued to bring food for detainees without visiting them. Authorities lifted these restrictions in October.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local NGOs and some diplomatic missions.
Improvements: In April, UNICEF began support that included improving nutrition, and providing basic medicines, personal protective equipment, testing kits, sanitary products for women and girls, and disinfection equipment.
Also in April, NGO Grandir Dignement (Grow with Dignity) reported that it set up a detention watch system to protect juvenile detainees, including twice weekly visits.
In June, President Rajoelina announced a pardon of Antanamora Prison detainees to address overcrowding problems, particularly in view of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Prison authorities subsequently released 3,871 detainees. In addition 7,826 detainees had their prison time shortened as part of the pardon announcement but remained in prison to continue serving their reduced sentences.
The prison administration set up specific areas to isolate new inmates and avoid a massive outbreak of COVID-19. In July the minister of justice announced a strengthening of measures to prevent the spread of the disease through testing of all new detainees, 15 days of quarantine, and close monitoring of health conditions.
On September 16, the government replaced the regional director in charge of penitentiary administration and the manager of the prison of Farafangana. The Midi newspaper reported that authorities took this decision after its investigation of the killing of 23 escaped detainees (see section 1.a.).
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but authorities did not always respect these provisions. Authorities arrested persons on vague charges and detained many suspects for long periods without trial.
The law gives traditional village institutions authority to protect property and public order. In some rural areas, a community-organized judicial system known as dina resolved civil disputes between villagers over such problems as alleged cattle rustling. Dina procedures sometimes conflicted with national laws by imposing harsh sentences without due process or by failing to protect the rights of victims.
The law requires arrest warrants in all cases except those involving “hot pursuit” (the apprehension of a suspect during or immediately after a crime is committed), but authorities often detained persons based on accusations and without judicial authorization. The law requires authorities to charge or release criminal suspects within 48 hours of arrest, but they often held individuals for significantly longer periods before charging or releasing them. Defendants have a right to counsel, and the law entitles those who cannot afford a lawyer to one provided by the state. Many citizens were unaware of this right, and few requested attorneys. Defendants have the right to know the charges against them, but authorities did not always respect this right. Authorities frequently denied bail without justification. Magistrates often resorted to a mandat de depot (retaining writ) under which defendants were held in detention for the entire pretrial period. The law limits the duration of pretrial detention to eight months and regulates the use of the writ, although authorities often exceeded this limit.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, political opponents of the government, demonstrators, human rights activists, and other civilians.
On February 15, the gendarmerie of Ihosy arrested a well known human rights activist on fraud and extortion charges. Civil society organizations described these charges as intimidation designed to suppress his denunciations of corruption among security forces and public officials. By early March authorities released the activist from pretrial detention, and he awaited trial.
Pretrial Detention: As of October 2019, approximately 57 percent of inmates nationwide were in pretrial detention. Pretrial detention ranged from several days to several years. Poor recordkeeping, an outdated judicial system, insufficient numbers of magistrates, and too few courts of first instance contributed to the problem. The length of pretrial detention often exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. In August the minister of justice observed that the restrictions to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak resulted in the extension of the pretrial detention period for a number of detainees as tribunals intermittently closed or reduced their working hours. The government took no action to remedy these extensions.
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was susceptible to outside influence at all levels, and corruption remained a serious problem. There were instances in which the outcome of trials appeared predetermined, and authorities did not always enforce court orders. Lack of training and personnel hampered judicial effectiveness, and case backlogs were “prodigious,” according to Freedom House.
The law reserves military courts for trials of military personnel, and they generally follow the procedures of the civil judicial system, except that military jury members must be officers. Defendants in military cases have access to an appeals process and generally benefit from the same rights available to civilians, although their trials are not public. A civilian magistrate, usually joined by a panel of military officers, presides over military trials.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the courts have the authority to direct that a trial be closed to protect the victim or to maintain public order. Trials were often delayed. Prolonged incarceration without charge, denial of bail, and postponed hearings were common. The law provides for the presumption of innocence, but authorities often ignored this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them.
Defendants have the right to legal counsel at every stage of the proceedings. Many citizens were unaware of their right to counsel, however, and authorities did not systematically inform them of it. Defendants who did not request or could not afford counsel generally received very limited time to prepare their cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, to present and confront witnesses, and to present evidence. Authorities generally respected such rights if defendants had legal representation. The law provides the right to an interpreter for the judicial police, examining magistrate, and the defendant’s legal advisor but does not mention any such right for the defendant, nor whether it is a free service. The law stipulates, however, that the defendant has the right to refuse an interpreter. If an interpreter must be hired, it is at the defendant’s expense. Legislation outlining defendants’ rights does not specifically refer to the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal convictions.
There were reports of political prisoners and detainees. Authorities arrested and imprisoned political leaders and activists, ostensibly on charges unrelated to their political positions or for offenses against the public order. Estimates of their number ranged in the single digits. Generally they received the same protections as other prisoners and detainees. The government permitted access to these persons by humanitarian and human rights organizations.
On June 1, the gendarmerie arrested Berija Ravelomanantsoa, a university student leader close to a former administration, for several allegedly insulting posts on social media, charging him with offenses against the public order and the dignity of public officials including the president. On September 30, the Court of Antananarivo sentenced Ravelomanantsoa to 44 months in prison. There were multiple demonstrations and calls from fellow activists and relatives for his release.
On July 16, police arrested former minister of communication Harry Laurent Rahajason, who served under a former president, for a rally on July 13 calling for the release of Berija Ravelomanantsoa. Pending trial he remained in jail despite calls by his wife and daughter for his release for allegedly serious health problems. Opposition leader and President of the Senate Rivo Rakotovao denounced Rahajason’s continued detention as politically motivated. On October 15, the Court of Antananarivo sentenced Rahajason to 44 months in prison for an unauthorized rally and attempted offense against public security.
On April 1, security forces arrested Ny Rado Rafalimanana, a former presidential candidate and well known opposition figure, during a public COVID-19 testing event in Antananarivo while he accompanied a relative trying to receive a test. The Court of Antananarivo charged him the following day with public disorder and “provoking” the security forces. In July the court temporarily released him pending prosecution for this incident and a separate fraud charge.
Amnesty: During an address to the country in May, the president announced a release of journalists in detention to honor Media Freedom Day. The government released an online newspaper journalist and a television presenter whom authorities had charged with defamation and spreading of false news.
The judiciary deals with all civil matters, including human rights cases, and individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts. There is no prohibition against appealing to regional human rights bodies, but there was no known case of an appeal. The legal system does not recognize the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
On June 18, inhabitants of a site for a new bypass road in Ankadindramamy, Antananarivo complained of losing their land without receiving promised compensation. The inhabitants stated they turned over part of their property in 2018, and authorities informed them in 2019 that all of their property would be required for the project.
The law prohibits such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these provisions.
The CNIDH reported the continuing arrest and preventive detention of women on the pretext of their supposed complicity in the alleged crimes of male family members being sought by authorities. The CNIDH noted the women were entitled to a presumption of innocence and described the practice as ineffective, because male family members rarely turned themselves in to free the detained women.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports government entities or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) is responsible for independently investigating security force abuses, including killings, and can issue formal recommendations for prosecution. State human rights commissions investigate state police forces and can issue similar recommendations. State and federal prosecutors are independent of the executive branch and have the final authority to investigate and prosecute security force abuses. Organized criminal groups were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in collusion with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials.
On May 4, Giovanni Lopez died in police custody after police allegedly beat him for three hours. Municipal police officers from Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, arrested Lopez for resisting arrest and transported him to their precinct after witnesses said he intervened when police attempted to arrest his neighbor. On June 5, the governor announced three municipal police officers had been arrested for Lopez’ death.
On July 3, the newspaper and website El Universal presented a video of soldiers in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, which showed them approaching a truck after a gun battle with suspected cartel members. One of the soldiers discovered a combatant still alive and subsequently received orders to kill the wounded person. A total of 12 persons died in the encounter: nine suspected cartel members who allegedly initiated the gun battle with the army patrol and three bound and gagged kidnapped victims the cartel members were transporting in their trucks when the firefight broke out. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the Secretariat of National Defense launched separate investigations into the incident.
As of September the six federal police agents accused of murder and attempted murder of 16 unarmed civilians in Apatzingan, Michoacan, in 2015 remained in pretrial detention, pending conclusion of the trial.
Environmental activists, the majority from indigenous communities, continued to be targets of violence. In January, Homero Gomez, an indigenous and environmental rights defender, went missing and was later found dead (see section 6, Indigenous People). As of October 15, no suspects had been arrested.
Criminal organizations carried out widespread killings and other illegal activities throughout the country. On April 3, a clash between La Linea cartel and the Sinaloa cartel left 19 persons dead in Madera, Chihuahua.
There were reports of numerous forced disappearances by organized crime groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion. In its data collection, the government often merged statistics on forcibly disappeared persons with missing persons not suspected of being victims of forced disappearance, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.
Investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. According to the Attorney General’s Office, from October 2013 to August 2018, courts issued eight convictions and 17 acquittals for forced disappearance, and another 18 sentences were in the appeals process.
At the federal level, the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for Forced Disappearances was investigating 980 cases of disappeared persons, while other federal offices were investigating 1,000 additional cases as of August, according to the human rights organization SERAPAZ. Some states made progress investigating this crime. From January to July 2019, prosecutors in Veracruz State opened 573 investigations into disappearances, but family members alleged the prosecutors undercounted the actual number of cases.
In February a federal judge in Monterrey sentenced five marines to 22 years in prison and ruled the secretary of the navy should publicly apologize for the 2013 forced disappearance of Armando Humberto del Bosque Villarreal in Colombia, Nuevo Leon. Hunters found the body of del Bosque in a forest outside the naval base two months after he disappeared. The sentences were the first against the armed forces in Nuevo Leon. On December 2, a judge reversed the sentence for failures in the formulation of the accusation, finding that the marines should have been tried according to the General Law on Forced Disappearances of Persons approved in 2017 and not the federal penal code, which was repealed with the passing of the previous rule.
The federal government and states continued to implement the 2017 General Law on Forced Disappearances. By December all 32 states had met the requirement to create state search commissions, according to the National Search Commission (CNB). Through a nationwide assessment process, the CNB revised the government’s official number of missing or disappeared persons repeatedly during the year as additional data became available. As of December the CNB reported there were 79,658 missing or disappeared persons in the country. Some cases dated back to the 1960s, but the vast majority occurred since 2006. The year 2019 had the second-highest number of cases on record, with 8,345 reported missing or disappeared, up from 7,267 cases reported in 2018. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) commended the government for providing a more accurate accounting and urged the government to strengthen efforts to investigate and prosecute cases.
Nationwide, the CNB reported the exhumation of the remains of at least 2,361 persons in 1,413 clandestine graves between December 1, 2018, and November 30, 2020. In July the CNB reported that between January 2006 and June 2020, officials located 3,978 clandestine graves and exhumed 6,625 bodies. The same report noted that between December 1, 2018, and November 2020, of the 894 bodies identified, 506 were returned to families.
In July the CNB launched a public version of the National Registry of Disappeared and Missing Persons. Between January and June, it received 5,905 reports of missing persons and located 3,078 alive and 215 deceased. In December 2019 the government created the Extraordinary Mechanism for Forensic Identification to bring together national and international forensic experts to help identify 37,000 unidentified remains held in government facilities, but as of September it was not fully operational.
During the year the government raised the CNB’s budget to $32.8 million, a 55 percent increase over the 2019 budget. Nonetheless, according to NGOs, the state search committees often lacked the human and financial resources to fulfill their mandate. For example, those in Campeche, Sonora, Tabasco, and Tlaxcala had fewer than five employees on staff, according to an NGO assessment of human rights in the country. Civil society and families of the disappeared stated the government’s actions to prevent and respond to disappearances were largely inadequate and lacked sufficient resources to address the scale of the problem.
On June 26, the bodies of 14 persons were found in Fresnillo, Zacatecas. The state prosecutor general’s office transferred the remains to the Zacatecan Institute of Forensic Sciences, but as of October no arrests had been made.
Jalisco disappearances data remained under scrutiny as more mass graves were discovered. The NGO Mexican Center for Justice for Peace and Development criticized Jalisco’s recordkeeping practices for complaints related to disappeared persons, accusing the Jalisco Prosecutor General’s Office of lacking a methodology for data collection and not being transparent in information sharing. The NGO tallied 2,100 unsolved disappearances from July 2019 to August 2020 (and 9,286 persons unaccounted for overall since the 1960s). The Jalisco Prosecutor General’s Office and the Jalisco Forensics Institute were unable to process increasing numbers of cases, with dozens of sets of human remains discovered during the year.
In November authorities announced the discovery of 113 bodies in a mass grave in El Salto, Jalisco. As of December relatives were able to identify 30 of the bodies. Another mass grave was being excavated in Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, where 25 bodies were found.
The federal government created a National System for the Search of Missing Persons as required by law but as of August had not established the required National Forensic Data Bank. The Prosecutor General’s Office owned a previous genetics database, which consisted of 63,000 profiles, and was responsible for the new database. The previous platform lacked interconnectivity between states and failed to connect family members effectively to the remains of their missing relatives.
Investigations continued into the disappearances of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. Victims’ relatives and civil society continued to criticize handling by the Attorney General’s Office of the original investigation, noting there had been no convictions related to the disappearances of the 43 students. On July 7, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced forensic scientists at the University of Innsbruck conclusively identified the remains of one of the 43 disappeared students, Christian Alfonso Rodriguez Telumbre. This was the first identification made in the case in more than five years.
In June 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office created the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa case. As of October the unit brought charges against former officials for failing to conduct an adequate investigation and using torture to coerce confessions but had not charged anyone for the disappearances of the students.
In March a federal judge issued an arrest warrant for Tomas Zeron, who led the investigation of the case by the former criminal investigations unit in the Attorney General’s Office at the time of the students’ disappearances. Zeron was wanted on charges related to his conduct of the investigation, including torturing alleged perpetrators to force confessions, conducting forced disappearances, altering the crime scene, manipulating evidence, and failing to perform his duties. He was believed to be in Israel, and the government requested that the Israeli government issue an arrest warrant and extradite him.
Also in March a federal judge issued arrest warrants against four government officials and a marine for torturing detainee Carlos Canto Salgado and obstruction of justice in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case. In June the Prosecutor General’s Office arrested Jose Angel Casarrubias, also known as “El Mochomo,” a leader of the Guerreros Unidos cartel that allegedly collaborated with security forces to disappear the students. A judge later ordered his release due to lack of evidence, but the Prosecutor General’s Office detained him again shortly thereafter on separate organized-crime-related charges. As of September the Prosecutor General’s Office detained the head of the Federal Investigative Police, Carlos Gomez Arrieta, who handed himself in, and another high-level official, Blanca Alicia “N” from the Public Ministry, who allegedly tampered with evidence. On November 12, authorities arrested Captain Jose Martinez Crespo, the first arrest of a soldier in the case and one of the officers in charge of the army battalion in Iguala the night of the disappearances. Prosecutors charged him with forced disappearance and colluding with the Guerrero Unidos cartel. By December the Federal Prosecutor’s Office had requested 101 arrest warrants related to the case, of which 63 were issued and 47 carried out, leading to 78 arrests.
In August 2019 a judge dismissed charges against Gildardo Lopez Astudillo for his alleged role in the Ayotzinapa case after finding the evidence collected against him was obtained through torture and arbitrary detention. The Prosecutor General’s Office appealed the dismissal, and as of October the decision was pending.
As of November no alleged perpetrators of the disappearances had been convicted, and 78 of those initially accused were released due to lack of evidence, generally due to irregularities in their detention, including confessions obtained through torture.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Federal law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as the admission of confessions obtained through illicit means as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports of security forces torturing suspects.
In November 2019 the NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights released a 12-year study on torture, which registered 27,342 investigations from 2006 to 2018. There were 10,787 federal investigations and 16,555 state-level investigations, of which 50 resulted in sentences, 15 of which were later exonerated.
Between January and August 20, the CNDH registered 25 complaints of torture and 132 for arbitrary detention. The majority of these complaints were against authorities in the Prosecutor General’s Office, Federal Police, Interior Ministry, and the navy. As of April, 20 of 32 states had specialized prosecutor’s offices for torture as called for by law.
On July 27, Adolfo Gomez was found dead in his jail cell in Chiapas. Authorities declared Gomez hanged himself, but his family said his body showed signs of torture. Gomez was arrested with his wife Josefa in an operation that authorities stated uncovered a trafficking ring of 23 children, but later evidence showed the children were all members of the same extended family and were with their relatives. In August the Chiapas State Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed Gomez committed suicide and announced the arrest of the director and two penitentiary center employees accused of flagrant omission in their duty of care. The accused were released shortly after.
Impunity for torture was prevalent among the security forces. NGOs stated authorities failed to investigate torture allegations adequately. As of January 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office was investigating 4,296 torture-related inquiries under the previous inquisitorial legal system (initiated prior to the 2016 transition to an accusatorial system) and 645 investigations under the accusatorial system. A 2019 report by the Prosecutor General’s Office stated it brought charges in one torture case during that year. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) signed an agreement with the government in April 2019 to provide human rights training to the National Guard, but as of October the OHCHR reported no training had been carried out.
Conditions in prisons and detention centers were often harsh and life threatening.
Physical Conditions: According to the Federal Prison System, as of June there were 210,287 inmates in 295 state and federal facilities with a designed capacity of 221,574. Some prisons were undersubscribed while others were overcrowded. According to online media El Economista, 46 percent of prisoners shared a cell with five or more other inmates and 13 percent shared a cell with 15 or more inmates. The state of Baja California had the highest number of overcrowded cells.
The CNDH’s 2019 National Diagnostic of Penitentiary Supervision reported that state prisons were understaffed and suffered from poor sanitary conditions as well as a lack of opportunities for inmates to develop the skills necessary for social reintegration. The report singled out Guerrero, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz as the states with the worst prison conditions. The CNDH noted significant understaffing at all levels in federal prisons, which affected access to programs, activities, and medical services and promoted segregation of inmates.
Organized criminal groups reportedly continued to oversee illicit activities from within penitentiary walls. The National Prison Administration reported that during an enforcement operation from May to July, it detected nearly 15,000 cell phones in use in 21 prisons around the country and cancelled 16,500 cell phone numbers. On February 20, authorities transferred 27 inmates from Nuevo Laredo’s state prison to Altamiro Federal Prison, according to the Ministry of Public Security in Tamaulipas. This followed an earlier transfer of seven prisoners from Nuevo Laredo to federal prison on January 29. Experts believed the transfers were likely an attempt to break cartel control of Nuevo Laredo’s prisons.
According to civil society groups, migrants at some detention centers faced abuse when commingled with gang members and other criminals.
As of August 17, a total of 2,686 prisoners had contracted COVID-19, 263 had died of the disease, and 3,755 were released to prevent further contagion, according to the NGO Legal Assistance for Human Rights. In response to a civil society organization lawsuit, a Mexico City court ruled authorities must implement COVID-19 detection and preventive health protocols for detainees and their families in prisons in Mexico City and psychiatric wards nationwide. As of September only three states had complied with all or nearly all the court-mandated health measures, according to the NGO Documenta.
The CNDH, in its report on COVID-19 measures in holding facilities, found most detention facilities could not comply with social distancing measures or several other health recommendations due to lack of space, personnel, or equipment.
NGOs alleged the National Migration Institute (INM) failed to take effective steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 among migrants. After initial criticism the INM released or repatriated migrants in its detention facilities to mitigate the spread of infection.
Administration: Authorities did not always conduct investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. In September the NGOs Citizens in Support of Human Rights and Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the governor of Nuevo Leon urging investigations into reports of abusive conditions in the state’s prisons as well as the deaths of three inmates during the year. The NGOs noted only one of the three deaths was being investigated. As of October the governor had not responded to the letter.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, CNDH, and state human rights commissions.
In January more than 20 NGOs and international organizations stated the INM denied them entry to migratory stations to access migrants who arrived in a caravan on January 18-21, preventing independent oversight and denying information to the NGOs. The INM resumed granting access after public criticism.
Improvements: Federal and state facilities continued to seek or maintain international accreditation from the American Correctional Association. As of August, six state facilities received accreditation, raising the total number of state and federal accredited facilities to 98. The six states demonstrated compliance with numerous standards, including written policies and procedures ensuring continual staff training and increased accountability of staff and inmates.
Federal law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements. Between January and August, the CNDH recorded 132 complaints of arbitrary detention.
The constitution allows any person to arrest another if the crime is committed in his or her presence. A warrant for arrest is not required if an official has direct evidence regarding a person’s involvement in a crime, such as having witnessed the commission of a crime. In a 2018 report, Mexico Evalua, a domestic think tank, determined 90 percent of all arrests fell under this category. This arrest authority, however, is applicable only in cases involving serious crimes in which there is risk of flight. Bail is available for most crimes, except for those involving organized crime and a limited number of other offenses. In most cases the law requires detainees to appear before a judge for a custody hearing within 48 hours of arrest, during which authorities must produce sufficient evidence to justify continued detention. This requirement was not followed in all cases, particularly in remote areas of the country. In cases involving organized crime, the law allows authorities to hold suspects up to 96 hours before they must seek judicial review.
The procedure known in Spanish as arraigo (a constitutionally permitted form of pretrial detention employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established) allows, with a judge’s approval, for certain suspects to be detained prior to filing formal charges. Following the introduction of the accusatorial justice system, however, there was a significant reduction in the number of persons detained in this manner, falling from more than 1,900 in 2011 to 21 in 2018.
Some detainees complained of a lack of access to family members and to counsel after police held persons incommunicado for several days and made arrests arbitrarily without a warrant. Police occasionally failed to provide impoverished detainees access to counsel during arrests and investigations as provided for by law, although the right to public defense during trial was generally respected. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for it to lead to other human rights abuses.
The Jalisco State Commission for Human Rights reported at least 118 complaints against police for arbitrary detention, forced disappearance, and abuse of power after statewide protests on June 4-9 following the death of Giovanni Lopez, who died in municipal police custody in Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, and authorities did not always release promptly those detained unlawfully. The accusatorial justice system allows for a variety of pretrial measures, including electronic monitoring, travel restrictions, and house arrest, that reduced the use of the prison system overall, including the use of pretrial detention. The law provides time limits and conditions on pretrial detention, but federal authorities sometimes failed to comply with them, since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system. Violations of time limits on pretrial detention were endemic in state judicial systems. The OHCHR documented cases in the states of Mexico and Chiapas in which detainees remained for more than 12 years in pretrial detention. A constitutional reform passed in February 2019 increased the number of crimes for which pretrial detention is mandatory and bail is not available, including armed robbery, electoral crimes, fuel theft, and weapons possession.
Reports indicated women suffered disproportionately from pretrial detention. As of June, 54 percent of women in federal prison and 46 percent in municipal and state prisons were in pretrial detention, while 39 percent of men in the federal and local judicial system were in pretrial detention, according to a report from the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection. In October authorities announced they would comply with the recommendation of the OHCHR’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and release Brenda Quevedo Cruz, who had spent 11 years in prison without trial. Quevedo Cruz remained in detention at year’s end.
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level, as well as by transnational criminal organizations. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and arrest warrants were sometimes ignored. Across the criminal justice system, many actors lacked the necessary training and resources to carry out their duties fairly and consistently in line with the principle of equal justice.
In 2016 all civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatorial trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. In most states alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.
Under the accusatorial system, judges conduct all hearings and trials and follow the principles of public access and cross-examination. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to attend the hearings and to challenge the evidence or testimony presented. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in most categories of crimes. Defendants have the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. By law attorneys are required to meet professional qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders were qualified, however, and often the state public defender system was understaffed. The administration of public defender services was the responsibility of either the judicial or the executive branch, depending on the jurisdiction. According to the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after their first custody hearing, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.
Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter, if needed, although interpretation and translation services into indigenous languages were not always available. Indigenous defendants who did not speak Spanish sometimes were unaware of the status of their cases and were convicted without fully understanding the documents they were instructed to sign.
The lack of federal rules of evidence caused confusion and led to disparate judicial rulings.
On July 29, legislators approved a law making all judicial sentences public. The increased transparency could discourage discriminatory and arbitrary sentences, according to various NGOs.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Citizens have access to an independent judiciary in civil matters to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, authorities first must find the defendant guilty in a criminal case, a significant barrier due to the relatively low number of criminal convictions.
The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property. By law the government legally collected biometric data from migrants.
According to the NGO Freedom House, “Researchers continued to document cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures targeted with Pegasus spy software. After denying they existed, in February 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office provided evidence of Pegasus licensing contracts in 2016 and 2017.” Freedom House also reported that by March 2019 Citizen Lab and domestic NGOs had documented at least 25 cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures being targeted with the Pegasus software, which is sold exclusively to governments. A 2019 study by WhatsApp and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab found the government continued to use Pegasus.