Drug cartels and other criminal gangs, at times acting in collusion with the police or other public officials, killed and abducted thousands of people. Irregular migrants travelling in their tens of thousands through Mexico suffered grave abuses including kidnap, rape and killing, by such gangs. The government did not take effective measures to prevent or investigate widespread grave human rights violations committed by the military and police, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture and arbitrary arrests. The government did not provide any substantive responses to Amnesty International requests for information on investigations into such cases. The criminal justice system failed to deliver justice or security. Those responsible for the vast majority of crimes, including attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and women, were not held to account. Fair trial standards were breached. There was no action to ensure justice for the victims of gross human rights violations committed during Mexico’s “dirty war” (1964-1982). There were a number of progressive constitutional human rights reforms.
President Calderón’s government continued to deploy 50,000 soldiers and an increasing number of navy marines to combat drug cartels. During the year, the cartels fought amongst themselves and against the security forces for territorial control in certain states, such as Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Veracruz, Coahuila, Tamaulipas and Guerrero. More than 12,000 people were killed in the ensuing violence. The vast majority of these killings were never investigated. In April the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) reported that 8,898 bodies remained unidentified in morgues around the country and that 5,397 people had been reported missing since 2006. More than 40 soldiers and more than 500 police officers were killed during 2011.
Reports indicated that an increasing number of people unconnected with the cartels were killed during the year by gangs, the military or the police. Fifty-two people died in Monterrey when a criminal gang burned down a casino with the collusion of some local police officers. More than 500 unidentified bodies were discovered in clandestine graves in Tamaulipas and Durango states. Some were believed to be Central American migrants, but the identities of fewer than 50 had been established by the end of the year. Public concern over the violence and dissatisfaction with the government’s response resulted in the creation of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. The movement held protests in many parts of the country to demand an end to violence and impunity.
The US government released further security-related funding and other transfers to Mexico as part of the Merida Initiative, a three-year regional co-operation and security agreement. Although the USA temporarily withheld some funds and despite the Mexican government’s continued failure to meet human rights conditions, transfers went ahead. A bungled US operation to track weapons smuggled into Mexico highlighted the absence of effective mechanisms to prevent criminal gangs from bringing weapons into the country.Top of page
The government ignored widespread reports of grave human rights violations, such as torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and excessive use of force by army and, increasingly, navy personnel. It continued to assert that abuses were exceptional and perpetrators were held to account. In only one case were military personnel brought to justice during 2011: 14 soldiers were convicted in military courts of the killing of two women and three children at a roadblock in Leyva, Sinaloa state, in 2007. The government did not provide any substantive responses to Amnesty International requests for information on investigations into such cases.
The military justice system remained in control of virtually all investigations into allegations of human rights abuses by military personnel, and continued to dismiss without effective investigation the vast majority of complaints, allowing perpetrators to evade justice. This began to change in December when, for the first time, a federal court rejected military jurisdiction in a human rights case. The civilian justice system routinely refused to conduct basic investigations into alleged abuses before transferring cases to the military justice system.
A total of 1,695 complaints of abuse committed by the army and 495 committed by the navy were lodged with the CNDH, which issued 25 recommendations against the army and six against the navy. The comparatively low number of complaints resulting in CNDH recommendations was presented by the authorities as evidence that most complaints were baseless. This ignored the limitations of many CNDH investigations.
Progress in reforming federal, state and municipal police forces was extremely slow. There was evidence that some police officers acted in collusion with criminal organizations, including in the killing of suspected members of other criminal organizations. There were widespread reports of excessive use of force, torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, most of which were not investigated effectively.
Ongoing reforms of the criminal justice system made extremely slow progress. A number of factors contributed to unsafe convictions, including arbitrary detention, torture, fabrication of evidence, denial of due process, denial of access to an effective defence, and inadequate judicial supervision of proceedings. Eighty-day pre-charge detention (arraigo) continued to be used widely, facilitating torture and other ill-treatment and undermining fair trials.
Measures to prevent, investigate and punish torture remained ineffectual, and statements obtained under duress continued to be accepted in judicial proceedings.
More than 200 inmates died, primarily as a result of gang violence, in overcrowded and unsafe prisons.Top of page
Tens of thousands of mainly Central American irregular migrants travelling to the USA were at risk of kidnapping, rape, forced recruitment or being killed by criminal gangs, often operating in collusion of public officials. Those responsible were almost never held to account. In February, the CNDH reported that 11,000 migrants had been kidnapped over a six-month period. Federal and state government measures to prevent and punish abuses and ensure access to justice remained inadequate. There were further reports of ill-treatment by migration officials and collusion with criminal gangs, despite purges to root out corrupt officials. The authorities failed to collect sufficient data about abuses to facilitate investigations by the relatives of disappeared migrants. The families of Central American disappeared migrants carried out nationwide marches to press for action to locate their relatives and highlight the fate of many migrants.
Refugee and migration laws to improve legal protection for migrant and refugee rights were passed. However, the regulatory codes necessary to ensure their effective enforcement were drawn up without adequate consultation and remained pending at the end of the year.
Human rights defenders working at the network of shelters providing humanitarian assistance to migrants were threatened and intimidated.
According to the CNDH, at least nine journalists were killed and scores of others attacked and intimidated. Impunity remained the norm for most of these crimes, despite the existence of a Special Federal Prosecutor for crimes against journalists. Discussions continued about reforms to make crimes against journalists federal offences and improve investigations.
Coverage of crime and public security in the local press was adversely affected, and in certain places virtually non-existent, as a result of attacks and intimidation of local journalists in high-crime areas. Social media played an increasingly important role providing information about security threats to the local communities. Criminal gangs killed at least three bloggers and threatened others for posting information exposing their criminal activities.
In Veracruz, the state authorities detained two Twitter users for a month and passed legislation criminalizing the distribution by any means of false information causing social disturbance. The CNDH filed a constitutional challenge to the changes to the law on the grounds that it violated the right to freedom of expression.
More than 20 human rights defenders were threatened or attacked in 2011. Official investigations had not identified the perpetrators by the end of the year. The provision of protection for defenders was often slow, bureaucratic and inadequate. In July, the President signed a decree establishing a protection mechanism, but by the end of the year there was no evidence that the mechanism was active or had improved protection for journalists or human rights defenders. A bill to strengthen the mechanism was under discussion at the end of the year.
The government’s commitment to respect the work of defenders was called into question in July when the Minister of the Navy publicly attacked the work of human rights organizations documenting abuses committed by the armed forces.
In July, constitutional reforms came into force that oblige the authorities at all levels to promote, respect, protect and guarantee international human rights norms which were granted constitutional status. The reforms also established that certain fundamental rights could not be suspended during states of emergency; recognized a number of social and economic rights, including the right to food and clean water, in law; and strengthened the powers of the CNDH.
In August, the National Supreme Court ruled that the state must comply with the judgements of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Mexico, including the ruling that military officials implicated in human rights violations must be investigated and tried by civilian courts and that the military penal code must be reformed to this effect. By the end of the year, the four military abuse cases on which the Inter-American Court had issued judgements had been transferred to civilian jurisdiction. However, compliance with other key elements of Inter-American Court rulings remained very limited, and military jurisdiction continued to be applied in other human rights cases.Top of page
Violence against women remained widespread. Large numbers of killings of women were reported in many states and those responsible continued to evade justice in the vast majority of cases. Legislation to improve access to justice and safety for women at risk remained ineffective in many areas.
The National Supreme Court narrowly rejected a legal action to overturn changes to the constitutions of the states of Baja California and San Luis Potosí establishing the right to life from the moment of conception. Seven of the 11 Supreme Court judges argued that the changes were unconstitutional and restricted women’s reproductive rights. However, this was an insufficient majority to overturn the changes, raising concerns that women would face additional obstacles in accessing abortion services in all 17 states that had adopted similar provisions.Top of page
Indigenous Peoples continued to suffer routine discrimination and systemic inequality, in relation to the right to land, housing, water, health and education. Economic and development projects on Indigenous lands continued to be undertaken without the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities. A proposed bill to regulate consultation with Indigenous communities remained stalled.
There were a number of visits to the country by regional and international human rights mechanisms, including the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression; the UN Working Group on Involuntary and Enforced Disappearances; and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Migrant Workers and their Families. In April, the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families reviewed Mexico’s report and compliance with the Convention. In July, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Mexico.Top of page