Note: This report was updated 4/07/17; see Appendix F: Errata for more information.
Mexico, which has 32 states, is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. In 2012 President Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won election to a single six-year term in elections observers considered free and fair. Citizens elected members of the Senate in 2012 and members of the Chamber of Deputies in 2015. Observers considered the June gubernatorial elections free and fair.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights-related problems included involvement by police and military in serious abuses, such as unlawful killings, torture, and disappearances. Impunity and corruption in the law enforcement and justice system remained serious problems. Organized criminal groups killed, kidnapped, extorted, and intimidated citizens, migrants, journalists, and human rights defenders.
The following additional problems persisted: poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; intimidation and violence against human rights defenders and journalists; violence against migrants; violence against women; domestic violence; abuse of persons with disabilities; threats and violence against some members of the indigenous population; threats against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; trafficking in persons; and child labor, including forced labor by children.
Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem throughout the country with extremely low rates of prosecution for all forms of crimes.
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 many reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. Organized criminal groups also were implicated in numerous killings, often acting with impunity and at times in league with corrupt state, local, and security officials. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported 27 complaints for “deprivation of life” between January and November.
On August 2, authorities arrested Juan Carlos Arreygue, the mayor of the municipality of Alvaro Obregon, and four police officers, including a commander, in connection with the killing of 10 persons detained by police on July 29. According to news reports, Alvaro Obregon police under instructions from the mayor, detained the civilians and executed them, later burning their bodies. The criminal investigation into the case continued at year’s end.
In April a federal court charged the commander of the 97th Infantry Battalion and three other military officers for the July 2015 illegal detention and extrajudicial killing of seven suspected members of an organized criminal group in Calera, Zacatecas. No trial date had been set at year’s end.
On August 18, the CNDH released a report that accused federal police of executing 22 persons after a gunfight in May 2015 near Tanhuato, Michoacan, and of tampering with evidence. The CNDH report concluded that two of the men killed were tortured and 13 were killed after they had been detained. One police officer was killed in the incident. National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia claimed the officers acted in self-defense. In response to the CNDH report, President Enrique Pena Nieto removed Federal Police Chief Enrique Galindo from his position to allow for “an agile and transparent investigation.” No federal police agents were charged, and the federal investigation continued at year’s end.
Authorities made no additional arrests in connection with the January 2015 killing of 10 individuals and illegal detentions and injury to a number of citizens in Apatzingan, Michoacan.
In May a civilian federal judge acquitted and dismissed all charges against the remaining members of the military with pending charges in relation to the 2014 killings of 22 suspected criminals in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico. The court ruled that the evidence was insufficient to convict. In April the press reported that in October 2015 the Sixth Military Court dropped the charges against six soldiers and convicted one soldier, sentencing him to time served. In a report released in October 2015 before the verdicts, the CNDH determined that authorities arbitrarily deprived at least 12 to 15 of the civilians of life and tortured some of the witnesses. In July authorities of the State of Mexico declared they intended to fire nine state-level investigators from the General Prosecutor’s Office and suspend 21 others for misconduct related to the case. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concerns regarding the lack of convictions in the case and the perceived failure to investigate the chain of command.
Former military corporal, Juan Ortiz Bermudez, appealed his 2015 conviction to 18 years’ imprisonment for intentional homicide in the 2010 killing of two unarmed civilians in Nuevo Leon. Authorities had not scheduled a hearing at year’s end.
Criminal organizations carried out human rights abuses and widespread killings throughout the country. For example, from July 9 to 15, criminal gangs executed several families in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas in what media reported as a war among drug-trafficking organizations. Criminals also targeted mayors (at least six killed this year) and other public officials. From 2006 to the middle of the year, 82 mayors were killed in the country.
News reports and NGO sources noted that from January 2015 to August, authorities discovered more than 724 bodies in several hundred clandestine graves throughout the country, the majority of killings were suspected to have been carried out by criminal organizations.
Federal law prohibits forced disappearances, but laws relating to forced disappearances vary widely across the 32 states and not all classify “forced disappearance” as distinct from murder or kidnapping. Investigation, prosecution, and sentencing for the crime of disappearance remained rare. The CNDH reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that as of October 2015, authorities opened 95 investigations at the state level for forced disappearances in nine states, resulting in four indictments but no convictions.
There were many reports of forced disappearances by security forces. There were numerous cases of disappearances related to organized criminal groups. In its data collection, the government often merged disappeared persons with missing persons, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.
The CNDH registered 16 cases of alleged forced disappearances through the end of October.
The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) revamped its Special Unit for Disappeared Persons in 2015, establishing expanded authorities and transferring 846 open cases from the predecessor PGR unit. The unit employed approximately 30 prosecutors and, as of May, was investigating the cases of 1,050 missing or disappeared persons. In June the attorney general appointed a prosecutor to lead the unit.
Authorities arrested 13 persons, including eight state police officers; they faced charges for the January 11 disappearance of five youths from Tierra Blanca, Veracruz. On February 8, federal authorities located the remains of two of the youths on a property reportedly used by drug traffickers after one officer admitted to the abduction and transfer of the youths to a local criminal gang. Several containers found there contained human remains estimated to belong to hundreds of victims killed over a period of several years.
On April 28, a 17-year-old boy disappeared in the state of Veracruz, with the alleged participation of the Veracruz state police called “Fuerza Civil.” International NGOs reported that the boy’s mother had difficulty filing the disappearance report with the state attorney general’s office.
On November 10, the IACHR launched the follow-up mechanism agreed to by the government, the IACHR, and the families of the 43 students who disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The government provided funding for the mechanism that follows up the work of the group of independent experts who supported the investigation of the disappearances and assisted the families of the victims from March 2015 to April 30. At the end of their mandate in April, the experts released a final report strongly critical of the government’s handling of the case.
According to information provided by the PGR in November, authorities had indicted 168 individuals and arrested 128, including 73 police officers from Cocula and Iguala and 55 alleged members of the Guerrero-based drug trafficking organization, Guerreros Unidos. Representatives of civil society organizations and the IACHR-affiliated experts noted that authorities held many of those arrested on charges such as participation in a criminal organization but not on involvement in the students’ disappearances. A CNDH report implicated federal police and local police officers from nearby Huitzuco. In October authorities arrested the former police chief of Iguala, who had been in hiding since the 2014 disappearances. Both federal and state authorities continued at year’s end to investigate the case, including the whereabouts of the missing students or their remains.
Kidnappings remained a serious problem for persons at all socioeconomic levels, and there were credible reports of instances of police involvement in kidnappings for ransom, often at the state and local level. The government’s statistics agency (INEGI) estimated that 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated and that underreporting for kidnapping may be even higher.
Coahuila state authorities issued arrest warrants in June for 15 individuals–10 of whom were former police–for forced disappearances in the border state of Coahuila. According to state authorities, from 2009 to 2012, the Zetas transnational criminal organization, allegedly in collusion with local police, carried out mass disappearances in the border towns of Piedras Negras, Allende, and Nava. Elements of the organization allegedly killed some of the victims and disposed of their remains in Piedras Negras’ state prison.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices and stipulates confessions obtained through illicit means are not admissible as evidence in court, but there were reports that government officials employed them.
There is no national registry of torture cases, and a lack of data on torture cases at the state level.
As of October 31, the CNDH registered 206 complaints of alleged torture and 451 cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH misclassified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.
News reports indicated that the PGR was examining 4,000 cases of torture in the first nine months of the year. The reports indicated that judges issued 14 arrest warrants for torture, including five arrest warrants for army and federal police members.
In June a report by Amnesty International accused security officials of using sexual and other types of torture to secure confessions from women.
On April 14, a video was posted on social media showing a woman being tortured by two soldiers and members of the Federal Police in an incident that took place in February 2015 in Ajuchitlan del Progreso, state of Guerrero. The secretary of defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos, made an unprecedented public apology. National Security Commissioner Renato Sales also offered a public apology. In January authorities detained two of the soldiers allegedly implicated, and they faced civilian charges of torture as well as military charges of disobeying orders. Authorities suspended members of the Federal Police for their involvement.
On January 20, a federal court in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua sentenced army Colonel Elfego Jose Lujan Ruiz (the former commander of the 35th Infantry Battalion in Nuevo Casas Grandes) to 33 years in prison for the 2009 torture, homicide, and clandestine burial of two men. Authorities also sentenced five other convicted former soldiers of the 35th Infantry Battalion; three to 33 years in prison for the same crimes and two to 39 months in prison for torture.
In April authorities sentenced army General Manuel Moreno Avina to 52 years’ imprisonment for the torture, homicide, and destruction of human remains of a man in Chihuahua in 2008. The federal judge also ordered the Ministry of Defense (SEDENA) to offer a public apology and accept responsibility for killing the man. Media reported that, as of October 31, authorities sentenced 21 soldiers who were under Moreno’s command on charges related to torture, homicide, drug trafficking, and other crimes.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention centers were often harsh and life threatening due to corruption, overcrowding, prisoner abuse, alcohol and drug addiction, and lack of security and control.
Civil society groups reported abuses of migrants in some detention centers.
Physical Conditions: In a report published during the year, the IACHR noted that federal and state 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 real opportunities for social reintegration, a lack of differentiated attention for groups of special concern, abuse by prison staff, and lack of effective grievance mechanisms.”
There were numerous cases of corruption in the penitentiary system, including allegations of high-level corruption related to the July 2015 escape of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The IACHR reported that 200 of the 388 penitentiary centers in the country were overcrowded. News reports indicated that Hidalgo State had the most overcrowded prisons and identified the district jail in Tepeaca, Puebla, as the most overcrowded (329 inmates in a jail designed for 49); 239 of the prisoners were awaiting their sentences. In April the CNDH reported that overcrowding in prisons was the main factor in lack of social rehabilitation. Health and sanitary conditions were poor, and most prisons did not offer psychiatric care. Some prisons often were staffed with poorly trained, underpaid, and corrupt correctional officers, and authorities occasionally placed prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely. Prisoners often had to bribe guards to acquire food, medicine, and other necessities. In some cases prisoners reportedly had to pay a fee to be permitted to visit with family members. Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted criminals. The CNDH noted a lack of access to adequate health care 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 reported conditions for female prisoners, particularly for women who lived with their children in prison, were inferior to those for men, due to a lack of appropriate living facilities and specialized medical care. There were reports women who lived with their children in prison did not receive extra food or assistance.
The CNDH reported 52 homicides and 23 suicides in state and district prisons in 2015. The CNDH noted in its 2015 report on prisons that 86 prisons did not have a suicide prevention system. On February 11, 49 inmates were killed in the deadliest prison riot in history at the Nuevo Leon state prison of Topo Chico. In June, three prisoners were killed and 14 injured in another riot at the same prison. A senior Nuevo Leon state official cited poor prison conditions and a lack of funding as primary contributing factors for continued violence at the prison.
Administration: At some state prisons, recordkeeping remained inadequate. While prisoners and detainees could file complaints regarding human rights violations, access to justice was inconsistent, and authorities generally did not publicly release the results of investigations.
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. Independent monitors were generally limited to making recommendations to authorities to improve prison conditions.
Improvements: In June a new law allowed women to have full custody of their children while in prison until the children reached three years of age.
On June 16, the National Criminal Enforcement Act went into effect, which defines the guiding principles of the prison system to be dignity, equality, legality, due process, transparency, confidentiality, and social reinsertion. The law points out that women require different accommodations than men and identifies the important role community contact plays in successful social reintegration.
Both federal and state facilities sought international accreditation from the American Correctional Association, which requires demonstrated compliance with a variety of international standards. As of September 1, 12 additional correctional facilities achieved association accreditation, bringing the total number of accredited facilities to 42.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government often failed to observe these prohibitions.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The federal police, as well as state and municipal police, have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order. The federal police are under the authority of the interior minister and the National Security Committee, state police are under the authority of each of the 32 governors, and municipal police are under the authority of local mayors. SEDENA, which oversees the army and air force, and the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR), which oversees the navy and marines, also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combatting organized criminal groups. The National Migration Institute (INM), under the authority of the Interior Ministry (SEGOB), is the administrative body responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants. The INM’s 5,400 agents worked at ports of entry, checkpoints, and detention centers, conducting migrant apprehension operations in coordination with the federal police.
The law requires military institutions to transfer all cases involving civilian victims, including human rights cases, to the civilian justice system under the jurisdiction of the PGR. If the victim is a member of the military, alleged perpetrators remain subject to the military justice system. SEDENA, SEMAR, the federal police, and the PGR have security protocols for the transfer of detainees, chain of custody, and use of force. The protocols, designed to reduce the time arrestees remain in military custody, outline specific procedures for handling detainees.
According to the Office of the Attorney General of Military Justice, as of April 18, the military had transferred to the civilian Attorney General’s Office prosecutorial jurisdiction for more than 1,273 military personnel accused of human rights violations in 558 criminal cases, 257 homicide cases, 229 torture cases, and 72 forced disappearance cases. As of June SEDENA reported there were no cases before military courts that involved a civilian victim.
Although civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces and police, impunity, especially for human rights abuses, remained a serious problem. The country had extremely low rates of prosecution, and prosecutions could take years to complete.
There were new developments in the 2006 San Salvador Atenco confrontation between local vendors and state and federal police agents in Mexico State during which two individuals were killed and more than 47 women were taken into custody with many allegedly sexually tortured by police officials. In 2009 an appeals court acquitted the only individual previously convicted in the case, and in September the Inter-American Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case, but no date has been set.
By law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution, including for corruption, while they hold a public office, although state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an elected official’s immunity.
SEDENA’s General Directorate for Human Rights investigates military personnel for violations of human rights identified by the CNDH and is responsible for promoting a culture of respect for human rights within the institution. The directorate, however, has no power to prosecute allegations or to take independent judicial action.
In May the code of military justice was reformed to establish procedures for the conduct of military oral trials, in accordance with the transition to an adversarial justice system. On June 15, the CNDH published and submitted to the Supreme Court a “Report of Unconstitutionality” in which it claimed aspects of the recently revised code of military justice and military code of criminal procedures (military code or CMPP) violated constitutional guarantees, including against unreasonable searches and seizures. The CNDH based its claims on provisions of the military code that allow military prosecutors to request permission from civilian prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office to intercept communications and search premises during the investigation of military personnel for ties to organized crime, murder, and weapons violations. The CNDH criticized the ability of a military judge to call a civilian to testify in military court, the requirement that authorities must conduct all procedural acts in Spanish, and the expanded roles given to the Military Ministerial Police (the top-level investigative entity of the military).
In February, SEMAR expanded its human rights program to include a weeklong course (from the previous one-day course), an intensive program for commanding officers, and a human rights diploma program, among others.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
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. Bail exists, except for persons held in connection with drug trafficking or other forms of organized crime. In most cases the law provides for detainees to appear before a judge, and for authorities to provide sufficient evidence to justify continued detention, within 48 hours of arrest, but there were violations of the 48-hour provision. In cases involving three or more parties to a conspiracy to commit certain crimes, authorities may hold suspects for up to 96 hours before being presented to a judge.
Only the federal judicial system may prosecute cases involving organized crime. Under a procedure known in Spanish as “arraigo” (a constitutionally permitted form of detention, employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established), certain suspects may, with a judge’s approval, be detained for up to 80 days prior to the filing of formal charges. Human rights NGOs claimed arraigo allowed some corrupt officials to extort detainees, detain someone, and then seek reasons to justify the detention, or obtain confessions using torture. In the absence of formal charges, persons detained under arraigo are often denied legal representation and are not eligible to receive credit for time served if convicted.
Some detainees complained about 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 provided impoverished detainees counsel only during trials and not during arrests or investigations as provided for by law. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The IACHR, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for arbitrary detention leading to other human rights abuses.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. According to an IACHR report, SEGOB figures as of August 2015 noted that 107,441 of 254,469 individuals detained were in pretrial detention. According to an international NGO, more than 40 percent of prisoners were awaiting their trial at the end of 2015. The law provides time limits within which authorities must try an accused person. Authorities generally disregarded time limits on pretrial detention since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons who are arrested or detained, whether on criminal or other grounds, may challenge their detention through the Juicio de Amparo. The defense may argue, among other things, that the accused did not receive proper due process; suffered a human rights abuse; or that authorities infringed upon basic constitutional rights. By law individuals should obtain prompt release and compensation if found to be unlawfully detained, but the authorities did not always promptly release those unlawfully detained.
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. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and at the state and local levels, arrest warrants were sometimes ignored.
As of June the civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatory trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. While observers expected the new system would take several years to implement fully, the federal government and all of the states began to adopt it. In some states implementing the accusatory system, alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.
Under the new system, all hearings and trials are conducted by a judge 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 have access to government-held evidence, although the law allows the government to keep elements of an investigation confidential until the presentation of evidence in court. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in many categories of crimes.
The law provides defendants with the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. Attorneys are required to meet legal qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders had preparation and training to serve adequately on the defendants’ behalf, and often the state public defender system was not adequate to meet demand. Public defender services functioned either in the judicial or executive branch. According to the Center for Economic Research and Economic Teaching (CIDE), most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after they came under judicial authority, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.
Although required by law, interpretation and translation services from Spanish to indigenous languages at all stages of the criminal process 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 allegedly required to sign.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees. On August 13, authorities released antilogging activist Ildefonso Zamora from prison after a court dropped burglary charges against him. Human rights NGOs had criticized his 2015 arrest as politically motivated due to his antilogging activism.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
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 in view of the relatively low number of convictions for civil rights offenses.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption at the most basic level involved paying bribes for routine services or in lieu of fines to administrative officials and security forces. More sophisticated and less apparent forms of corruption included overpaying for goods and services to provide payment to elected officials and political parties.
By law all applicants for federal law enforcement jobs (and other sensitive positions) must pass a vetting process upon entry into service and every two years thereafter throughout their careers. According to SEGOB and the National Center of Certification and Accreditation, most active police officers at the national, state, and municipal level underwent at least initial vetting. The press and NGOs reported that police who failed vetting remained on duty. The CNDH reported that police, particularly at the state and local level, were involved in kidnapping, extortion, and providing protection for, or acting directly on behalf of, organized crime and drug traffickers.
During the year the government adopted a new National Anticorruption System that gives autonomy to federal administrative courts to investigate and sanction administrative acts of corruption, establishes harsher penalties for corrupt government officials, provides the Superior Audit Office (ASF) with real-time auditing authority, and establishes an oversight commission with civil society participation. Observers hailed the legislation as a major achievement in the fight against corruption, although some NGOs criticized the provision that allows public servants to opt out of declaring assets.
Corruption: In October the PGR indicted and issued an arrest warrant for the governor of Veracruz who went into hiding. In midyear the ASF filed criminal charges with the Attorney General’s Office against 14 state governments for misappropriation of billions of dollars in federal funds. The ASF also investigated several state governors, including the former governors of Chihuahua, Quintana Roo, Sonora, and Nuevo Leon. The investigations continued at year’s end.
Financial Disclosure: In July the Congress passed a law requiring all federal and state-level appointed or elected officials to provide income and asset disclosure, statements of any potential conflicts of interests, and tax returns, though it is possible to opt-out of making the information available to the public. The Ministry of Public Administration monitors disclosures with support from each agency. Regulations require disclosures at the beginning and end of employment, and also require yearly updates. The law requires declarations be made publicly available unless the official petitions for a waiver to keep them private. Criminal or administrative sanctions apply for abuses. Opposition political parties petitioned the Supreme Court in midyear to overturn the section of the law that would allow officials a waiver to keep the disclosures private.
Public Access to Information: A 2015 law grants free public access to government information at the state and federal levels. Authorities implemented the law effectively at the federal level and continued to work on harmonizing state-level laws for implementation in the states. The law includes exceptions to disclosure of government information, including for information that may compromise national security, affect the conduct of foreign relations, harm the country’s financial stability, endanger another person’s life, or for information relating to pending law enforcement investigations. The law also limits disclosure of personal information to third parties.