Reports increased of serious human rights violations committed by members of the military carrying out law enforcement activities. Federal, state and municipal police forces also continued to commit serious human rights violations in several states. Women experienced high levels of gender-based violence with little access to justice. Thousands of irregular migrants were abducted, and some murdered, by criminal gangs. Women migrants were often raped. Several journalists and human rights defenders were killed, harassed or faced fabricated criminal charges. Marginalized communities whose lands were sought for economic development were at risk of harassment, forced eviction or denial of their right to adequate information and consultation. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued ground-breaking rulings against Mexico in two cases involving grave human rights violations.
Following congressional mid-term elections, the Institutional Revolutionary Party became the largest party in the House of Deputies. In November, a new President of the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) was chosen by the Senate. Mexico agreed to implement 83 of the 91 recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Council.
Some 50,000 troops were engaged in law enforcement activities to improve public security and combat organized crime and the drug cartels. According to media reports, more than 6,500 people were killed in violence related to organized crime. The security forces were also frequently the target of attacks.
The US Congress authorized a further US$486 million as part of the Merida Initiative, a three-year regional co-operation and security agreement. Human rights conditions were imposed on 15 per cent of the Initiative’s funding. Despite failure to meet human rights conditions, funds continued to be released to Mexico.
Police and security forces
Military abuses and the military justice system
Reports of human rights violations – including extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment and arbitrary detention – committed by members of the military increased. The CNDH made 30 recommendations to the Ministry of Defence regarding confirmed cases of abuses during the year, compared with 14 in 2008. Some victims and relatives who tried to file complaints received threats. Human rights violations involving military personnel continued to be investigated and tried within the military justice system. Government officials refused to recognize the scale of abuses or impunity.
- In August, the National Supreme Court ruled that relatives of four unarmed civilians shot and killed by the army in Santiago de los Caballeros, Sinaloa state, in March 2008, did not have the legal right to challenge the military justice system handling of the case.
- In March, Miguel Alejandro Gama Habif, Israel Ayala Martínez and Aarón Rojas de la Fuente were forcibly disappeared by members of the army in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state. Their burned bodies were found in April. Relatives were not allowed to see the bodies or the autopsy report. In May, the Ministry of Defence announced that 12 military personnel had been detained, but no official information was available regarding charges or their trial.
- In March, 25 municipal police officers were detained by the army and tortured during pre-charge detention (arraigo) on a military base in Tijuana, Baja California state. The police were later charged with offences linked to organized crime and transferred to a civilian prison in Tepic, Nayarit state. At the end of the year it was not known if any investigation had been initiated into the allegations of torture.
In January, the National Public Security law came into force. This requires increased professionalization and co-ordination of the police and includes some improved human rights protection. In June, the Federal Police law established a single federal police force with new powers to receive criminal complaints and conduct investigations, including electronic surveillance and undercover operations, without adequate judicial controls.
There were several reports of human rights violations, including enforced disappearance; excessive use of force; torture and other ill-treatment; and arbitrary detention committed by municipal, state and federal police. Government commitments to investigate all allegations of torture were not implemented.
- In February, municipal police agents forcibly disappeared Gustavo Castañeda Puentes in Monterrey, Nuevo León state. Although witness evidence identified the perpetrators, the investigation did not result in the arrest of suspects.
- In March, federal police illegally detained Jesús Arturo Torres at his home in Chihuahua City, Chihuahua state. Police beat him and threatened him with death during three hours of questioning. He was released without charge. He filed a complaint, but at the end of the year it was not known whether the investigation had made any progress.
More than 60,000 irregular migrants, the vast majority Central Americans trying to reach the USA, were detained and deported. Migrants, particularly women and children, were at risk of abuses such as beatings, threats, abduction, rape and murder, mainly by criminal gangs, but also by some public officials. Measures to prevent and punish abuses were inadequate and migrants had virtually no access to justice. The government promoted regional guidelines on the care of child migrants and trained some officials in efforts to improve the protection of child migrants in detention.
In July, the CNDH published a report highlighting the extremely high levels of kidnapping for ransom and other abuses against migrants by criminal gangs. It estimated that as many as 10,000 migrants may have been kidnapped during the previous six months and that in many cases women migrants were sexually assaulted. Official efforts to curb attacks on migrants were completely inadequate.
- In January, Chiapas state police shot and killed three irregular migrants and wounded others while pursuing the vehicle they were travelling in near San Cristóbal, Chiapas state. The trial of several police officers was pending at the end of the year.
Human rights defenders
In October, a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico documented threats and attacks against human rights defenders by both state officials and private individuals. It also highlighted the lack of effective action to investigate and prevent attacks. Human rights defenders, particularly those working on economic, cultural and social rights, faced fabricated criminal charges and unfair trial proceedings.
- In February, Indigenous human rights defenders Raúl Lucas Lucía and Manuel Ponce Rosas were abducted, tortured and murdered in Ayutla, Guerrero state, by unidentified gunmen who claimed to be police officers. The two men had been threatened in the past for their work. Raúl Hernández, a prisoner of conscience and activist with another local Indigenous rights organization, remained in prison on a fabricated murder charge at the end of the year. Four others accused in the case, prisoners of conscience Manuel Cruz, Orlando Manzanarez, Natalio Ortega and Romualdo Santiago, were released in March after a federal court concluded there was insufficient evidence against them. Human rights defenders campaigning for justice in both cases received death threats.
- In August, an unidentified gunman repeatedly shot and almost killed Salomón Monárrez of the Sinaloan Civic Front, a human rights organization in Culiacán, Sinaloa state. An investigation into the shooting was continuing at the end of the year.
Freedom of expression – attacks on journalists
Journalists, particularly those working on issues related to public security and corruption, continued to face threats, attacks and abduction. There were reports that at least 12 journalists were murdered during 2009. Investigations into killings, abductions and threats rarely led to the prosecution of those responsible, contributing to a climate of impunity.
Indigenous Peoples and marginalized communities
Indigenous Peoples and members of marginalized communities were frequently subjected to unfair judicial proceedings. The rights of communities to their land and homes were overlooked or challenged in several cases in order to exploit local resources.
- In September, prisoner of conscience Jacinta Francisco Marcial from Santiago Mexquititlán, Querétaro state, was released during a retrial after the federal prosecutor dropped the case against her. She had been targeted because she was an Indigenous woman living in poverty and had spent three years in prison for a crime she had not committed. Two other Indigenous women were awaiting sentence in retrials on the same charges and remained in prison at the end of the year.
- Members of the community of Lomas del Poleo, outside Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua state, were repeatedly threatened and intimidated by private security guards as part of a six-year campaign to drive the families from their homes so that commercial development of the site could start. An agrarian court was still considering the families’ claim to the land at the end of 2009. Despite repeated complaints, the authorities did not prevent or investigate the threats.
Violence against women and girls
Violence against women in the community and home remained widespread in most states. Scores of cases of murder in which women had been abducted and raped were reported in Chihuahua and Mexico states. Legal measures to improve the prevention and punishment of gender-based violence were adopted by all states, but implementation of the new laws remained very limited. Impunity for murder and other violent crimes against women remained the norm.
- The murder and abduction of women and girls in Ciudad Juárez continued. At least 35 women were reportedly abducted in 2009 and their whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year. The state government published a report on advances in the prevention and punishment of the murder of women, but failed to provide a full account of all alleged cases. In November, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled on the “cotton field” (Campo Algodonero) case that Mexico was guilty of discrimination and of failing to protect three young women murdered in 2001 in Ciudad Juárez or to ensure an effective investigation into their abduction and murder. The Court ordered a new investigation, reparations for the relatives, investigations of officials and improved measures to prevent and investigate cases of abduction and murder of women and girls.
Sexual and reproductive rights
In an apparent reaction to the Federal District’s decriminalization of abortion in 2007, 17 of Mexico’s 31 state legislatures passed amendments to state constitutions guaranteeing the legal right to life from the moment of conception. A constitutional challenge to the amendment in Baja California state filed with the National Supreme Court was pending at the end of the year.
The government finally published an updated directive for medical professionals caring for women who have experienced violence. Under the directive, survivors of rape are entitled to receive information on and access to legal abortion. Some state governments informed the media that the directive would not be applied in their states.
Impunity for past human rights violations remained entrenched. Little or no action was taken to bring to justice those responsible.
- Investigations into hundreds of cases of serious human rights violations committed during Mexico’s “dirty war” in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s made no progress and some documents from previous investigations remained unaccounted for.
- In February, a Supreme Court special investigation concluded that serious human rights violations were committed by police in San Salvador Atenco in May 2006, including sexual assault of detainees. However, it stated that only those directly implicated in abuses could be held to account, not senior officials who had ordered the operation or failed to prevent or investigate abuses. In September, a special federal criminal investigation into torture, including sexual assault, of 26 women detainees in San Salvador Atenco concluded that 34 state police officers were responsible, but did not press charges and returned the case to the Mexico State Attorney General’s Office, which had previously failed to prosecute those responsible. No further information was available on new investigations.
- In March, a federal court confirmed the closure of the case of genocide against former President Luis Echeverría for the 1968 Tlatelolco student massacre.
- In October, the Supreme Court finalized its special investigation into serious human rights violations during the political crisis in Oaxaca in 2006. It concluded that the governor and other senior state officials should be held accountable. However, by the end of the year, no further information was available about new investigations to comply with the Court’s recommendation. Juan Manuel Martínez remained in prison accused of the murder of US journalist Brad Will in October 2006 in Oaxaca, despite the lack of evidence against him and the failure of federal authorities to conduct a full and thorough investigation to identify those responsible.
- In December, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found Mexico responsible for the enforced disappearance of Rosendo Radilla by the army in Guerrero state in 1974. It ordered a new civilian investigation, reparations for the relatives and reform of the military penal code to end military jurisdiction over the investigation and trial of human rights cases.
Amnesty International visits/report
- Amnesty International delegates visited Mexico in February and June.
- Mexico: New reports of human rights violations committed by the military