a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports government entities or their 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. From 2006 to 2018, the Attorney General’s Office reported 88 criminal investigations for homicide committed by a public official, resulting in the conviction of 25 persons.
In August, Genaro Vargas Ruelas was found dead while in police custody in Oxkutzcab, Yucatan State. Municipal police stated he committed suicide, but family members rejected this account, claiming Genaro’s body had multiple signs of torture, including broken ribs and bruises on his back and genitalia, which did not coincide with the official autopsy report’s conclusion of suicide.
As of September authorities had not investigated or made any arrests in the January 2018 killing of three persons and arbitrary arrest of 38 persons in La Concepcion, Guerrero State. On June 7, 25 persons (members of the Ejidos and Communities Council Opposed to La Parota Dam) were released after 18 months in jail when a judge ruled there was no evidence against them. The 13 other persons had already been released.
In November 2018 a court acquitted a soldier who was charged in the 2017 killing of two men in Palmarito, Puebla State.
In August the Attorney General’s Office issued an arrest order for six federal police agents accused of murder, four of whom also were accused of attempted murder, in the 2015 killing of 16 unarmed civilians in Apatzingan, Guerrero State. On August 27, a district judge ruled there was sufficient evidence to keep the officers in pretrial detention until the conclusion of the trial.
After a series of appeals, in August 2018 the federal judicial branch upheld the substance of a federal court order originally handed down in 2017 and confirmed in May 2018. The order directed the Attorney General’s Office to reopen the investigation into the 2014 killings of 22 civilians by members of the military in Tlatlaya, Mexico State. The order specifically called for an investigation into the role of the chain of command and the military order to “take down criminals.” The judge ruled the federal investigation thus far had not been exhaustive, adequate, or effective.
Environmental activists continued to be targets of violence, a majority of them from indigenous communities. On February 20, gunmen shot and killed Samir Flores Soberanes, an indigenous and environmental rights activist (see section 6, Indigenous People).
Criminal organizations carried out widespread killings and other illegal activities throughout the country. On November 4, nine U.S. citizens (three women and six children) were killed by gunmen while traveling by car near the city of Bavispe, Sonora State. As of December 31, authorities had arrested seven suspects for alleged involvement in the killings, including the public security director from Janos, Chihuahua State, who oversaw the local police force.
There were reports of 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. The National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) registered 12 cases of alleged “forced or involuntary” disappearances through August 6.
Investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. According to information provided by the Attorney General’s Office, from October 1, 2013, to August 27, 2018, courts issued eight convictions and 17 acquittals for forced disappearance, and 18 sentences were in the appeals process. At the federal level, as of August 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, according to the human rights organization SERAPAZ. Some states made progress investigating this crime. In Veracruz State, from January to July 30, prosecutors opened 573 investigations into disappearances, although family members alleged prosecutors undercounted the actual number of disappeared persons cases.
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. In July, five Cuban migrants in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua State, filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Office that alleged federal police officers kidnapped them and extorted thousands of dollars from them.
Nationwide, the National Search Commission (CNB) reported the exhumation of the remains of at least 337 persons in 200 clandestine graves between December 1, 2018, and May 13. In August the CNB released a report stating 3,024 clandestine graves were located between 2006 and September 2019, with 4,974 bodies exhumed. The same report noted 200 bodies had been identified, with 116 of those returned to families. The CNB also reported that between February 13 and May 28, it received 481 reports of missing persons and located 15 alive and five deceased. On December 5, the government formally created an Extraordinary Mechanism for Forensic Identification to bring together national and international forensics experts to help identify 37,000 unidentified remains held in government facilities.
The federal government and several states failed to meet deadlines for implementing various provisions of the 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 2018; as of September 2019, 25 of 32 states had done so. By September a total of 26 states had met the requirement to create specialized prosecutors’ offices focused on forced disappearances. Only four states (Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Veracruz, and Zacatecas) had established citizen councils as required by the law. The federal government created a National System for the Search of Missing Persons as required by the law but as of August had not established the required National Forensic Data Bank.
As of April 30, 2018, a total of 37,435 individuals were recorded as missing or disappeared, according to the National Registry of Missing Persons, up 40 percent compared with the total number at the end of 2014. The CNB shut down this registry in July 2018 as part of the process to create a new registry, which it planned to release publicly in early 2019, but it was still not operational as of September. The new database was to include more than 24,000 profiles of the relatives of the disappeared as well as information such as fingerprints, parents’ names, and dates of birth of the missing persons, according to government officials.
According to media reports, the Veracruz state officials arrested in 2018 on suspicion of involvement in forced disappearances in previous years were released in August due to lack of evidence. The persons released included former state police chief Roberto Gonzalez Meza, former state attorney general Luis Angel Bravo Contreras, and more than 50 other former high-ranking Veracruz state security officials and members of the state police. Media outlets speculated the charges were politically motivated by then governor Miguel Angel Yunes, who was under investigation by the state attorney general for ordering the murder of former mayor Maricela Vallejo Orea on April 24.
As of September no charges had been filed regarding the 2018 disappearance of 23 persons in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and none of the missing individuals had been located.
Investigations continued into the disappearance of 43 students from a teacher-training college in Ayotzinapa in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. Victims’ relatives and civil society continued to be highly critical of the 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. The court ruled that the 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, Attorney General’s Office, and the 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 before the Supreme Court for review.
On December 3, 2018, two days after his inauguration, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered the creation of a truth commission–headed by the Interior Secretariat’s undersecretary for human rights–to re-examine the disappearances of the 43 students. The Presidential Commission for Truth and Justice in the Ayotzinapa Case was formally inaugurated in January. The commission included senior officials from the Secretariat of the Interior, Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, Secretariat of Finance, and victims and the civil society organizations that legally represent them. In March the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reached an agreement with the presidential commission to form a special follow-up mechanism for the case to continue monitoring progress. On April 8, the Foreign Affairs Secretariat also signed an agreement with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to provide technical assistance to the commission.
In other developments related to the Ayotzinapa case, in June an anonymous video was released allegedly showing military and police officers torturing a detainee, Carlos Canto Salgado. The video contradicted findings from two separate investigations by the CNDH and the Attorney General’s Office that determined no evidence of torture existed in Canto’s case. As of September none of the individuals in the video–including Carlos Gomez Arrieta, then head of the Federal Investigative Police; Ezequiel Pena Cerda, a federal police officer; or Ariel Castillo Reyes, from the Secretariat of the Navy (SEMAR)–had been charged.
In June the Attorney General’s Office created the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa Case, in compliance with a May 2018 federal court ruling that called for the government to rectify irregularities in the Attorney General’s Office’s original investigation of the case. Omar Gomez Trejo, an experienced lawyer and human rights expert, was appointed as head of the new unit.
On August 30, 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. He was one of the main suspects in the case, according to prosecutors at the time, and the government claimed he confessed to his involvement after his initial detention. As of September none of the alleged perpetrators of the disappearances had been convicted, and the majority of those initially accused had been released from detention on the grounds their confessions were 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.
As of June the CNDH registered 20 complaints of torture. The majority of these complaints were from the states of Tamaulipas, Mexico, and Veracruz, and also Mexico City; federal police and Attorney General’s Office officials were accused as the responsible parties in most torture cases. As of March only 15 of 32 states had specialized prosecutor’s offices for torture as called for by law.
As of January the Attorney 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. Federal courts handed down 45 convictions between 2013 and 2018.
On July 31, authorities arrested six police officers from the Coahuila prosecutor general’s office and detained one on homicide charges, after they participated in an operation resulting in the death of a Honduran migrant. Initial police reports indicated the migrant shot at officers conducting a counternarcotics raid, but Coahuila prosecutor general Gerardo Marquez stated on August 8 that no shots were fired by the migrant.
In September 2018 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 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.
In January the CNDH issued a report on torture and other forms of mistreatment committed against 19 persons in the state of Aguascalientes between 2011 and 2013 by the state prosecutor’s office. Investigative police, prosecutors, public attorneys, and forensic personnel from the state prosecutor’s office allegedly colluded in committing and hiding torture during that period. The then state prosecutor (who also served as deputy prosecutor at the Attorney General’s Office) was alleged to have been directly involved. After the report was published, the former prosecutor filed an injunction, and the CNDH was forced to remove the report from its website pending resolution of the case.
As of October no charges had been filed in the 29 cases of sexual torture between 2006 and 2015 in 12 states. Twenty-seven women reported their torture to a judge, but no investigation was ordered in 18 of the cases. Members of the Secretariat of National Defense, SEMAR, federal police, and state police of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Coahuila were allegedly involved.
On April 26, the UN Committee against Torture released the findings of the seventh periodic report of Mexico on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The report highlighted that one of the main challenges for the government was developing indicators and producing comprehensive, reliable statistics on the number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions related to cases of torture and mistreatment.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention centers were often harsh and life threatening.
Physical Conditions: According to the Federal Prison System, as of March there were 198,475 inmates in 305 state, federal, and municipal facilities with a designed capacity of 215,083.
After visiting more than half of the country’s prisons in 2018, the CNDH reported that 45 percent of the state prisons visited had operational command problems, with inmates controlling or running various aspects of the prison. According to the report, state prisons were understaffed, and pretrial detainees were held with convicted criminals. The prisons also suffered from poor sanitary conditions and a general lack of opportunities for social reintegration. The report singled out Baja California Sur, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas as the states with the worst prison conditions. Regarding federal prisons, the CNDH noted significant understaffing at all levels, which affected access to programs, activities, and medical services and promoted segregation of inmates.
In its 2017 National Diagnostic of Penitentiary Supervision, the CNDH reported several incidents 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. 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 had yet to be sentenced from convicts.
Organized criminal groups reportedly continued to oversee illicit activities from within penitentiary walls. In November, following a joint federal-state-municipal inspection of Ciudad Juarez’s CERESO III prison in search of weapons, drugs, cell phones, and other contraband, incarcerated members of a criminal organization at the prison reportedly ordered gang members in Ciudad Juarez to attack state authorities and installations, as well as commercial vehicles around the city.
According to civil society groups, migrants at some 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: Authorities did not always conduct investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, 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 August the total number of state and federal accredited facilities was 98, an increase of six from the previous year. Guanajuato was the only state to have all its prisons accredited.
A CNDH report showed a decrease in the number of prison homicides, fights, and riots, compared with its 2018 report. The drop was credited to an increase in the training providing to prison staff.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
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 2017 and August 2018, the CNDH recorded 618 complaints of arbitrary detention.
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. 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 that detainees 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. The UN Committee against Torture noted its “concern at reports documenting allegations of acts of torture and mistreatment of persons deprived of their liberty by virtue of orders of arraigo, some of which are carried out in military installations.”
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.
Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and victims alleged numerous incidents between January and August in which Coahuila state police forces abused detainees in custody in the border city of Piedras Negras and surrounding areas. As of August the state prosecutor general’s office was investigating the accusations.
Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The IACHR, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns about arbitrary detention and the potential for arbitrary detention to lead to other human rights abuses.
On August 7, according to media reports, a man was arbitrarily arrested, severely beaten, and threatened by Security and Civilian Protection officers in Mexico City. The victim was reportedly outside his house walking his dog when police arrested him without a warrant. Two days passed before the victim was advised of drug trafficking charges against him. Four days later he was released after family members successfully gathered evidence showing he was the wrong person.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. 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 where detainees had remained for more than 12 years in pretrial detention. A constitutional reform passed in February 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.
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 a writ of habeas corpus. The defense may argue, among other things, that the accused did not receive proper due process, suffered a human rights abuse, or had his or her constitutional rights violated. By law individuals should be promptly released and compensated if their detention is found to be unlawful, but authorities did not always promptly release those unlawfully detained. In addition, under the criminal justice system, defendants apprehended during the commission of a crime may challenge the lawfulness of their detention during their court hearing.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
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. 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.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
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 due to the relatively low number of criminal convictions.
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.