Mexico is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement won the presidential election on July 1 in generally free and fair multiparty elections and took office on December 1. Citizens also elected members of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, governors, state legislators, and mayors.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included reports of the involvement by police, military, and other state officials, sometimes in coordination with criminal organizations, in unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention by both government and illegal armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions in some prisons; impunity for violence against journalists and state and local censorship and criminal libel; and violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem, with extremely low rates of prosecution for all forms of crimes. The government’s federal statistics agency (INEGI) estimated 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. Organized criminal groups were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in league with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported 25 complaints of “deprivation of life” between January and November 30.
On January 7, more than 200 members of the military, Guerrero state police, and Federal Police arbitrarily arrested and executed three indigenous security force members in La Concepcion. The killings occurred in tandem with reports of the arbitrary arrest of 38 persons, 25 illegal house searches, and the torture of at least eight persons. According to the human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montana Tlachinollan, the security forces arrived to investigate a confrontation between armed persons and community police. Witnesses said state police executed two community police officers during the confrontation. Witnesses alleged two state police officers took a community police officer to a nearby building, where he was later found dead. Representatives of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Mexico City condemned the operation, stating there was evidence human rights violations occurred at the hands of security forces.
In September the CNDH concluded soldiers executed two men and planted rifles on their bodies during a 2017 shootout between authorities and fuel thieves in Palmarito, Puebla. The CNDH recommended the army pay reparations to the victims’ families. Some of the killings were captured on video, including of a soldier appearing to execute a suspect lying on the ground.
There were no developments in the investigation into the 2015 Tanhuato, Michoacan, shooting in which federal police agents were accused of executing 22 persons after a gunfight and of tampering with evidence.
In May a federal judge ordered the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) to reopen the investigation into the 2014 killings of 22 suspected criminals in Tlatlaya, Mexico State, by members of the military, specifically calling for an investigation into the role of the chain of command. The judge ruled that the PGR’s investigation thus far had not been exhaustive, adequate, or effective. (The Government of Mexico has appealed the ruling.) According to multiple NGOs, the four former state attorney general investigative police officers convicted of torturing suspects in this case were released from custody.
Criminal organizations carried out human rights abuses and widespread killings throughout the country, sometimes in coordination with state agents.
There were reports of forced disappearances–the secret abduction or imprisonment of a person by security forces–and of many disappearances related to organized criminal 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. The CNDH registered 38 cases of alleged “forced or involuntary” disappearances through November 30.
Investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. According to information provided by the Federal Judicial Council, from December 1, 2006, to December 31, 2017, only 14 sentences for forced disappearance were issued. At the federal level, as of August 2017, the deputy attorney general for human rights was investigating 943 cases of disappeared persons. Some states were making progress investigating this crime. At the state level, a Veracruz special prosecutor for disappearances detained 65 persons during the year for the crime of forced disappearance.
There were credible reports of police involvement in kidnappings for ransom, and federal officials or members of the national defense forces were sometimes accused of perpetrating this crime.
Nationwide, the CNDH reported the exhumation of the remains of at least 530 persons in 163 clandestine graves between January 1, 2017 and August 31, 2018. The scale and extent of the problem is indicated by the discovery, in the past eight years in Veracruz State, of 601 clandestine graves with the remains of 1,178 victims.
The federal government and several states failed to meet deadlines for implementing various provisions of the November 2017 General Law on Forced Disappearances, and efforts by the federal government were insufficient to address the problem. State-level search commissions should have been established by mid-April; as of August only seven of 32 states had done so. Only 20 states had met the requirement to create specialized prosecutors’ offices focused on forced disappearances. The federal government created a National System for the Search of Missing Persons as required by the law but had not established the required National Forensic Data Bank and Amber Alert System as of this reporting period.
As of April 30, according to the National Registry of Missing Persons, a total of 37,435 individuals were recorded as missing or disappeared, up 40 percent, compared with the total number at the end of 2014. The National Search Commission, created in March, shut down this registry in July as part of the process to create a new registry, which it planned to make public in early 2019. The new database would include more than 24,000 genetic profiles of the relatives of the disappeared as well as information such as fingerprints, parents’ names, and dates of birth of the victims, according to government officials.
In February an estimated 31 former high-ranking Veracruz state security officials and members of the state police involved in disappearances and acts of torture in 2013 were ordered apprehended on charges of forced disappearance. Former state police chief Roberto Gonzalez Meza was among the 19 arrested in February. In June former state attorney general Luis Angel Bravo Contreras was arrested and placed in custody while awaiting trial on charges related to the forced disappearance of 13 individuals. An additional seven Veracruz former state police officers were detained in August for the crime of forced disappearance of two persons in 2013.
In May the OHCHR announced it had documented the disappearance of 23 individuals–including five minors–by Mexican security forces between February and May in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. The federal Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Disappearances opened an investigation into the disappearances in June, and the navy temporarily suspended 30 personnel while they conducted an investigation.
On June 4, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court in Tamaulipas ruled that authorities had failed to investigate indications of military and federal police involvement in the disappearance of 43 students from a teacher-training college in Ayotzinapa in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The court faulted the PGR for not investigating evidence that suspects were tortured to coerce confessions while in PGR custody. During the year the PGR indicted 31 municipal police officers for kidnapping, involvement with organized crime, and aggravated homicide related to the case. Victims’ relatives and civil society continued to be highly critical of PGR’s handling of the investigation, noting there had been no convictions relating to the disappearances of the 43 students. The court ruled that PGR’s investigation had not been prompt, effective, independent, or impartial and ordered the government to create a special investigative commission composed of representatives of the victims, PGR, and CNDH. The government appealed the ruling, claiming it infringed upon the principle of separation of powers. An intermediate court upheld the appeal, and the case was scheduled to go to the Supreme Court for review. On December 2, one day after his inauguration, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered the creation of a truth commission–headed by the deputy minister for human rights of the Ministry of Interior–to re-examine the disappearances.
In other developments related to the Ayotzinapa case, on March 15 the OHCHR released a report of gross violations of human rights and due process in the Ayotzinapa investigation, including arbitrary detention and torture. The OHCHR found “solid grounds” to conclude at least 34 individuals were tortured in the course of the investigation, most of them while in the custody of the PGR’s Sub-Prosecutor for Organized Crime. The report highlighted the possible extrajudicial killing of one suspect, Emannuel Alejandro Blas Patino, who was allegedly tortured to death by asphyxiation with a plastic bag and multiple blows to his body by officials from the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR) on October 27, 2014.
On June 5, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Mechanism issued a follow-up report that found the government’s investigation into the Ayotzinapa case had been fragmented, with many lines of investigation proceeding slowly or prematurely dismissed. The report acknowledged some progress in the investigation, including the creation of a map of graves and crematorium ovens in the region, steps taken to investigate firearms possibly used on the night of the events, topographic survey work conducted using remote sensing technology, and following up with ground searches for possible burial sites.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and confessions obtained through illicit means are not admissible as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports that security forces tortured suspects.
As of November 30, the CNDH registered 57 complaints of torture. Between January 1, 2017, and August 2018, the CNDH recorded 496 complaints of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The majority of these complaints were from Tamaulipas, Mexico City, Mexico State, and Veracruz; federal police and PGR officials were accused of being responsible in most torture cases. NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH misclassified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.
Less than 1 percent of federal torture investigations resulted in prosecution and conviction, according to government data. The PGR conducted 13,850 torture investigations between 2006 and 2016, and authorities reported 31 federal convictions for torture during that period. The federal Specialized Torture Investigation Unit, created in 2015 within the PGR, reported in February it had opened 8,335 investigations but had presented charges in only 17 cases.
According to the national human rights network “All Rights for All” (Red TDT), as of August only two states, Chihuahua and Colima, had updated their state torture law to comply with the federal law passed in 2017. Only eight states had assigned a specialized torture prosecutor, and many of them lacked the necessary resources to investigate cases. According to the NGO INSYDE, there were not enough doctors and psychologists who could determine if psychological torture had occurred, and authorities were still struggling to investigate torture accusations from incarcerated victims.
In March the OHCHR found “solid grounds” to conclude at least 34 individuals were tortured in the course of the investigation of the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala in 2014 (see section 1.b.).
In June the World Justice Project reported the ongoing transition to an oral-accusatory justice system from the previous written, inquisitorial system had reduced the frequency of torture.
In July 2017, INEGI published the National Survey of Detained Persons, which surveyed individuals held in all municipal, state, or federal prisons. Of detainees who had given a statement to a public prosecutor, 46 percent reported being pressured by the police or other authorities to give a different version of the events. Of detainees who had confessed, 41 percent said they declared their guilt due to pressure, threats, or physical assaults. Detainees reported physical violence (64 percent) and psychological threats (76 percent) during their arrest and reported that, while at the public prosecutor’s office, they were held incommunicado or in isolation (49 percent), threatened with false charges (41 percent), undressed (40 percent), tied up (29 percent), blindfolded (26 percent), and suffocated (25 percent). According to 20 percent, authorities made threats to their families, and 5 percent reported harm to their families.
On September 6, the CNDH called upon federal authorities to investigate the alleged illegal detention and torture of 17 persons between 2013 and 2017 by SEMAR marines. The CNDH stated that 17 federal investigators ignored or delayed acting on reports made by the victims. The CNDH detailed sexual assaults, beatings, electric shocks, and suffocation committed by marines against their captives before turning them over to federal law enforcement. The detentions and torture allegedly occurred in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa, Veracruz, and Zacatecas.
There was one report that torture was used to repress political speech. The Oaxaca Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Equity reported a series of escalating attacks, including torture against human rights defenders in Oaxaca in retaliation for their activities. For example, after Oaxaca human rights defenders Arturo Villalobos Ordonez and Patricia Mendez publicly denounced police repression and other abuses in Nochixtlan and other abuses, their minor daughter suffered threats and harassment starting in January and culminating in an incident May 7 in which two men entered her home, stomped on her head, submerged her in water, showed her pictures of mutilated corpses, and threatened that her parents would face the same fate if she did not reveal their whereabouts.
On April 30, the CNDH issued a formal report to the director of the National Migration Institute (INM), indicating that INM personnel committed “acts of torture” against a Salvadoran migrant in October 2017. According to the CNDH document, the victim accompanied another migrant to a migratory station in Mexicali, where an INM official and two guards repeatedly physically struck the migrant and threatened him for 15 to 20 minutes. The CNDH concluded the victim suffered a fractured rib and other injuries as well as psychological trauma.
In a November report, the NGO Centro Prodh documented 29 cases of sexual torture between 2006 and 2015 in 12 states (Baja California, Ciudad de Mexico, Coahuila, Estado de Mexico, Guerrero, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz); 16 of the 29 cases were reported as rape. Twenty-seven women had reported their torture to a judge, but in 18 cases, no investigation was ordered. Members of the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA), SEMAR, federal police, and state police of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Coahuila were allegedly involved.
In December 2017 the OHCHR Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment issued a report based on a 2016 visit that noted torture was a widespread practice in the country. The subcommittee noted that disparities in the classification of the crime of torture in the states continued to generate real or potential gaps that lead to impunity.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh and life threatening due to corruption; overcrowding; abuse; inmate violence; alcohol and drug addiction; inadequate health care, sanitation, and food; comingling of pretrial and convicted persons; and lack of security and control.
Physical Conditions: According to a 2017 CNDH report, federal, state, and local detention centers suffered from “uncontrolled self-government in aspects such as security and access to basic services, violence among inmates, lack of medical attention, a lack of opportunities for social reintegration, a lack of differentiated attention for groups of special concern, abuse by prison staff, and a lack of effective grievance mechanisms.” The most overcrowded prisons were plagued by riots, revenge killings, and jailbreaks. Criminal gangs often held de facto control. Inmates staged mass escapes, battled each other, and engaged in shootouts using guns that police and guards smuggled into prisons.
Health and sanitary conditions were often poor, and most prisons did not offer psychiatric care. Some prisons were staffed with poorly trained, underpaid, and corrupt correctional officers, and authorities occasionally placed prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely. Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted criminals. The CNDH noted that the lack of access to adequate health care, including specialized medical care for women, was a significant problem. Food quality and quantity, heating, ventilation, and lighting varied by facility, with internationally accredited prisons generally having the highest standards.
The CNDH found several reports of sexual abuse of inmates in the state of Mexico’s Netzahualcoyotl Bordo de Xochiaca Detention Center. Cases of sexual exploitation of inmates were also reported in Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.
In March the CNDH released its 2017 National Diagnostic of Penitentiary Supervision. The report singled out the states of Nayarit, Guerrero, and Tamaulipas for poor prison conditions. The report highlighted overcrowding, self-governance, and a lack of personnel, protection, hygienic conditions, and actions to prevent violent incidents. The report faulted prisons for failing to separate prisoners who have yet to be sentenced from convicts.
The CNDH found the worst conditions in municipal prisons. The CNDH determined that public security agents used excessive force in an October 2017 Cadereyta prison riot that left 18 persons dead and 93 injured. Self-governance at the prison led to the riot, which was exacerbated by the state public security and civil forces’ inadequate contingency planning. This was the fifth lethal riot at a Nuevo Leon prison since 2016.
In December 2017 the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment published a report based on a 2016 visit, concluding municipal prisons had deplorable conditions. The report found infrastructure, hygiene, and services were inadequate. There was little natural light and ventilation, cells were cold at night, and prisoners did not have access to blankets. The subcommittee encountered numerous prisoners, including minors, who had not received water or food for 24 hours. The subcommittee observed some centers lacked medical equipment and basic medication. Prisoners had to rely on family members to provide medication, thus low-income prisoners were sometimes left without medical care.
A 2016 INEGI survey of 211,000 inmates in the country’s 338 state and federal penitentiaries revealed that 87 percent of inmates reported bribing guards for items such as food, telephone calls, and blankets or mattresses. Another survey of 64,000 prisoners revealed that 36 percent reported paying bribes to other inmates, who often controlled parts of penitentiaries. Six of 10 LGBTI prisoners were victims of abuse such as sexual violence and discrimination at the hands of other prisoners or security officials, according to a 2015 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) report.
According to civil society groups, migrants in some migrant detention centers faced abuse when comingled with MS-13 gang members. In addition, they reported some migration officials discouraged persons from applying for asylum, claiming their applications were unlikely to be approved, and that some officials from the National Institute of Migration kidnapped asylum seekers for ransom.
Administration: Prisoners and detainees could file complaints regarding human rights violations. Authorities did not always conduct proper investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the CNDH, and state human rights commissions.
Improvements: Federal and state facilities continued to seek or maintain international accreditation from the American Correctional Association. As of September the total number of state and federal accredited facilities was 92, an increase of 11 facilities from August 2017. Chihuahua and Guanajuato were the only states to have all their prisons accredited.