President Calderón committed his government to combating organized crime, which was allegedly responsible for over 2,500 killings during 2007.
In October the Mexican and US governments announced the Merida Initiative, a regional security cooperation initiative under which the US administration proposed providing US$1.4 billion in security and criminal justice assistance to Mexico and Central America over three years. At the end of 2007 the US Congress continued to deliberate the proposal and its potential impact on human rights and security.
Legal, constitutional and institutional developments
In May the authorities announced the creation of a National Development Plan which included pledges to protect human rights. The government also promised to maintain open access to international human rights mechanisms and tackle the use of torture.
In August the development of a new National Human Rights Programme was announced.
Reforms to the Constitution and the public security and criminal justice systems moved ahead in Congress. These require substantial changes to police and court procedures, including strengthened police and prosecutorial powers to enter homes without judicial authorization and to hold organized crime suspects in a form of pre-charge detention (arraigo) for up to 80 days.
National Supreme Court
In February the National Supreme Court ruled that the military had violated the constitutional prohibition on discrimination by dismissing officials on the basis of their HIV positive status.
In December a special inquiry ordered by the Court reported its findings on the case of Lydia Cacho. It concluded that the governor of Puebla State and other senior local officials were responsible for the misuse of the justice system leading to the detention, ill-treatment and unfair prosecution of the journalist for publishing a book on child abuse and pornography networks. Nevertheless, the majority of Supreme Court justices refused to endorse these conclusions.
The results of two other National Supreme Court special inquiries into abuses committed in San Salvador Atenco and Oaxaca State were pending at the end of the year.
The legislative assembly of the Federal District decriminalized abortions carried out in the first trimester and made abortion services available in Mexico City. The Federal Attorney General’s Office and the National Human Rights Commission filed constitutional challenges to these reforms with the Supreme Court which were pending at the end of the year.
Police and security forces – public security
More than 20,000 military personnel were deployed in many states in policing operations to combat drug trafficking gangs. Military personnel were reported to have arbitrarily detained, tortured and unlawfully killed at least five people during these operations.
- In February, the authorities in Veracruz State concluded that an Indigenous woman, Ernestina Ascencio Rosario, had died from injuries caused by rape, allegedly committed by army personnel carrying out policing operations in the state. However, the National Human Rights Commission concluded that the investigation was flawed and that she had died of natural causes. Despite widespread concern about how the case was dealt with, the inquiry was closed.
- In May, military officials involved in policing operations arbitrarily detained several people in Michoacán State. Several detainees reported that they had been ill-treated; four teenage girls were allegedly sexually assaulted or raped.
- In June, soldiers manning a road block in Sinaloa State shot at a car and killed two women and three children. A number of officials were arrested and military investigations were continuing at the end of the year.
Excessive use of force and torture
Police officers were accused of using excessive force and torture.
In July in Oaxaca, state and municipal police used tear gas, stones and batons to disperse demonstrators, seriously injuring at least two people. Scores of people were arrested. Emeterio Cruz was photographed in custody in good health, but was then struck repeatedly by police and later taken to hospital in a coma. He was discharged in August with partial paralysis. Five municipal police were detained and charged in connection with the case.
In June, state police evicted a group of Indigenous Nahua peasant farmers occupying disputed land in the municipality of Ixhuatlán de Madero, Veracruz State. Police fired repeatedly into the air; one detainee was shot and injured. Those arrested were reportedly beaten and threatened during interrogation to force them to implicate their leader in alleged criminal offences. They were later released on bail, pending prosecution for illegal land occupation.
Investigations into allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment by police officers were frequently inadequate and impunity for human rights violations was widespread.
Reports of human rights violations by military personnel were often dealt with in the military justice system. The National Human Rights Commission found evidence of serious abuses in a number of cases, but failed to recommend that such cases be dealt with by the civilian courts.
- In October, four soldiers were convicted by a civilian court of the rape of 14 women in July 2006 in the municipality of Castaños, Coahuila State. Other officials implicated in the attack were acquitted or not brought to trial.
Past human rights violations
Human rights violations committed in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, which had previously been investigated by the Special Prosecutor’s Office, were returned to the Federal Attorney General’s Office without any commitment to continue the investigations. The government ignored the concluding report of the Special Prosecutor’s Office which acknowledged that the abuses were systematic state crimes. The creation of a fund to compensate victims was announced in October.
- In July a federal judge found that the massacre of scores of students in Tlatelolco Square in Mexico City in 1968 was genocide but that there was insufficient evidence against former president Luis Echeverría to continue the prosecution. An appeal on this ruling was pending at the end of the year.
Possible enforced disappearances
The Popular Revolutionary Army (Ejército Popular Revolucionario, EPR) accused the authorities of the enforced disappearance of two of its members, Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Gabriel Alberto Cruz Sánchez. The EPR alleged that they had been detained in Oaxaca City on 25 May.
In August the EPR claimed responsibility for several explosions in central Mexico in support of their demand that the authorities acknowledge the detention of the two men. In October, a federal court issued a habeas corpus (amparo) writ requiring the end of their enforced disappearance and for the authorities to ensure their immediate reappearance. The state and federal authorities denied that the two men had been detained or forcibly disappeared and promised to investigate. The whereabouts of Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Gabriel Alberto Cruz Sánchez remained unknown at the end of the year.
Violence against women
In June the National Survey on the Dynamic of Family Relations found that 67 per cent of women over the age of 15 reported experiencing some form of violence in the home, community, workplace or school and nearly one in 10 reported that they had experienced sexual violence.
In February the Federal Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence came into force. Nine states introduced similar legal reforms.
More than 25 women were reported to have been murdered in Ciudad Juárez in 2007. The authorities continued to fail to bring to justice those responsible for many crimes of violence against women in the state in previous years. In other states, such as Mexico State, there were reportedly even higher numbers of women murdered with impunity.
Justice system – arbitrary detention and unfair trials
The criminal justice system continued to be used in some states to prosecute social activists and political opponents. They were subjected to prolonged arbitrary detention and unfair legal proceedings. Despite successful federal injunctions in many cases, state courts frequently failed to correct injustices. No official was held to account for violating fair trial standards.
- In November, prisoner of conscience, Magdalena García Durán, an Indigenous woman detained during protests in San Salvador Atenco in May 2006, was released on the grounds of insufficient evidence. She was released after a local judge finally complied with a second federal injunction. However, more than 20 other people detained in San Salvador Atenco at the same time were on trial at the end of the year in proceedings characterized by similar unfair procedures.
- Diego Arcos, a community leader from Nuevo Tila, Chiapas State, was released in December 2007 after spending a year in custody accused of four murders during an attack on the community of Viejo Velasco in November 2006. Despite winning a federal injunction in August, he was only released when the State Minister of Justice reviewed the case and dropped the charges.
- Ignacio del Valle Medina, Felipe Alvarez Hernández and Héctor Galindo Gochicoa, leaders of a local protest movement in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico State, were each sentenced in May to 67 years in prison after being convicted of kidnapping public officials during local disputes in 2006. There was serious concern about the fairness of the trial and the sentence.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders continued to face attack, threats, harassment and unfounded criminal charges in many states, in apparent reprisal for their work.
- In May, Aldo Zamora, a member of a family of environmental activists campaigning against illegal logging in the municipality of Ocuilán, Mexico State, was shot and killed. His father had filed repeated complaints with the authorities about death threats sent to the family, but no action was taken. Two suspects were arrested in August; two others remained at large at the end of the year.
- In April, migrants’ rights defender Santiago Rafael Cruz was beaten to death in the office of the Farm Labour Organizing Committee (Foro Laboral del Obrero Campesino, FLOC), in Monterrey, Nuevo León State. The state authorities denied the killing was linked to his human rights work, but local human rights organizations expressed concern about the thoroughness of the investigation into his death. One person was charged with the murder and detained pending trial at the end of the year.
- Human rights defender Aline Castellanos was forced to leave Oaxaca State after an arrest warrant was issued on the basis of fabricated evidence which accused her of involvement in the occupation of a public building.
Freedom of expression – journalists
Journalists, particularly those reporting on drug trafficking and corruption, were repeatedly attacked. At least six journalists and media workers were murdered and three others were abducted. The majority of official investigations into these crimes and past attacks on journalists made little or no progress.
- In October, Mateo Cortés Martínez, Flor Vásquez López and Agustín López Nolasco, staff of the newspaper El Imparcial del Istmo in Oaxaca, were shot and killed while delivering newspapers. Immediately after the killings, the newspaper’s director and two reporters received threats warning them the same would happen to them.
The pattern of attacks on journalists led to increasing self-censorship and undermined freedom of expression.
In April, defamation was decriminalized in federal law, but remained a criminal offence in most state jurisdictions.
Discrimination – marginalized communities
Many marginalized communities continued to have limited access to basic services, despite the government’s commitment to increase social spending. This fuelled conflict, inequality and discrimination, particularly affecting many Indigenous communities. The failure to ensure that communities affected by development or investment projects were genuinely informed, consulted and given the opportunity to participate in the formulation of projects, led to increased tensions and disempowerment.
- Communities opposed to the construction of La Parota hydroelectric dam in Guerrero State won several preliminary legal challenges on the basis that community approval had not been legally obtained. At the end of the year the project remained suspended pending the resolution of several legal actions.
There were continued reports of abuses against some of the thousands of irregular migrants crossing the northern and southern borders. Those who provided humanitarian assistance to migrants on their way through Mexico were at risk of being charged with people trafficking.
The government proposed new regulatory procedures on migrant detention centres. The proposal, which would restrict civil society access and increase controls on migrants, was pending executive approval at the end of the year.
Amnesty International visit/reports
- Amnesty International’s Secretary General visited Oaxaca City, Mexico City and Guerrero State, met senior government officials and attended Amnesty International’s biennial International Council Meeting in Cocoyoc, Morelos State, in August.
- Mexico: Laws without justice: Human rights violations and impunity in the public security and criminal justice system (AMR 41/002/2007)
- Mexico: Laws without justice – Appeal cases (AMR 41/015/2007)
- Mexico: Human rights at risk in La Parota Dam project (AMR 41/029/2007)
- Mexico: Oaxaca – Clamour for justice (AMR 41/031/2007)