Serious human rights violations committed by members of the military and police included unlawful killings, excessive use of force, torture and arbitrary detention. Several journalists were killed. Human rights defenders faced threats, fabricated criminal charges and unfair judicial proceedings. People protesting against economic development projects faced harassment. The Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Mexico City’s law decriminalizing abortion. Reforms to the criminal justice system were initiated. Violence against women remained widespread.
Public security and reform of the energy sector dominated political debate. Thousands of federal police and 45,000 military personnel were deployed in operations targeting organized crime. However, levels of violence attributed to these networks increased; media reports indicated that more than 6,000 people were killed in such violent incidents during the year. Scores of security force personnel were also killed or injured in the line of duty.
- In September, the bodies of 24 murdered men were found in La Marquesa National Park, Mexico State. In an alleged reprisal attack by a drug gang, two grenades were thrown into crowds celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day in Morelia, Michoacán State, killing eight people and wounding many others. In October federal police arrested three men in connection with the grenade attack. The men confessed, although they filed a legal complaint for torture while in pre-charge detention.
Measures adopted to combat crime included harsher sentencing and the incorporation of 80-day pre-charge detention (arraigo) into the Constitution. In September, federal and state institutions signed the National Accord for Security, Justice and Legality to improve co-ordination of policing and other security measures. In December, public security legislation regulating police forces was approved by Congress, but human rights safeguards were not strengthened.
In June, the US Congress approved the Merida Initiative which provides for US$400 million in funding for Mexico. The package included the provision of equipment and training to the Mexican police and army as well as justice and immigration officials. Fifteen per cent of the funding for the military was withheld pending US Secretary of State reports that Mexico had met human rights conditions. These included credible investigations to identify those responsible for the killing of US video-journalist Bradley Roland Will during political disturbances in Oaxaca in 2006. In October, Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno, a member of a political opposition group, was detained and charged by the Federal Attorney General’s Office with the murder of Bradley Will. Many, including independent forensic experts and the National Human Rights Commission, criticized the basis of the detention, fearing that those charged in the case may have been scapegoated to demonstrate compliance with Merida Initiative conditions.
In August the government published its National Human Rights Programme but this did not make clear how or when the broad commitments would be delivered. Many civil society organizations criticized the government’s failure to maintain a dialogue with them in order to develop a substantive human rights agenda. The government and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights renewed the agreement to maintain an office in Mexico.
"Irregular migrants in Mexico faced abuses such as extortion, beatings, kidnap, rape and murder by officials or criminal gangs..."
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders continued to face threats, attacks, politically motivated criminal charges and imprisonment for leading protests or promoting respect for human rights. The government agreed to provide the protection measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to several human rights defenders. However, some defenders reported that no substantial efforts were made to investigate their cases or provide effective protection.
- In April, five members of the Me’ phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (Organización de Pueblos Indigenas Me’ phaa, OPIM) from the municipality of Ayutla, Guerrero State were detained and accused of the murder of Alejandro Feliciano García on 1 January. OPIM has consistently campaigned against the marginalization of the Me’ phaa community and promoted Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Despite a federal injunction in favour of four of the detainees and compelling evidence that the case was politically motivated, all five remained in custody at the end of the year. They were prisoners of conscience.
Several economic development and investment projects gave rise to protests by local communities over the lack of adequate consultation and the potential negative impact on social, environmental and other rights. Indigenous communities faced a particularly high number of reprisals.
- In the community of Huizopa, Madera municipality, Chihuahua State, inhabitants demanding that mining operations on communal lands comply with agreements made with the community, faced threats and police operations to break up their legal demonstrations.
Police and security forces
There were increasing reports implicating military personnel in unlawful killings, torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and illegal house searches. The military justice system retained jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute military personnel accused of human rights violations. The National Human Rights Commission issued nine recommendations regarding serious abuses committed by soldiers during 2008.
- In March, military personnel opened fire on a vehicle in Santiago de los Caballeros, Badiraguato municipality, Sinaloa State, killing four men and wounding two others. There was no evidence that the victims were armed or posed a threat. Five soldiers were in military custody under investigation at the end of the year. A petition for an injunction filed by relatives to prevent the military claiming jurisdiction in the case remained pending at the end of the year.
Unlawful killings, torture, excessive use of force and arbitrary detention by police remained widespread. Measures were initiated to create a single federal police force with strengthened investigative powers. However, there were no major initiatives to strengthen police accountability for human rights violations and at state and municipal level police forces remained unreformed.
- In September, Federal Preventive Police reportedly shot and killed a 17-year-old passer-by when they unnecessarily and without warning fired several rounds of bullets at a car in Matamoros, Tamaulipas State. The car’s occupants, Carlos Solis and Luis Alberto Salas, were arrested and accused of the killing, despite witnesses stating that police fired the only shots. The two men were reportedly tortured in custody and were awaiting trial on charges of possessing arms at the end of the year.
- In October, six members of the Indigenous community of Miguel Hidalgo, La Trinitaria municipality, Chiapas State, were shot and killed by state police. At least four were killed in circumstances which suggested that they were executed. Several officers were arrested and 26 were reportedly under investigation at the end of the year.
- More than 30 prisoners died during riots at La Mesa state prison in Tijuana, Baja California, in September. The director of the Baja California Human Rights Commission concluded some of the deaths were the result of excessive use of force and other human rights violations committed by the security forces responsible for the operation.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread. Despite various initiatives, there was little improvement in the effective prosecution of perpetrators. In August, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture visited detention facilities in several states and received information on numerous cases of torture. The findings of the Subcommittee remained confidential.
- In February, Eliseo Silvano Espinoza and Eliseo Silvano Jiménez, two Tzeltal Indigenous men, were detained in Chilón, Chiapas State, by the State Highway Police. They were reportedly shot at, beaten, almost suffocated, threatened and sprayed with tear gas to try to extract a confession. The two men were subsequently released without charge. Two police officers were in custody under investigation at the end of the year.
- In October, teachers and community supporters held protests in Morelos State. In the town of Xoxocotla federal police broke up protests on a main highway. Many of those detained alleged they had been arrested in their homes, beaten and some forced to walk barefoot on hot cinders.
Freedom of expression – journalists
At least five media workers were killed and the whereabouts of at least one other who was abducted remained unknown. Impunity for these crimes and other attacks on journalists attributed to criminal gangs persisted.
- In April, two Indigenous women, Felícitas Martínez and Teresa Bautista, working with a community radio station in the Triqui region of Oaxaca State, were killed when armed men fired on the car they were travelling in. The authorities denied their murder was related to their media work, but failed to conduct a full investigation.
Impunity for past and recent human rights violations persisted. The lack of effective institutions to investigate and prosecute human rights violations at federal or state level seriously restricted accountability and access to justice.
- On the 40th anniversary of the Tlatelolco Square massacre, when government forces gunned down protesters in Mexico City in circumstances that have never been clarified, those responsible were no closer to being held to account. A federal court review of a previous ruling that former President Echeverría should not stand trial for genocide in connection with the Tlatelolco massacre was pending at the end of the year.
There were no judicial advances or government commitments to hold to account those responsible for hundreds of cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture committed during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
- The case of Rosendo Radilla, who was forcibly disappeared by the security forces in 1976 and whose whereabouts have never been established, was presented to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in June.
Investigations into recent emblematic cases, such as torture and other ill-treatment of scores of protesters in Guadalajara in 2004; the torture, including rape, of at least 26 women detainees in San Salvador Atenco in May 2006; and dozens of cases of torture, arbitrary detention and unlawful killing, during the political crisis in Oaxaca in 2006 and 2007, produced almost no positive results. The results of National Supreme Court enquiries into abuses in San Salvador Atenco and Oaxaca remained pending at the end of the year.
- The whereabouts of Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Gabriel Alberto Cruz Sánchez, two members of the Popular Revolutionary Army (Ejército Popular Revolucionario, EPR), who were feared to have been forcibly disappeared in May 2007, remained unknown after the federal investigation failed to make progress.
Violence against women and girls
In August, the National Supreme Court rejected constitutional challenges to reforms made in 2007 to Mexico City’s legislation decriminalizing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Violence against women in the home, community and workplace remained pervasive. The government again failed to publish new procedures for medical professionals to attend to women survivors of violence.
Twenty-eight states enacted legislation on women’s access to a life free from violence, but only the federal authorities and three state governments issued executive regulations to implement this new legislation. Funding commitments for many women’s refuges were delayed, placing severe strain on the network of services.
- In the context of spiralling violent crime, more than 75 women were murdered in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua State. Human rights defenders pressing for justice on cases of murdered or abducted women and girls faced threats and intimidation.
- Three of the cases of eight women found murdered in Campo Algodonero, Ciudad Juárez, in 2001 were brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The number of migrants crossing the border into the USA reportedly declined, while deportations to Mexico increased. Irregular migrants in Mexico faced abuses such as extortion, beatings, kidnap, rape and murder by officials or criminal gangs that often operated with the complicity of local authorities. Those responsible for these crimes were virtually never held to account. Federal legislative reforms reduced the punishment for the offence of illegal presence in Mexico from imprisonment to a fine. Detention prior to repatriation remained the norm for almost all migrants. Training for migrant officials on child protection rights was increased. The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants visited Mexico in March and expressed grave concern at the treatment of Central American migrants.
- In April, photos taken of a joint migration services and navy operation to detain irregular migrants in Las Palmas, Niltepec municipality, Oaxaca State, were published in the media. The images, which showed migrants being subject to beatings and humiliation, were confirmed by eyewitness testimony. Nevertheless, migration services and the navy denied that abuses took place.
- Father Alejandro Solalinde and co-workers at the hostel in Ciudad Ixtepec, Oaxaca, which provides migrants with humanitarian assistance and documents abuses against them, faced repeated threats in reprisal for their work.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
Major reforms were made to the Federal Constitution affecting public security and the criminal justice system, including the introduction of oral trials and improvements to due process for ordinary crimes, such as the presumption of innocence. However, reforms increased the powers of prosecutors investigating serious federal offences without ensuring adequate controls. An eight-year period was established for introducing reforms, and a special governmental committee was established to develop legislative proposals to implement reforms at federal level. Reforms in most states had not begun.
Reforms to incorporate international human rights treaties explicitly into the Constitution were blocked.
Amnesty international reportsWomen’s struggle for Justice and safety – Violence in the family in Mexico (1 August 2008)
Amnesty International Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review (8 September 2008)
Promoting Indigenous Rights in Mexico: Me’ phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (9 October 2008 )