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El Salvador

Executive Summary

El Salvador is a constitutional multiparty republic. Municipal and legislative elections held in March were generally free and fair, according to international observers, although slow tabulation contributed to reporting delays. Free and fair presidential elections took place in 2014.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of unlawful killings of suspected gang members and others by security forces; forced disappearances by military personnel; torture by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of government respect for judicial independence; widespread government corruption; violence against women and girls that was infrequently addressed by the authorities, as well as security force violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; and children engaged in the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity persisted despite government steps to dismiss and prosecute some in the security forces, executive branch, and justice system who committed abuses.

Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of murder, extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence directed against police, judicial authorities, the business community, journalists, women, and members of vulnerable populations.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed politically motivated killings. There were reports, however, of security force involvement in extrajudicial killings of suspected gang members. As of July 31, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) announced it was investigating 22 complaints against police officers, prison guards, and personnel of the Attorney General’s Office for such killings.

The case continued against nine police officers charged in September 2017 with aggravated homicide and concealment stemming from the killing of five persons. Three of the accused were members of the now decommissioned Police Reaction Group (GRP), and police claimed at the time of the events that the deaths were justified homicides.

On March 2, the Attorney General’s Office appealed the September 2017 acquittal of five police officers for aggravated homicide charges in the 2015 killing of a man at a farm in San Blas, San Jose Villanueva. The judge had ruled that the prosecutors failed to prove which of the five officers was specifically responsible for firing the fatal shot and likewise failed to prove conspiracy. On May 4, the Fourth Appellate Court of Appeals confirmed it would retry the case.

On February 23, police authorities in coordination with INTERPOL arrested Jaime Ernesto Bonilla Martinez, who lived in Texas, for participating in at least eight homicides as part of an alleged extermination group operating in San Miguel. The group, composed of civilians, some of whom were alleged rival gang members, and retired and active members of the military and police, was purportedly responsible for murder-for-hire and targeted killings of alleged gang members in San Miguel. Funding for the extermination group reportedly came from Salvadoran citizens living abroad.

As of October 25, alleged gang members had killed 21 police officers. On August 21, the Organized Crime Court convicted 61 MS-13 members of homicide, extortion, illicit trafficking, and conspiracy to kill police officers, among other crimes.

b. Disappearance

There were reports alleging that members of security and law enforcement were involved in unlawful disappearances. Since March 2017 law enforcement agencies had not released data on disappearances, citing a discrepancy between data collected by police and the Attorney General’s Office.

On March 7, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the armed forces were responsible for investigating the disappearance of two 17-year-old boys in Ilopango in 2014. According to the court, seven soldiers detained and searched them, tied their hands with their shoelaces, and took them to Colonia Santa Maria, which was controlled by a rival gang. The two youths missed school that afternoon and were not seen thereafter. The case was ongoing.

In May 2017 a Sonsonate court convicted five soldiers of forced disappearance committed in 2014 and sentenced them to eight years’ imprisonment. Their defense attorneys filed an appeal, and the case remained ongoing. In January the Constitutional Chamber found the military in contempt of their August 2017 order that the Ministry of Defense investigate and report on civilian deaths caused by the military.

On September 1 and in December 2017, the Constitutional Chamber issued two sentences in forced disappearance cases from 1982. The Constitutional Chamber determined that investigations should be carried out on the whereabouts of the victims and underlined the state’s responsibility in ensuring an unobstructed investigation. The chamber noted that the Ministry of Defense and the chief of the joint chiefs of staff of the armed forces were uncooperative in the investigation.

As of October the attorney general had opened investigations into 12 instances of forced disappearance during the 1980-92 civil war.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports of violations. As of July 31, the PDDH received 18 complaints of torture or cruel or inhuman treatment by the National Civil Police (PNC), the armed forces, and other public officials.

On May 29, a court recommended that colonels Hector Solano Caceres and David Iglesias Montalvo, along with Lieutenant Colonel Ascencio Sermeno face charges for homicide, bribery, and conspiracy for ordering the torture of two men in 2016 in Apaneca. In 2017 six soldiers were convicted in the same case.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and gang activities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a serious threat to prisoners’ health and welfare. As of June 30, the PDDH reported that think tank Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development reported 38,849 inmates were being held in facilities designed for 18,051 inmates.

Convicted inmates and pretrial detainees were sometimes held in the same prison cells.

In June the Salvadoran Institute for Child Development (ISNA) reported 945 juveniles in detention, with 274 of those awaiting trial. Of those, 356 were held on homicide charges, 465 for extortion, 313 for drug-related crimes, and 143 for gang membership. As of July ISNA reported that three minors were killed by gang members while in detention, compared with nine in 2017. ISNA also reported that as of June, seven minors were victims of trafficking in persons, compared with 18 in 2017.

Gangs remained prevalent in prisons. As of September 2017, detention centers held 17,614 current or former gang members, or 46 percent of the prison population. So-called extraordinary measures were designed to interrupt gang communications and coordination between imprisoned leaders and gang members outside the prisons. Smuggling of weapons, drugs, and other contraband such as cell phones and cell phone SIM cards was reduced but remained a problem in the prisons, at times with complicity from prison officials.

Law enforcmement officials credited the extraordinary measures with a 45 percent reduction in homicides. The PDDH and human rights groups faulted the measures for lacking judicial oversight. On August 16, the Legislative Assembly formalized some elements of the extraordinary measures as part of a reformed penitentiary code, which now allows supervised family visits.

In many facilities provisions for sanitation, potable water, ventilation, temperature control, medical care, and lighting were inadequate, according to the PDDH. From August 2017 to May, the General Prison Directorate reported 2,440 cases of inmate malnutrition and the PDDH reported more than 500 cases of severe malnutrition in Izalco and Ciudad Barrios prisons. The PDDH noted that in 2017 a total of 64 inmates died, some of them due to unspecified causes.

In October the PNC reported overcrowding in police holding cells, with 5,500 detainees in cells designed for 1,500 persons. Those in pretrial detention were held alongside sick inmates.

Administration: The PDDH has authority to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court has authority over the protection of constitutional rights. The extraordinary measures granted broad authorities to wardens to order disciplinary actions, to include isolation and withholding family or religious visitations, without judicial oversight. Extraordinary measures ended in August when the Legislative Assembly reformed the penitentiary code.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media to low- and medium-security prisons. Inspections of high-security prisons were limited to government officials, the PDDH, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Early in the year, the government reinstated the ICRC’s access to all prisons. Church groups; the Institute for Human Rights at the University of Central America; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex activists; the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions; and other groups visited prisons during the year. The PDDH reported that from May 2017 to April, it conducted 1,644 unannounced prison inspections.

Improvements: Due to the construction of new prisons completed during the year and redistribution of prisoners, overcrowding declined from 334 percent to 215 percent as of August.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, there were numerous complaints that the PNC and military forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. As of July 31, the PDDH received 31 complaints of arbitrary detention, a decrease from 86 complaints received in the same period in 2017. NGOs reported that the PNC arbitrarily arrested and detained groups of persons on suspicion of gang affiliation. According to these NGOs, the accused were ostracized by their communities upon their return.

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed this provision.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNC, overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, is responsible for maintaining public security, and the Ministry of Defense is responsible for maintaining national security. Although the constitution separates public security and military functions, it allows the president to use the armed forces “in exceptional circumstances” to maintain internal peace and public security “when all other measures have been exhausted.” The military is responsible for securing international borders and conducting joint patrols with the PNC. In 2016 President Sanchez Ceren renewed the decree authorizing military involvement in police duties, a presidential order in place since 1996.

The military’s “Zeus Command” comprised 3,100 soldiers in 10 task forces to support police in providing security. These soldiers were to operate only in support of the PNC and were not authorized to arrest or detain. Three hundred and twenty soldiers in the Volcano Task Force, launched in September 2017 as a temporary expansion of the military’s presence in San Salvador, continued to support the city’s police and installed checkpoints throughout the city and conducted random searches of public buses.

There were reports of impunity for security force involvement in crime and human rights abuses during the year. The PDDH is authorized to investigate (but not prosecute) human rights abuses and refers all cases involving human rights abuses to the Attorney General’s Office. Reports of abuse and police misconduct were most often from residents of the metropolitan area of San Salvador and mostly from men and young persons.

The Police Inspector General reported it received 831 complaints against police and dismissed 155 police officers due to misconduct and took disciplinary action against 555 police officers as of October 23.

On August 2, Deputy Police Director of Specialized Operative Areas Mauricio Arriaza stated that 10 police officers of the Specialized Police Tactical Unit (UTEP) were dismissed due to human rights abuses. UTEP was created on February 14 to replace the Specialized Reaction Force of El Salvador, the Special Operation Group, and the GRP. The GRP was disbanded in February following the disappearance of female GRP member Carla Ayala. As of November 5, the Ministry of Defense had not responded to requests to report the number of soldiers removed from its ranks due to alleged ties to gangs.

As of October 26, authorities reported alleged gang members had killed 22 police officers, three soldiers, and three prison guards.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires a written warrant of arrest except in cases where an individual is caught in the act of committing a crime. Authorities apprehended persons with warrants based on evidence and issued by a judge. Police generally informed detainees promptly of charges against them.

The law permits release on bail for detainees who are unlikely to flee or whose release would not impede the investigation of the case. The bail system functioned adequately in most cases. The courts generally enforced a ruling that interrogation without the presence of counsel is coercive and that evidence obtained in such a manner is inadmissible. As a result, PNC authorities typically delayed questioning until a public defender or an attorney arrived. The constitution permits the PNC to hold suspects for 72 hours before presenting them to court. The law allows up to six months for investigation of serious crimes before requiring either a trial or dismissal of the case which may be extended by an appeals court. Many cases continued beyond the legally prescribed period.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of October 23, the PDDH reported 31 complaints of arbitrary detention or illegal detention, compared with 86 from January to August 2017.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a significant problem. As of October, 30 percent of the general prison population was in pretrial detention. Some persons remained in pretrial detention longer than the maximum legal sentences for their alleged crimes. In such circumstances detainees may request a Supreme Court review of their continued detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence, and the judiciary was burdened by inefficiency and corruption.

While the government generally respected court orders, some agencies ignored or minimally complied with orders, or sought to influence ongoing investigations. When ordered by the Constitutional Court on June 19 to release military records related to the El Mozote killings and serious civil war crimes, the Ministry of Defense responded it had already done so while denying investigators access to archival facilities at military bases, citing national security concerns. As of July 31, the Legislative Assembly had not complied with a 2015 ruling that it issue regulations to clarify certain sections of the political parties law regarding campaign contributions.

In a February 26 press conference, Minister of Defense David Munguia Payes criticized the attorney general’s charges against three military officers after they were acquitted of obstruction of justice in a torture case. On February 27, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard released a statement calling on Payes to respect the independence of the judiciary and reiterating her support for the attorney general. Media experts called Munguia’s stagecraft menacing and reminiscent of civil war-era propaganda employed by the military junta.

While implemented to expedite fair trials, virtual trials still involved delays of up to eight months, according to a July 22 newspaper report. Virtual trials often involved group hearings before a judge, with defendants unable to consult with their defense lawyers in real time. The penitentiary code reforms passed in August allow defense lawyers to attend a hearing without the defendant’s presence. Human rights groups questioned the constitutionality of the reform.

As of July 31, the PDDH received 31 complaints of lack of a fair, public trial.

Corruption in the judicial system contributed to a high level of impunity, undermining the rule of law and the public’s respect for the judiciary. As of August 31, the Supreme Court heard 57 cases against judges due to irregularities, 52 of which remained under review; removed two judges; suspended nine others; and brought formal charges against eight judges. Accusations against judges included collusion with criminal elements and sexual harassment.

In 2016, in response to a petition by victims, a judge issued an order to reopen the investigation into the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which an estimated 800 persons were killed. The PDDH concluded that the Attorney General’s Office lacked initiative in investigating civil war crimes, The PDDH also cited the Attorney General Office’s lack of cooperation from the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the President (CAPRES). On August 16, a group of Argentine forensics specialists testified they recovered 282 pieces of evidence determined to be human remains, including 143 skulls, 136 of them belonging to children younger than 12 years old. They also recovered 245 bullet casings corresponding to the type used in automatic weapons used by the armed forces.

Women who were accused of intentionally terminating their pregnancies were charged with aggravated homicide, but a number asserted they had suffered miscarriages, stillbirths and other medical emergencies during childbirth. Legal experts pointed to serious flaws in the forensics collection and interpretation.

In December 2017 Teodora del Carmen Vasquez’ conviction on aggravated homicide charges was upheld by the same appeals judges who had earlier sentenced her to 30 years. The Supreme Court commuted her sentence on February 15, opining that the evidence and motive presented by the prosecution in the case was insufficient to support the charges.

During the first nine months of the year, the justice system released five women accused of aggravated homicide of their unborn or newborn children due to lack of evidence. Twenty-five other women remained in custody for infanticide.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although some trial court judges were subject to political and economic influence. By law juries hear only a narrow group of cases, such as environmental complaints. After the jury determines innocence or guilt, a panel of judges decides the sentence.

Defendants have the right to be present in court, question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence. The constitution further provides for the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges, the right to a trial without undue delay, protection from self-incrimination, the right to communicate with an attorney of choice, the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, freedom from coercion, the right to appeal, and government-provided legal counsel for the indigent.

According to press reports, plea deals occurred in approximately 20 percent of cases, with the accused turning state’s witness in order to prosecute others. Legal experts pointed to an overreliance on witness testimony in nearly all cases, as opposed to the use of forensics or other scientific evidence. The justice system lacked DNA analysis and other forensics capability. In criminal cases a judge may allow a private plaintiff to participate in trial proceedings (calling and cross-examining witnesses, providing evidence, etc.), assisting the prosecuting attorney in the trial procedure. Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter. Authorities did not always respect these legal rights and protections. Although a jury’s verdict is final, a judge’s verdict is subject to appeal. Trials are public unless a judge seals a case.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for access to the courts, enabling litigants to bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for, as well as cessation of, human rights violations. Domestic court orders generally were enforced. Most attorneys pursued criminal prosecution and later requested civil compensation.

On May 25, the Constitutional Chamber declared unconstitutional Article 49 of the Civil Service Law, ruling that it violated the double jeopardy prohibition because previously established facts were taken as an essential element for a more serious administrative sanction.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions; however, a January news report claimed the state intelligence service tracked several journalists and collected compromising information about their private lives. The newspaper submitted photographic and whistleblower evidence to support its claim.

In many neighborhoods armed groups and gangs targeted certain persons; and interfered with privacy, family, and home life. Efforts by authorities to remedy these situations were generally ineffective.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although in many areas the government could not guarantee freedom of movement due to criminal gang activity. As of July 31, the PDDH received two complaints of restrictions from freedom of movement, one against the PNC and the other against a court in Jiquilisco. Both cases involved subjects being detained without charge. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and some assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although this was often difficult in gang-controlled neighborhoods.

In-country Movement: The major gangs controlled their own territory. Gang members did not allow persons living in another gang’s controlled area to enter their territory, even when travelling via public transportation. Gangs forced persons to present government-issued identification cards (containing their addresses) to determine their residence. If gang members discovered that a person lived in a rival gang’s territory, that person risked being killed, beaten, or not allowed to enter the territory. Bus companies paid extortion fees to operate within gang territories, often paying numerous fees for the different areas in which they operated. The extortion costs were passed on to customers.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

On July 13, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the constitution by not recognizing forced displacement or providing sufficient aid to IDPs. The ruling followed several lawsuits brought by victims, including members of the PNC. The court ordered the Legislative Assembly to pass legislation addressing internal displacement and officially recognize internal displacement. The court also called on the government to retake control of gang territories, develop protection protocols for victims, and uphold international standards for protecting victims.

As of July the PDDH reported 69 complaints of forced displacement from January to May. Nearly all of the complaints were from gang-controlled territories, with 51 cases from San Salvador. As of October the government acknowledged that 1.1 percent of the general population was internally displaced. UNHCR estimated there were 280,000 IDPs. UNHCR reported the causes of internal displacement included abuse, extortion, discrimination, and threats.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, including an established system for providing protection to refugees. As of July 31, four petitions had been submitted, with three resulting in denial and one still under consideration.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent municipal and legislative elections occurred on March 4, with the final election results released by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on March 20 and April 4, respectively. The election reports published by the Organization of American States and the EU electoral mission noted that the elections generally met international standards.

While the law prohibits public officials from campaigning in elections, this provision lacked consistent enforcement.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. While the Supreme Court investigated corruption in the executive and judicial branches, referring cases to the Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal indictment, impunity remained endemic, with courts issuing inconsistent rulings and failing to address secret discretionary accounts within the government, for example in CAPRES.

Corruption: On September 12, a judge sentenced former president Antonio Saca to 10 years in prison. He originally faced up to 30 years in prison before seeking a plea deal. As part of his plea agreement, Saca detailed how he used a network of public officials and advisers to launder money into his ARENA political party, banks, media outlets, publicity companies, fronts, and other activities. Saca testified that weak institutions such as the Court of Accounts were ineffectual in conducting audits, with transparency mechanisms failing to detect fraud. While Saca’s defense offered to return $15 million, the court found him fully liable and ordered him to repay $260 million and surrender his bank accounts and six companies managing 86 radio stations to the asset forfeiture program.

The attorney general investigated corruption pertaining to a discretionary fund within CAPRES in existence for more than 25 years and used by six presidents since 1989. It was originally created to provide resources for the national intelligence budget and CAPRES. The funds, totaling more than one billion dollars since its inception, had never been audited by the Court of Accounts. Both former presidents Saca and Funes were accused of embezzling more than $650 million from public funds. President Sanchez Ceren’s discretionary account was reportedly $147 million, while former presidents Saca and Funes controlled $301 million and $351, million respectively.

On June 19, the Attorney General’s Office initiated an asset forfeiture claim against 24 properties owned by Funes, cabinet members, public officers, and his relatives. Properties included sugarcane plantations, beach houses, and homes.

As of July 31, the Ethics Tribunal reported it had received 190 complaints against 273 public officials. The tribunal sanctioned 20 public officials and forwarded six cases to the attorney general. The attorney general issued 28 arrest warrants on June 6, targeting individuals linked to more than $300 million allegedly embezzled by former president Funes from 2009 through 2014. Despite Constitutional Chamber restrictions on transferring funds without legislative approval, Funes allegedly had misdirected funding for personal gain since 2010. In July the attorney general accused Funes of using $215,000 in public funds to acquire 91 military-grade weapons through the Ministry of Defense for his personal use.

Financial Disclosure: The illicit enrichment law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets to the Probity Section of the Supreme Court. The law establishes fines for noncompliance that range from $11 to $571. The declarations were not available to the public unless requested by petition. In 2016 the Supreme Court established three criteria for selecting investigable cases: the age of the case (i.e., proximity to the statute of limitations), relevance of the position, and seriousness and notoriety of the alleged illicit enrichment.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Although government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to these groups, officials expressed reluctance to discuss certain issues, such as extrajudicial killings and IDPs, with the PDDH.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The principal human rights investigative and monitoring body was the autonomous PDDH, whose head is nominated by the Legislative Assembly for a three-year term. The PDDH regularly issued advisory opinions, reports, and press releases on prominent human rights cases. The PDDH generally enjoyed government cooperation and was considered generally effective except on problems relating to criminal groups and gangs.

The PDDH maintained a constructive dialogue with CAPRES. The government publicly acknowledged receipt of reports, although in some cases it did not take action on recommendations, which are nonbinding. The PDDH faced threats, such as two robberies at its headquarters specifically targeting computers containing personally identifiable information.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, and the criminal code’s definition of rape may apply to spousal rape, at the judge’s discretion. The law requires the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute rape cases whether or not the victim presses charges, and the law does not permit the victim to withdraw the criminal charge. The penalty for rape is generally imprisonment for six to 10 years. Laws against rape were not effectively enforced.

The law prohibits domestic violence and generally provides for sentences ranging from one to three years in prison, although some forms of domestic violence carry higher penalties. The law also permits restraining orders against offenders. Laws against domestic violence remained poorly enforced, and violence against women, including domestic violence, remained a widespread and serious problem. On July 31, the Salvadoran Organization of Women for Peace (ORMUSA) reported that in 2016 and 2017, only 5 percent of the 6,326 reported crimes against women went to trial. On July 4, police arrested a police commissioner for violating the terms of a restraining order protecting his spouse.

According to the World Health Organization, the rate of cases involving violence against women was 5,999 per 100,000 inhabitants and that 574 women were killed in 2015, 524 in 2016, and 469 in 2017.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides imprisonment for five to eight years. Courts may impose fines in addition where the perpetrator maintains a position of trust or authority over the victim. The law mandates that employers take measures against sexual harassment and create and implement preventive programs. The government, however, did not enforce sexual harassment laws effectively.

On September 24, media reported the sole female member of an elite police unit was reassigned to a high threat precinct in retaliation for taking gender-discrimination claims to internal affairs inspectors. She said her uniforms were discarded, her sleeping quarters moved, and a colleague threatened to kill her.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. (For more information on maternal mortality and availability of contraception, see Appendix C.)

Discrimination: The constitution grants women and men the same legal rights, but women did not enjoy equal pay or employment opportunities. The law establishes sentences of one to three years in prison for public officials who deny a person’s civil rights based on gender and six months to two years for employers who discriminate against women in the workplace, but employees generally did not report such violations due to fear of employer reprisals.

On September 16, a labor union reported that a justice of the peace in Las Vueltas Chalatenango refused to promote a female clerk because she preferred a man have the position.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country and from their parents. The law requires parents to register a child within 15 days of birth or pay a $2.85 fine. Failure to register resulted in denial of school enrollment.

Education: Education is free, universal, compulsory through the ninth grade, and nominally free through high school. Rural areas, however, frequently did not provide required education to all eligible students due to a lack of resources and because rural parents often withdrew their children from school by the sixth grade, requiring them to work.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious and widespread problem. The law gives children the right to petition the government without parental consent. Penalties for breaking the law include the child being taken into protective custody and three to 26 years’ imprisonment, depending on the nature of the abuse.

On November 15, police arrested a woman in Juayua, Sonsonate, after she beat an 11-year-old child with a stick for losing a cell phone accessory. According to a 2016 National Health Survey, more than half of households punished their children physically and psychologically.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. The law bans child marriage to prevent child abusers from using legal technicalities to avoid imprisonment by marrying their victims.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child sex trafficking is prohibited by law. Prison sentences for convicted traffickers stipulate imprisonment from six to 10 years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law classifies statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than age 18 and includes penalties of four to 13 years’ imprisonment for violations.

The law prohibits paying anyone younger than age 18 for sexual services. The law prohibits participating in, facilitating, or purchasing materials containing child pornography and provides for prison sentences of up to 16 years for violations. Despite these provisions, sexual exploitation of children remained a problem.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community totaled approximately 150 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The National Council for Comprehensive Attention to Persons with Disability (CONAIPD), composed of representatives from multiple government entities, is the governmental agency responsible for protecting disability rights, but lacks enforcement power. According to CONAIPD, the government did not effectively enforce legal requirements for access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Few access ramps or provisions for the mobility of persons with disabilities existed.

According to CONAIPD, there is no mechanism to verify compliance with the law requiring businesses and nongovernment agencies to hire one person with disabilities for every 25 hires. CONAIPD reported employers frequently fired persons who acquired disabilities and would not consider persons with disabilities for work for which they qualified. Further, some academic institutions would not accept children with disabilities.

No formal system existed for filing a discrimination complaint involving a disability with the government.

Indigenous People

Indigenous communities reported they faced racial discrimination and economic disadvantage. According to community leaders, gangs pushed out of urban centers by police mounted incursions and appropriated indigenous land. They also reported gang members threatened their children for crossing gang territorial lines artificially drawn across ancestral indigenous land, forcing some children to drop out of school or leave home.

According to the 2007 census, the most recent for which this data was available, there were 60 indigenous groups, and 0.4 percent of citizens identified as indigenous, mainly from the Nahua-Pipl, Lencas, Cacaopera (Kakwira) and Maya Chorti groups. A 2014 constitutional amendment recognizes the rights of indigenous people to maintain their cultural and ethnic identitiy, but no laws provide indigenous people rights to share in revenue from exploitation of natural resources on historically indigenous lands. The government did not demarcate any lands as belonging to indigenous communities. Because few possessed title to land, opportunities for bank loans and other forms of credit remained limited.

While the law provides for the preservation of languages and archeological sites, it does not include the right to be consulted regarding development and other projects envisioned on their land.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which also applies to discrimination in housing, employment, nationality, and access to government services. Gender identity and sexual orientation are included in the criminal code provisions covering hate crimes, along with race and political affiliation. NGOs reported that public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against sexual minorities. Persons from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community stated that the PNC, and the Attorney General’s Office harassed transgender and gay individuals when they reported cases of violence against LGBTI persons, including by conducting strip searches.

As of July 31, the PDDH reported eight accusations made by the LGBTI community of five homicides, one unauthorized search, and one harassment complaint. The PDDH was unable to determine whether the incidents were bias-motivated. Activists also reported receiving death threats via social media; police generally failed to take action on these reports.

On April 16, the Ministry of Security and Justice led a formal signing ceremony for the Institutional Policy for the Protection of the LGBTI Community. A product of two years of roundtable dialogues, the policy instructs the security and migration sectors of government to consult with the Office of Secretariat for Social Inclusion to ensure LGBTI persons are treated in accordance with international standards in their interactions with the state. In November 2017 the Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced guidelines stating individuals cannot be denied the right to vote because the photograph on their identification card does not match their physical appearance.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS status, Entre Amigos, an LGBTI NGO, reported discrimination due to HIV was widespread. As of July 31, the PDDH reported four cases of discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. This included use of pejorative language against an inmate by a prosecutor, denial of university access, lack of medical confidentiality in the prison system of an HIV-positive diagnosis and discriminatory treatment from other inmates, and discrimination by public-health caregivers to a child and her mother.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, to strike, and to bargain collectively. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination, although it does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Military personnel, national police, judges, and high-level public officers may not form or join unions. Workers who are representatives of the employer or in “positions of trust” also may not serve on the union’s board of directors. The law does not define the term “positions of trust.” The labor code does not cover public-sector workers and municipal workers, whose wages and terms of employment are regulated by the 1961 civil service law.

Unions must meet complex requirements to register, including having a minimum membership of 35. If the Ministry of Labor denies registration, the law prohibits any attempt to organize for up to six months following the denial. Collective bargaining is obligatory only if the union represents the majority of workers. Labor unions accused the ministry of trying to block the registration of unions not aligned with the government’s party. Consequently, unions were unable to vote for membership in tripartite bodies, consisting of members of government, labor, and business.

The law contains cumbersome and complex procedures for conducting a legal strike. The law does not recognize the right to strike for public and municipal employees or for workers in essential services. The law does not specify which services meet this definition, and courts therefore apply this provision on a case-by-case basis. The law requires that 30 percent of all workers in an enterprise must support a strike for it to be legal and that 51 percent must support the strike before all workers are bound by the decision to strike. Unions may strike only to obtain or modify a collective bargaining agreement or to protect the common professional interests of the workers. They must also engage in negotiation, mediation, and arbitration processes before striking, although many groups often skipped or went through these steps quickly. The law prohibits workers from appealing a government decision declaring a strike illegal.

In lieu of requiring employers to reinstate illegally dismissed workers, the law requires employers to pay the workers the equivalent of 30 days of their basic salary for each year of service. The law specifies 30 reasons for which an employer can terminate a worker’s contract without triggering any additional responsibilities, including consistent negligence, leaking private company information, or committing immoral acts while on duty. An employer may also legally suspend workers, including for reasons of economic downturn or market conditions. As of July the Ministry of Labor had received 1,778 complaints of violations of the labor code, including 565 instances of failure to pay the minimum wage.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Resources to conduct inspections remained inadequate, and remedies remained ineffective. Penalties for employers who fire workers with the goal or effect of ensuring the union no longer met the minimum number of members ranged from 10 to 50 times the monthly minimum salary. These were paid to the government’s general fund, not to the fired employee. The penalty for employers who interfere with the right to strike was between $3,000 and $15,000. Such penalties remained insufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor acknowledged it lacked sufficient resources, such as vehicles, fuel, and computers, to enforce the law fully. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. According to union representatives, the government inconsistently enforced labor rights for public workers, maquila/textile workers, food manufacturing workers, subcontracted workers in the construction industry, security guards, informal-sector workers, and migrant workers. As of July the ministry had received 15 claims of violations for labor discrimination.

On November 10, a court ordered a mayor in Conchagua to cease age discrimination of a group female employees. The employees filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labor that they were subjected to harassment by the mayor and his subordinates because of their age and his desire to replace them.

Unions functioned independently from the government and political parties, although many generally were aligned with the ARENA, FMLN, or other political parties. According to union leaders, the administration blacklisted public-sector employees who they believed were close with the opposition. Workers at times engaged in strikes regardless of whether the strikes met legal requirements. The International Labor Organization (ILO) Conference Committee on the Application of Standards discussed the country for the fourth year in a row over the nonfunctioning of the tripartite Higher Labor Council.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally did not effectively enforce such laws. The labor code’s default fine of $57 per violation applied. This penalty was generally not sufficient to deter violations. The lack of sufficient resources for inspectors reduced their ability to enforce the law fully. The Ministry of Labor did not report on incidents of forced labor. Gangs subjected children to forced labor in illicit activities, including selling or transporting drugs (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 14. The law allows children between the ages of 14 and 18 to engage in light work if the work does not damage the child’s health or development or interfere with compulsory education. The law prohibits children younger than age 16 from working more than six hours per day and 34 hours per week; those younger than age 18 are prohibited from working at night or in occupations considered hazardous. The Ministry of Labor maintained a list of the types of work considered hazardous and prohibited for children, to include repairing heavy machinery, mining, handling weapons, fishing and harvesting mollusks, and working at heights above five feet while doing construction, erecting antennas, or working on billboards. Children age 16 and older may engage in light work on coffee and sugar plantations and in the fishing industry so long as it does not harm their health or interfere with their education.

The Ministry of Labor maintains responsibility for enforcing child labor laws but did so with limited effectiveness. Child labor remained a serious and widespread problem. The law specifies a default fine of no more than $60 for each violation of most labor laws, including child labor laws; such penalties were insufficient to act as a deterrent. Labor inspectors focused almost exclusively on the formal sector. According to the ministry, from January 2017 through May, officials conducted 1,440 child labor inspections that discovered 18 minors, five of whom were unauthorized to work. By comparison, as of September 2017, according to the ministry, there were 140,700 children and adolescents working, of whom 91,257 were employed in “dangerous work” in the informal sector. No information on any investigations or prosecutions by the government was available. The ministry did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector.

There were reports of children younger than age 16 engaging in the worst forms of child labor, including in coffee cultivation, fishing, shellfish collection, and fireworks production. Children were subjected to other worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children) and recruitment into illegal gangs to perform illicit activities related to the arms and drug trades, including committing homicide. Children were engaged in child labor, including domestic work, the production of cereal grains and baked goods, cattle raising, and vending. Orphans and children from poor families frequently worked as street vendors and general laborers in small businesses despite the presence of law enforcement officials.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution, labor laws, and state regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction (except in cases determined to protect local workers), social origin, gender, disability, language, or HIV-positive status. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not included in the constitution or labor law, although the PDDH and the Ministry of Labor actively sought to protect workers against discrimination on those grounds.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, and sexual orientation or gender identity (see sections 6 and 7.e.). According to the Ministry of Labor, migrant workers have the same rights as citizens, but the ministry did not enforce them.

On January 30, the Legislative Assembly reformed the labor code, prohibiting discriminatory practices and violence against women in the workplace. Further, on June 26, the Legislative Assembly reformed the labor code, civil service law, and the Vacations and Permits Law for Public Employees, prohibiting the dismissal of women returning from maternity leave for up to six months.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage; the minimum wage is determined by sector. In January a major minimum wage increase went into effect that included increases of nearly 40 percent for apparel assembly workers and more than 100 percent for workers in coffee and sugar harvesting. After the increase the minimum daily wage was $10 for retail, service, and industrial employees; $9.84 for apparel assembly workers; and $3.94 for agricultural workers. The government reported the poverty income level was $179.67 per month in urban areas and $126.97 per month in rural areas.

The law sets a maximum normal workweek of 44 hours, limited to no more than six days and to no more than eight hours per day, but allows overtime, which is to be paid at a rate of double the usual hourly wage. The law mandates that full-time employees receive pay for an eight-hour day of rest in addition to the 44-hour normal workweek. The law provides that employers must pay double-time for work on designated annual holidays, a Christmas bonus based on the time of service of the employee, and 15 days of paid annual leave. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law states that domestic employees, such as maids and gardeners, are obligated to work on holidays if their employer makes this request, but they are entitled to double pay in these instances. The government did not adequately enforce these laws.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting workplace safety standards, and the law establishes a tripartite committee to review the standards. The law requires employers to take steps to meet health and safety requirements in the workplace, including providing proper equipment and training and a violence-free environment. Employers who violate most labor laws could receive a default fine of no more than $57 for each violation. While the laws were appropriate for the main industries, a lack of compliance inspectors led to poor enforcement. These penalties were also insufficient to deter violations, and some companies reportedly found it more cost effective to pay the fines than to comply with the law. The law promotes occupational safety awareness, training, and worker participation in occupational health and safety matters.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the law. The government proved more effective in enforcing the minimum wage law in the formal sector than in the informal sector. Unions reported the ministry failed to enforce the law for subcontracted workers hired for public reconstruction contracts. The government provided its inspectors updated training in both occupational safety and labor standards. As of June the ministry conducted 13,315 inspections, in addition to 3,857 inspections to follow up with prior investigations, and had levied $777,000 in fines against businesses.

Allegations of corruption among labor inspectors continued. The Labor Ministry received complaints regarding failure to pay overtime, minimum wage violations, unpaid salaries, and cases of employers illegally withholding benefits (including social security and pension funds) from workers.

Reports of overtime and wage violations existed in several sectors. According to the Labor Ministry, employers in the agriculture sector did not generally grant annual bonuses, vacation days, or days of rest. Women in domestic service and the industrial manufacturing for export industry, particularly in the export-processing zones, faced exploitation, mistreatment, verbal abuse, threats, sexual harassment, and generally poor work conditions. Workers in the construction industry and domestic service reportedly fell subject to violations of wage, hour, and safety laws. According to ORMUSA, apparel companies violated women’s rights through occupational health violations and unpaid overtime. There were reports of occupational safety and health violations in other sectors, including reports that a very large percentage of buildings were out of compliance with safety standards set by the General Law on Risk Protection. The government proved ineffective in pursuing such violations.

In some cases the country’s high crime rate negatively affected acceptable conditions of work as well as workers’ psychological and physical health. Some workers, such as bus drivers, bill collectors, messengers, and teachers in high-risk areas, reported being subject to extortion and death threats.

As of July the Ministry of Labor reported 5,199 workplace accidents. These included 2,609 accidents in the services sector, 1,859 in the industrial sector, 620 in the commercial sector, and 111 in the agricultural sector. The ministry did not report any deaths from workplace-related accidents.

Workers may legally remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities lacked the ability to protect employees in this situation effectively.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Mexico is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement won the presidential election on July 1 in generally free and fair multiparty elections and took office on December 1. Citizens also elected members of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, governors, state legislators, and mayors.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of the involvement by police, military, and other state officials, sometimes in coordination with criminal organizations, in unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention by both government and illegal armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions in some prisons; impunity for violence against journalists and state and local censorship and criminal libel; and violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem, with extremely low rates of prosecution for all forms of crimes. The government’s federal statistics agency (INEGI) estimated 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were several reports the government or its 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. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported 25 complaints of “deprivation of life” between January and November 30.

On January 7, more than 200 members of the military, Guerrero state police, and Federal Police arbitrarily arrested and executed three indigenous security force members in La Concepcion. The killings occurred in tandem with reports of the arbitrary arrest of 38 persons, 25 illegal house searches, and the torture of at least eight persons. According to the human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montana Tlachinollan, the security forces arrived to investigate a confrontation between armed persons and community police. Witnesses said state police executed two community police officers during the confrontation. Witnesses alleged two state police officers took a community police officer to a nearby building, where he was later found dead. Representatives of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Mexico City condemned the operation, stating there was evidence human rights violations occurred at the hands of security forces.

In September the CNDH concluded soldiers executed two men and planted rifles on their bodies during a 2017 shootout between authorities and fuel thieves in Palmarito, Puebla. The CNDH recommended the army pay reparations to the victims’ families. Some of the killings were captured on video, including of a soldier appearing to execute a suspect lying on the ground.

There were no developments in the investigation into the 2015 Tanhuato, Michoacan, shooting in which federal police agents were accused of executing 22 persons after a gunfight and of tampering with evidence.

In May a federal judge ordered the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) to reopen the investigation into the 2014 killings of 22 suspected criminals in Tlatlaya, Mexico State, by members of the military, specifically calling for an investigation into the role of the chain of command. The judge ruled that the PGR’s investigation thus far had not been exhaustive, adequate, or effective. (The Government of Mexico has appealed the ruling.) According to multiple NGOs, the four former state attorney general investigative police officers convicted of torturing suspects in this case were released from custody.

Criminal organizations carried out human rights abuses and widespread killings throughout the country, sometimes in coordination with state agents.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of forced disappearances–the secret abduction or imprisonment of a person by security forces–and of many disappearances related to organized criminal 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 CNDH registered 38 cases of alleged “forced or involuntary” disappearances through November 30.

Investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. According to information provided by the Federal Judicial Council, from December 1, 2006, to December 31, 2017, only 14 sentences for forced disappearance were issued. At the federal level, as of August 2017, the deputy attorney general for human rights was investigating 943 cases of disappeared persons. Some states were making progress investigating this crime. At the state level, a Veracruz special prosecutor for disappearances detained 65 persons during the year for the crime of forced disappearance.

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.

Nationwide, the CNDH reported the exhumation of the remains of at least 530 persons in 163 clandestine graves between January 1, 2017 and August 31, 2018. The scale and extent of the problem is indicated by the discovery, in the past eight years in Veracruz State, of 601 clandestine graves with the remains of 1,178 victims.

The federal government and several states failed to meet deadlines for implementing various provisions of the November 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; as of August only seven of 32 states had done so. Only 20 states had met the requirement to create specialized prosecutors’ offices focused on forced disappearances. The federal government created a National System for the Search of Missing Persons as required by the law but had not established the required National Forensic Data Bank and Amber Alert System as of this reporting period.

As of April 30, according to the National Registry of Missing Persons, a total of 37,435 individuals were recorded as missing or disappeared, up 40 percent, compared with the total number at the end of 2014. The National Search Commission, created in March, shut down this registry in July as part of the process to create a new registry, which it planned to make public in early 2019. The new database would include more than 24,000 genetic profiles of the relatives of the disappeared as well as information such as fingerprints, parents’ names, and dates of birth of the victims, according to government officials.

In February an estimated 31 former high-ranking Veracruz state security officials and members of the state police involved in disappearances and acts of torture in 2013 were ordered apprehended on charges of forced disappearance. Former state police chief Roberto Gonzalez Meza was among the 19 arrested in February. In June former state attorney general Luis Angel Bravo Contreras was arrested and placed in custody while awaiting trial on charges related to the forced disappearance of 13 individuals. An additional seven Veracruz former state police officers were detained in August for the crime of forced disappearance of two persons in 2013.

In May the OHCHR announced it had documented the disappearance of 23 individuals–including five minors–by Mexican security forces between February and May in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. The federal Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Disappearances opened an investigation into the disappearances in June, and the navy temporarily suspended 30 personnel while they conducted an investigation.

On June 4, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court in Tamaulipas ruled that authorities had failed to investigate indications of military and federal police involvement in the disappearance of 43 students from a teacher-training college in Ayotzinapa in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The court faulted the PGR for not investigating evidence that suspects were tortured to coerce confessions while in PGR custody. During the year the PGR indicted 31 municipal police officers for kidnapping, involvement with organized crime, and aggravated homicide related to the case. Victims’ relatives and civil society continued to be highly critical of PGR’s handling of the investigation, noting there had been no convictions relating to the disappearances of the 43 students. The court ruled that PGR’s 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, PGR, and 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 scheduled to go to the Supreme Court for review. On December 2, one day after his inauguration, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered the creation of a truth commission–headed by the deputy minister for human rights of the Ministry of Interior–to re-examine the disappearances.

In other developments related to the Ayotzinapa case, on March 15 the OHCHR released a report of gross violations of human rights and due process in the Ayotzinapa investigation, including arbitrary detention and torture. The OHCHR found “solid grounds” to conclude at least 34 individuals were tortured in the course of the investigation, most of them while in the custody of the PGR’s Sub-Prosecutor for Organized Crime. The report highlighted the possible extrajudicial killing of one suspect, Emannuel Alejandro Blas Patino, who was allegedly tortured to death by asphyxiation with a plastic bag and multiple blows to his body by officials from the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR) on October 27, 2014.

On June 5, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Mechanism issued a follow-up report that found the government’s investigation into the Ayotzinapa case had been fragmented, with many lines of investigation proceeding slowly or prematurely dismissed. The report acknowledged some progress in the investigation, including the creation of a map of graves and crematorium ovens in the region, steps taken to investigate firearms possibly used on the night of the events, topographic survey work conducted using remote sensing technology, and following up with ground searches for possible burial sites.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and confessions obtained through illicit means are not admissible as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports that security forces tortured suspects.

As of November 30, the CNDH registered 57 complaints of torture. Between January 1, 2017, and August 2018, the CNDH recorded 496 complaints of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The majority of these complaints were from Tamaulipas, Mexico City, Mexico State, and Veracruz; federal police and PGR officials were accused of being responsible in most torture cases. NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH misclassified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.

Less than 1 percent of federal torture investigations resulted in prosecution and conviction, according to government data. The PGR conducted 13,850 torture investigations between 2006 and 2016, and authorities reported 31 federal convictions for torture during that period. The federal Specialized Torture Investigation Unit, created in 2015 within the PGR, reported in February it had opened 8,335 investigations but had presented charges in only 17 cases.

According to the national human rights network “All Rights for All” (Red TDT), as of August only two states, Chihuahua and Colima, had updated their state torture law to comply with the federal law passed in 2017. Only eight states had assigned a specialized torture prosecutor, and many of them lacked the necessary resources to investigate cases. According to the NGO INSYDE, there were not enough doctors and psychologists who could determine if psychological torture had occurred, and authorities were still struggling to investigate torture accusations from incarcerated victims.

In March the OHCHR found “solid grounds” to conclude at least 34 individuals were tortured in the course of the investigation of the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala in 2014 (see section 1.b.).

In June the World Justice Project reported the ongoing transition to an oral-accusatory justice system from the previous written, inquisitorial system had reduced the frequency of torture.

In July 2017, INEGI published the National Survey of Detained Persons, which surveyed individuals held in all municipal, state, or federal prisons. Of detainees who had given a statement to a public prosecutor, 46 percent reported being pressured by the police or other authorities to give a different version of the events. Of detainees who had confessed, 41 percent said they declared their guilt due to pressure, threats, or physical assaults. Detainees reported physical violence (64 percent) and psychological threats (76 percent) during their arrest and reported that, while at the public prosecutor’s office, they were held incommunicado or in isolation (49 percent), threatened with false charges (41 percent), undressed (40 percent), tied up (29 percent), blindfolded (26 percent), and suffocated (25 percent). According to 20 percent, authorities made threats to their families, and 5 percent reported harm to their families.

On September 6, 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 that 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.

There was one report that torture was used to repress political speech. The Oaxaca Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Equity reported a series of escalating attacks, including torture against human rights defenders in Oaxaca in retaliation for their activities. For example, after Oaxaca human rights defenders Arturo Villalobos Ordonez and Patricia Mendez publicly denounced police repression and other abuses in Nochixtlan and other abuses, their minor daughter suffered threats and harassment starting in January and culminating in an incident May 7 in which two men entered her home, stomped on her head, submerged her in water, showed her pictures of mutilated corpses, and threatened that her parents would face the same fate if she did not reveal their whereabouts.

On April 30, the CNDH issued a formal report to the director of the National Migration Institute (INM), indicating that INM personnel committed “acts of torture” against a Salvadoran migrant in October 2017. According to the CNDH document, the victim accompanied another migrant to a migratory station in Mexicali, where an INM official and two guards repeatedly physically struck the migrant and threatened him for 15 to 20 minutes. The CNDH concluded the victim suffered a fractured rib and other injuries as well as psychological trauma.

In a November report, the NGO Centro Prodh documented 29 cases of sexual torture between 2006 and 2015 in 12 states (Baja California, Ciudad de Mexico, Coahuila, Estado de Mexico, Guerrero, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz); 16 of the 29 cases were reported as rape. Twenty-seven women had reported their torture to a judge, but in 18 cases, no investigation was ordered. Members of the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA), SEMAR, federal police, and state police of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Coahuila were allegedly involved.

In December 2017 the OHCHR Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment issued a report based on a 2016 visit that noted torture was a widespread practice in the country. The subcommittee noted that disparities in the classification of the crime of torture in the states continued to generate real or potential gaps that lead to impunity.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh and life threatening due to corruption; overcrowding; abuse; inmate violence; alcohol and drug addiction; inadequate health care, sanitation, and food; comingling of pretrial and convicted persons; and lack of security and control.

Physical Conditions: According to a 2017 CNDH report, federal, state, and local detention centers suffered from “uncontrolled self-government in aspects such as security and access to basic services, violence among inmates, lack of medical attention, a lack of opportunities for social reintegration, a lack of differentiated attention for groups of special concern, abuse by prison staff, and a lack of effective grievance mechanisms.” The most overcrowded prisons were plagued by riots, revenge killings, and jailbreaks. Criminal gangs often held de facto control. Inmates staged mass escapes, battled each other, and engaged in shootouts using guns that police and guards smuggled into prisons.

Health and sanitary conditions were often poor, and most prisons did not offer psychiatric care. Some prisons were staffed with poorly trained, underpaid, and corrupt correctional officers, and authorities occasionally placed prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely. Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted criminals. The CNDH noted that the lack of access to adequate health care, including specialized medical care for women, was a significant problem. Food quality and quantity, heating, ventilation, and lighting varied by facility, with internationally accredited prisons generally having the highest standards.

The CNDH found several reports 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.

In March the CNDH released its 2017 National Diagnostic of Penitentiary Supervision. The report singled out the states of Nayarit, Guerrero, and Tamaulipas for poor prison conditions. 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 have yet to be sentenced from convicts.

The CNDH found the worst conditions in municipal prisons. The CNDH determined that public security agents used excessive force in an October 2017 Cadereyta prison riot that left 18 persons dead and 93 injured. Self-governance at the prison led to the riot, which was exacerbated by the state public security and civil forces’ inadequate contingency planning. This was the fifth lethal riot at a Nuevo Leon prison since 2016.

In December 2017 the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment published a report based on a 2016 visit, concluding municipal prisons had deplorable conditions. The report found infrastructure, hygiene, and services were inadequate. There was little natural light and ventilation, cells were cold at night, and prisoners did not have access to blankets. The subcommittee encountered numerous prisoners, including minors, who had not received water or food for 24 hours. The subcommittee observed some centers lacked medical equipment and basic medication. Prisoners had to rely on family members to provide medication, thus low-income prisoners were sometimes left without medical care.

A 2016 INEGI survey of 211,000 inmates in the country’s 338 state and federal penitentiaries revealed that 87 percent of inmates reported bribing guards for items such as food, telephone calls, and blankets or mattresses. Another survey of 64,000 prisoners revealed that 36 percent reported paying bribes to other inmates, who often controlled parts of penitentiaries. Six of 10 LGBTI prisoners were victims of abuse such as sexual violence and discrimination at the hands of other prisoners or security officials, according to a 2015 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) report.

According to civil society groups, migrants in some migrant 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: Prisoners and detainees could file complaints regarding human rights violations. Authorities did not always conduct proper investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the 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 September the total number of state and federal accredited facilities was 92, an increase of 11 facilities from August 2017. Chihuahua and Guanajuato were the only states to have all their prisons accredited.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The 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 1, 2017 and August 2018, the CNDH recorded 618 complaints of arbitrary detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Federal, state, and municipal police have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order. The Federal Police are under the authority of the interior minister and the National Security Commission. State police are under the authority of the state governors. Municipal police are under the authority of local mayors. SEDENA and SEMAR also play an important role in domestic security, particularly in combatting organized criminal groups. The constitution grants the president the authority to use the armed forces for the protection of internal and national security, and the courts have upheld the legality of the armed forces’ role in undertaking these activities in support of civilian authorities. The INM, under the authority of the Interior Ministry, is responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants.

In December 2017 the president signed the Law on Internal Security to provide a more explicit legal framework for the role the military had been playing for many years in public security. The law authorized the president to deploy the military to assist states in policing at the request of civilian authorities. The law subordinated civilian law enforcement operations to military authority in some instances and allowed the president to extend deployments indefinitely in cases of “grave danger.” With some exceptions, the law required military institutions to transfer cases involving civilian victims, including in human rights cases, to civilian prosecutors to pursue in civilian courts. SEDENA, SEMAR, the Federal Police, and the PGR have security protocols for the transfer of detainees, chain of custody, and use of force. At least 23 legal challenges were presented to the Supreme Court of Justice seeking a review of the law’s constitutionality, including one by the CNDH. On November 15, the Supreme Court ruled the Law on Internal Security was unconstitutional.

As of August 2017 the PGR was investigating 138 cases involving SEDENA or SEMAR officials suspected of abuse of authority, torture, homicide, and arbitrary detention. By existing law, military tribunals have no jurisdiction over cases with civilian victims, which are the exclusive jurisdiction of civilian courts.

Although civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces and police, impunity, especially for human rights abuses, remained a serious problem.

By law, civilian courts have jurisdiction in cases involving allegations of human rights violations against civilians committed by members of the military. Military authorities, however, can and do investigate such cases in parallel with civilian authorities, and can charge military suspects with crimes under military law in military courts.

SEDENA’s General Directorate for Human Rights investigates military personnel for violations of human rights identified by the CNDH and is responsible for promoting a culture of respect for human rights within the institution. The directorate, however, has no power to prosecute allegations of rights violations or to take independent judicial action.

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. 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.

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 arrest and investigation as provided for by law, although the right to public defense during trial was generally respected. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.

In August the CNDH concluded an investigation that revealed eight persons, including five minors, had suffered violations at the hands of Federal Police in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, in 2013. The CNDH sent a recommendation to the National Security Commission concerning the investigation. According to the investigation, federal police agents entered a home without a warrant and arrested three persons. One adult was reportedly tortured.

Human rights NGOs and victims alleged numerous incidents between January and July in which Coahuila state police forces abused detainees in custody in the border city of Piedras Negras and surrounding areas. The state prosecutor general’s office was investigating the accusations.

On May 14, the CNDH withdrew without action more than 90 percent of the 2,972 complaints filed against SEDENA from 2012 to May.

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.

In February, Yucatan state police detained three persons near Dzitas, on the grounds that their car had extremely dark tinted windows and the driver did not have a driver’s license. The victims alleged that later they were falsely charged with threatening the police officers and drug possession. The victims reported being blindfolded and tortured by electric shock to their hands and genitalia. One of the three was allegedly forcibly disappeared. Once he reappeared, the others withdrew their complaints.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. The new accusatory 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. A 2018 World Prison Brief report showed that 39.4 percent of individuals detained were in pretrial detention, compared to 42.7 percent in 2005. 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.

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.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In 2016 all civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatory trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. In some states alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.

Under the accusatory system, all hearings and trials are conducted by a judge 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 many 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 at all stages of the criminal process 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 in view of 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.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were some reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws that restrict public demonstrations.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

The government and press reports noted a marked increase in refugee and asylum applications during the year. According to UNHCR statistics, there were 9,900 asylum applications during the first half of the year, compared with a total of 14,596 applications in all of 2017.

At the Iztapalapa detention center near Mexico City, the Twenty-First Century detention center in Chiapas, and other detention facilities, men were separated from women and children, and there were special living quarters for LGBTI individuals. Migrants had access to medical, psychological, and dental services, and the Iztapalapa center had agreements with local hospitals to care for any urgent cases free of charge. Individuals from countries with consular representation also had access to consular services. Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) and CNDH representatives visited daily, and other established civil society groups were able to visit the detention facilities on specific days and hours. Victims of trafficking and other crimes were housed in specially designated shelters. Human rights pamphlets were available in many different languages. In addition approximately 35 centers cooperated with UNHCR and allowed it to display posters and provide other information on how to access asylum for those in need of international protection.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials. Government and civil society sources reported the Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. An August 2017 report by the independent INM Citizens’ Council found incidents in which immigration agents had been known to threaten and abuse migrants to force them to accept voluntary deportation and discourage them from seeking asylum. The council team visited 17 detention centers across the country and reported threats, violence, and excessive force against undocumented migrants. The INM responded to these allegations by asserting it treated all migrants with “absolute respect.”

There were media reports that criminal groups kidnapped undocumented migrants to extort money from migrants’ relatives or force them into committing criminal acts on their behalf.

A November 2017 Amnesty International report highlighted the dangers Central American LGBTI migrants faced in Mexico. Citing UNHCR data, the report stated two-thirds of LGBTI migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who applied for refugee status reported having been victims of sexual violence in Mexico.

According to a July 2017 report from the NGO Washington Office on Latin America, of the 5,824 reported crimes against migrants that occurred in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Sonora, Coahuila, and at the federal level, 99 percent of the crimes were unresolved.

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by kidnappings and homicides.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) attributed the displacement of 10,947 people in 2018 to violence by government forces against civilians in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Sinaloa. Land conflicts, social and ethnic violence, local political disputes, religiously motivated violence, extractive industry operations, and natural disasters were other causes. The CMDPDH found 74 percent of displaced persons in 2017 came from the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Sinaloa. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.

During an October 2017 border dispute between two municipalities in the state of Chiapas, 5,323 Tzotziles indigenous individuals were displaced. Violence between the communities resulted in women, children, and the elderly abandoning their homes. By January, 3,858 had returned, and the rest remained in shelters.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status and complementary protection, and the government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protection to refugees. At the end of 2017, the Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) had received 14,596 petitions, of which 2,400 were abandoned, 7,719 were pending, and 4,475 were resolved. The number of applicants withdrawing from the process dropped to 16 percent during the year, down from 36 percent in 2014. The refusal rate decreased from 61 percent to 37 percent over that same period. NGOs reported bribes sometimes influenced the adjudication of asylum petitions and requests for transit visas.

The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to asylum and the asylum procedure, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, and integration (access to school and work) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status. In October, the government announced the “You Are at Home” (“Estas en tu casa”) program to address the flow of migrants in so-called caravans from Central America transiting the country to seek asylum in the United States. The program offered migrants the opportunity to stay legally in the country with access to health care, employment, and education for children. Press reports indicated that 546 migrants had registered for the program as of November 11.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The July 1 presidential, legislative, gubernatorial, and other local elections were considered by international observers to have been generally free and fair with only minor reports of irregularities. Local commentators pointed to the electoral authorities’ quick and transparent publishing of results as increasing citizen trust in the electoral and democratic system as a whole.

During the electoral season (September 2017 to June 28), 48 candidates were killed. In Guerrero 14 candidates were killed, followed by five in Puebla. Of the victims, 12 were members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, 10 belonged to the Party of the Democratic Revolution, seven to the National Regeneration Movement, six to the National Action Party, five to the Citizens’ Movement, two to the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico, one each to the Social Encounter Party and the Labor Party, and three of the victims did not have a party affiliation. As of July the killings resulted in just one arrest, and none resulted in convictions. In comparison with the 2012 elections, there were 10 times more killings of candidates in 2018.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. As of September women held 49 percent of 128 senate seats and 48 percent of 500 deputies’ seats. The law provides for the right of indigenous persons to elect representatives to local office according to “uses and customs” law (See “Indigenous Peoples”) rather than federal and state electoral law.

On September 8, the Chiapas Electoral and Citizen Participation Institute (IEPC) reported 36 women elected to political office in Chiapas resigned so that men could take their places. IEPC claimed the women were forced to give up their positions as part of a premeditated strategy to install men in office. The president of the National Electoral Institute, Lorenzo Cordova, stated the replacement of successful female candidates with men was “unacceptable in a democratic context” and that “it constitutes regression on the principle of gender parity and inclusion.”

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption at the most basic level involved paying bribes for routine services or in lieu of fines to administrative officials or security forces. More sophisticated and less apparent forms of corruption included funneling funds to elected officials and political parties by overpaying for goods and services.

Although by law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution while holding public office, state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an official’s immunity. As of November, 17 of the 32 states followed this legal procedure to strip immunity.

By law all applicants for federal law enforcement jobs (and other sensitive positions) must pass an initial law enforcement vetting process and be recleared every two years. According to the Interior Ministry and the National Center of Certification and Accreditation, most active police officers at the national, state, and municipal levels underwent at least initial vetting. The press and NGOs reported that some police officers who failed vetting remained on duty.

The CNDH reported that some police officers, particularly at the state and local level, were involved in kidnapping, extortion, and providing protection for, or acting directly on behalf of, organized crime and drug traffickers.

In July 2017 the National Anticorruption System entered into force, but pending state legislation and lagging federal and state appointments prevented the system from being fully operational. The law gives autonomy to federal administrative courts to investigate and sanction administrative acts of corruption, establishes harsher penalties for government officials convicted of corruption, provides the Superior Audit Office with real-time auditing authority, and establishes an oversight commission with civil society participation. A key feature of the system is the creation of an independent anticorruption prosecutor and court. The Senate had yet to appoint the special prosecutor at year’s end.

Corruption: Authorities opened federal and state corruption investigations against former Veracruz governor Flavino Rios. In addition, former Quintana Roo governor Roberto Borge was extradited from Panama and detained pending trial on money-laundering charges. In October former Veracruz governor Javier Duarte agreed to a plea deal on charges of money laundering in one of the highest-profile recent corruption cases. As of November nearly 20 former governors had been sentenced, faced corruption charges, or were under formal investigation.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all federal and state-level appointed or elected officials to provide income and asset disclosure, statements of any potential conflicts of interests, and tax returns. The Ministry of Public Administration monitors disclosures with support from each agency. Regulations require disclosures at the beginning and end of employment, as well as annual updates. The law requires declarations be made publicly available unless an official petitions for a waiver to keep his or her file private. Criminal or administrative sanctions apply for abuses.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive to their views, and the president or cabinet officials met with human rights organizations such as the OHCHR, IACHR, and CNDH. Some NGOs alleged that individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders sometimes acted with tacit support from officials in government. Between 2012 and June 2018, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received 396 requests for protection of human rights defenders.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a semiautonomous federal agency created by the government and funded by the legislature to monitor and act on human rights violations and abuses. It may call on government authorities to impose administrative sanctions or pursue criminal charges against officials, but it is not authorized to impose penalties or legal sanctions. If the relevant authority accepts a CNDH recommendation, the CNDH is required to follow up with the authority to verify it is carrying out the recommendation. The CNDH sends a request to the authority asking for evidence of its compliance and includes this follow-up information in its annual report. When authorities fail to accept a recommendation, the CNDH makes that failure known publicly, and it may exercise its power to call government authorities who refuse to accept or enforce its recommendations before the Senate.

All states have their own human rights commission. The state commissions are funded by the state legislatures and are semiautonomous. The state commissions did not have uniform reporting requirements, making it difficult to compare state data and therefore to compile nationwide statistics. The CNDH may take on cases from state-level commissions if it receives a complaint that the state commission has not adequately investigated the case.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and conviction carries penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is criminalized in 24 states.

The federal penal code prohibits domestic violence and stipulates penalties for conviction of between six months’ and four years’ imprisonment. Of the states, 29 stipulate similar penalties, although in practice sentences were often more lenient. Federal law does not criminalize spousal abuse. State and municipal laws addressing domestic violence largely failed to meet the required federal standards and often were unenforced.

Killing a woman because of the victim’s gender (femicide) is a federal offense punishable by 40 to 60 years in prison. It is also a criminal offense in all states. The PGR’s Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence against Women and Trafficking in Persons is responsible for leading government programs to combat domestic violence and prosecuting federal human trafficking cases involving three or fewer suspects. The office had 30 prosecutors in total, of whom nine were exclusively dedicated to federal cases of violence against women.

In addition to shelters, there were women’s justice centers that provided services including legal services and protection; however, the number of cases far surpassed institutional capacity.

According to Interior Ministry statistics, in the first six months of the year prosecutors and attorneys general opened 387 investigations into 402 cases of femicide throughout the country. Statistics come from state-level reports that often conflate femicides with all killings of women. The states with the highest number of femicides in 2017 were Mexico, Veracruz, Nueva Leon, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Guerrero.

Sexual Harassment: Federal labor law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for fines from 250 to 5,000 times the minimum daily wage. Of the states, 16 criminalize sexual harassment, and all states have provisions for punishment when the perpetrator is in a position of power. According to the National Women’s Institute, the federal institution charged with directing national policy on equal opportunity for men and women, sexual harassment in the workplace was a significant problem.

On August 1, the Yucatan state congress approved a bill to criminalize the distribution of “revenge pornography” and “sextortion.” Individuals may be prosecuted if they publish or distribute intimate images, audio, videos, or texts without the consent of the other party. The sentence ranges from six months to four years in prison.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no confirmed reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. There were reports that public health doctors occasionally discouraged women from giving birth to HIV-infected babies.

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men and “equal pay for equal work performed in equal jobs, hours of work, and conditions of efficiency.” Women tended to earn substantially less than men did for the same work. Women were more likely to experience discrimination in wages, working hours, and benefits.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derived citizenship both by birth within the country’s territory and from their parents. Citizens generally registered the births of newborns with local authorities. Failure to register births could result in the denial of public services such as education or health care.

Child Abuse: There were numerous reports of child abuse. The National Program for the Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents, mandated by law, is responsible for coordinating the protection of children’s rights at all levels of government.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum marriage age is 18. Enforcement, however, was inconsistent across the states. Some civil codes permit girls to marry at 14 and boys at 16 with parental consent. With a judge’s consent, children may marry at younger ages.

According to UNICEF, Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca were the states with the highest rates of underage marriages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the law. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual exploitation of minors, as well as child sex tourism in resort towns and northern border areas.

Statutory rape is a federal crime. If an adult is convicted of having sexual relations with a minor, the penalty is between three months and 30 years’ imprisonment depending on the age of the victim. Conviction for selling, distributing, or promoting pornography to a minor stipulates a prison term of six months to five years. For involving minors in acts of sexual exhibitionism or the production, facilitation, reproduction, distribution, sale, and purchase of child pornography, the law mandates seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Perpetrators convicted of promoting, publicizing, or facilitating sexual tourism involving minors face seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Conviction for sexual exploitation of a minor carries an eight- to 15-year prison sentence and a fine.

Institutionalized Children: Civil society groups expressed concerns about abuse of children with mental and physical disabilities in orphanages, migrant centers, and care facilities.

In April, Disability Rights International documented a case at the institution Hogares de la Caridad in Guadalajara, where a 17-year-old who suffered from autism and cerebral palsy was found taped in a blanket around the torso, allegedly to prevent self-harm.

International Child Abductions: The country is party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The 67,000-person Jewish community experienced low levels of anti-Semitism, but there were reports of some anti-Semitic expressions through social media. While an Anti-Defamation League report described an increase in anti-Semitic attitudes in the country from 24 percent of the population in 2014 to 35 percent of the population in 2017, Jewish community representatives reported low levels of anti-Semitic acts and good cooperation with the government and other religious and civil society organizations in addressing rare instances of such acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law requires the Ministry of Health to promote the creation of long-term institutions for persons with disabilities in distress, and the Ministry of Social Development must establish specialized institutions to care for, protect, and house poor, neglected, or marginalized persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities had not implemented programs for community integration. NGOs reported no changes in the mental health system to create community services nor any efforts by authorities to have independent experts monitor human rights violations in psychiatric institutions. Public buildings and facilities often did not comply with the law requiring access for persons with disabilities. The education system provided special education for students with disabilities nationwide. Children with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than those without disabilities.

Abuses in mental health institutions and care facilities, including those for children, were a problem. Abuses of persons with disabilities included the use of physical and chemical restraints, physical and sexual abuse, trafficking, forced labor, disappearance, and the illegal adoption of institutionalized children. Institutionalized persons with disabilities often lacked adequate medical care and rehabilitation services, privacy, and clothing; they often ate, slept, and bathed in unhygienic conditions. They were vulnerable to abuse from staff members, other patients, or guests at facilities where there was inadequate supervision. Documentation supporting the person’s identity and origin was lacking. Access to justice was limited.

Voting centers for federal elections were generally accessible for persons with disabilities, and ballots were available with a braille overlay for federal elections in Mexico City, but these services were inconsistently available for local elections elsewhere in the country.

Indigenous People

The constitution provides all indigenous peoples the right to self-determination, autonomy, and education. Conflicts arose from interpretation of the self-governing “uses and customs” laws used by indigenous communities. Uses and customs laws apply traditional practices to resolve disputes, choose local officials, and collect taxes, with limited federal or state government involvement. Communities and NGOs representing indigenous groups reported that the government often failed to consult indigenous communities adequately when making decisions regarding development projects intended to exploit energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on indigenous lands. The CNDH maintained a formal human rights program to inform and assist members of indigenous communities.

The CNDH reported indigenous women were among the most vulnerable groups in society. They often experienced racism and discrimination and were often victims of violence. Indigenous persons generally had limited access to health-care and education services.

In August, UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights Victoria Tauli published her report on Mexico, concluding that “current development policies, which are based on megaprojects (in mining, energy, tourism, real estate, and agriculture, among other areas) pose a major challenge to indigenous peoples’ enjoyment of human rights. Lack of self-determination and prior, free, informed, and culturally appropriate consultation are compounded by land conflicts, forced displacement, and the criminalization of and violence against indigenous peoples who defend their rights.”

On January 7, violent clashes involving gunmen, an indigenous community police force, and state police led to the death of 11 persons in Guerrero who had campaigned against a hydroelectric project in the region for more than a decade (see section 1.a.).

On February 12, three members of the Committee for the Defense of Indigenous Rights in Oaxaca were killed after participating in a meeting with government authorities, according to Oaxacan NGOs and press reports. On July 17, the organization’s regional coordinator, Abraham Hernandez Gonzalez, was kidnapped and killed by an armed group.

There were no developments in the April 2017 killing of Luis “Lucas” Gutierrez in the municipality of Madera, Chihuahua. He was an indigenous rights activist and a member of a civil society group called the Civil Resistance Group.

In 2017, 15 environmental activists were killed, compared with three in 2016, according to a Global Witness Report. A majority of the victims came from indigenous communities. Since 2016, six ecologists in the indigenous territory of Coloradas de la Virgen, Chihuahua were killed in fighting over logging. Mining was also a cause of violence.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

A Mexico City municipal law provides increased penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Civil society groups claimed police routinely subjected LGBTI persons to mistreatment while in custody.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was prevalent, despite a gradual increase in public tolerance of LGBTI individuals, according to public opinion surveys. There were reports the government did not always investigate and punish those complicit in abuses, especially outside Mexico City.

On May 17, the CNDH called for a halt of discrimination against LGBTI persons.

In November 2017 the NGO Transgender Europe documented 56 cases of reported killings of transgender individuals in the country. According to the OHCHR, in the first eight months of the year, there were 17 hate crime homicides in Veracruz, committed against nine transgender women and eight gay men.

On August 5, an 18-year-old man was beaten to death allegedly by a group of 10 taxi drivers who worked at a taxi stand outside a gay bar in San Luis Potosi. Local LGBTI human right defenders claimed the killing was a hate crime because the victim was attacked due to his sexual orientation; the president of the San Luis Potosi State Commission for Human Rights agreed. Advocates also argued negligence in investigating the case due to homophobia in police ranks. As of October no one had been arrested in connection with the killing.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The Catholic Multimedia Center reported criminal groups targeted priests and other religious leaders in some parts of the country and subjected them to extortion, death threats, and intimidation. As of October, the center reported seven priests killed. There were two attacks with explosives in the diocese of Matamoros, Tamaulipas–one in the Cathedral of Matamoros and another in the church of Our Lady of Refuge. No victims were reported in either attack.

According to a 2017 INEGI survey, one in five citizens was a victim of discrimination in 2017. The reasons listed for discrimination included appearance, skin tone, indigenous background, gender, age, or disability. The survey found that in the last five years, nearly 20 million persons were denied medical services, government support, and financial services because of discrimination, According to the CNDH, only 10 percent reported this discrimination to an authority.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, to bargain collectively, and to strike in both the public and private sectors; however, conflicting law, regulations, and practice restricted these rights.

The law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive government recognition, unions must file for registration with the appropriate conciliation and arbitration board (CAB) or the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. For the union to be able to function legally, its leadership must also register with the appropriate CAB or the ministry. CABs operated under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives. Outside observers raised concerns that the boards did not adequately provide for inclusive worker representation and often perpetuated a bias against independent unions, in part due to the prevalence of representatives from “protection” unions on the boards. Protection unions and “protection contracts”–collective bargaining agreements signed by employers and these unions to circumvent meaningful negotiations and preclude labor disputes–were common in all sectors.

By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own bylaws. Before a strike may be considered legal, however, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, which may find that the strike is “nonexistent” or, in other words, it may not proceed legally. The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker unfairly and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also provides for broad exemptions for employers from such reinstatement, including employees of confidence or workers who have been in the job for less than a year.

The government, including the CABs, did not consistently protect worker rights. The government’s common failure to enforce labor and other laws left workers with little recourse for violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor problems. The CABs’ frequent failure to impartially and transparently administer and oversee procedures related to union activity, such as union elections and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise freely their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

February 2017 labor justice revisions to the constitution replace the CABs with independent judicial bodies, which are intended to streamline the labor justice process, but require implementing legislation to reform federal labor law. Under the terms of the constitutional reform, CABs would continue to administer new and pending labor disputes until the judicial bodies are operational.

Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws were rarely applied and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Workers exercised their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining with difficulty. The process for registration of unions was politicized, and according to union organizers, the government, including the CABs, frequently used the process to reward political allies or punish political opponents. For example, the government rejected registration applications for locals of independent unions, and for unions, based on technicalities.

In September the Senate ratified the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 98 on collective bargaining. By ratifying the convention, the government subjects itself to the convention’s oversight and reporting procedures. Ratification also contributes, according to the independent unions, to ensuring the institutions established as a result of the labor justice reform are, in law and practice, independent, transparent, objective, and impartial, with workers having recourse to the ILO’s oversight bodies to complain of any failure.

According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced violence and intimidation around bargaining-rights elections perpetrated by protection union leaders and employers supporting them, as well as other workers, union leaders, and vigilantes hired by a company to enforce a preference for a particular union. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of pseudo employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union. CABs were widely alleged to administer these elections with a bias against new, independent unions, resulting in delays and other procedural obstacles that impacted the results and undermined workers’ right to organize.

Other intimidating and manipulative practices were common, including dismissal of workers for labor activism. For example, a garment factory in Morelos failed to halt workplace sexual harassment and sexual violence and instead fired the whistleblowers who reported the problem to management.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. While penalties for conviction of forced labor violations range from five to 30 years’ imprisonment, very few cases reached the court system or were successfully prosecuted.

Forced labor persisted in the industrial and agricultural sectors, especially in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes, as well as in the informal sector. Women and children were subject to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor. In July authorities rescued 50 agricultural workers on three commercial tomato farms in Coahuila. Authorities in Coahuila freed an additional 25 agricultural workers–including nine children–from a chili pepper and tomato farm in August. In both cases the forced labor victims reportedly lived in unsanitary conditions, worked excessive hours under the threat of dismissal, and received subminimum wage payments or no payment at all.

Day laborers and their children were the primary victims of forced and child labor in the agricultural sector. In 2016 INEGI reported 44 percent (2,437,150) of persons working in agriculture were day laborers. Of the day laborers, 33 percent received no financial compensation for their work. Only 3 percent of agricultural day laborers had a formal written contract, 4 percent had access to health services through their employment, and 7 percent received vacation days or Christmas bonuses–all benefits mandated by federal labor law.

Indigenous persons in isolated regions reported incidents of forced labor, in which cartel members forced them to perform illicit activities or face death. Minors were recruited or forced by cartels to traffic persons, drugs, or other goods across the border.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constitution prohibits children younger than age 15 from working and allows those ages 15 to 17 to work no more than six daytime hours in nonhazardous conditions daily, and only with parental permission. The law requires children younger than 18 to have a medical certificate to work. The minimum age for hazardous work, including all work in the agricultural sector, is 18. The law prohibits minors from working in a broad list of hazardous and unhealthy occupations.

The government was reasonably effective in enforcing child labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in the factory (maquiladora) sector and other industries under federal jurisdiction. Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies and in agriculture and construction, and nearly absent in the informal sector, in which most child laborers worked.

At the federal level, the Ministry of Social Development, PGR, and National System for Integral Family Development share responsibility for inspections to enforce child labor laws and to intervene in cases in which employers violated such laws. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for carrying out child labor inspections. Penalties for violations range from 16,780 pesos ($840) to 335,850 pesos ($16,800) but were not sufficiently enforced to deter violations.

According to a 2017 INEGI survey, the number of employed children ages five to 17 was 3.2 million, or approximately 11 percent of children in the country. This represented a decrease from 12.4 percent of children in the 2015 INEGI survey. Of these children, 2.1 million, or 7.1 percent of the population ages five to 17, were under the minimum age of work or worked under conditions that violated federal labor laws, such as performing hazardous work. Child labor was most common in the agricultural sector; children worked in the harvest of beans, chili peppers, coffee, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, onions, tobacco, and tomatoes, as well as in the production of illicit crops such as opium poppies. Other sectors with significant child labor included services, retail sales, manufacturing, and construction.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of “race, nationality, age, religion, sex, political opinion, social status, handicap (or challenged capacity), economic status, health, pregnancy, language, sexual preference, or marital status.” The government did not effectively enforce the law or regulations. According to a 2017 INEGI survey, 12 percent of Mexican women had been illegally asked to take a pregnancy test as a prerequisite to being hired. Job announcements specifying desired gender, marital status, and parental status were common.

INEGI reported in 2017 that 23 percent of working women experienced violence in the workplace within the past 12 months, and 6 percent experienced sexual violence.

Penalties for violations of the law included administrative remedies, such as reinstatement, payment of back wages, and fines (often calculated based on the employee’s wages), and were not generally considered sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The general minimum wage was below the official poverty line. Most formal-sector workers received between one and three times the minimum wage. The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission, whose labor representatives largely represented protection unions and their interests, is responsible for establishing minimum salaries but continued to block increases that kept pace with inflation.

The law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work over eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker is to receive double pay. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work. The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations, issued jointly by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws and inspecting workplaces. Neither the number of labor inspections nor the penalties for violations of labor law were sufficient to secure compliance with labor law. For example, in June, seven workers disappeared at a mine in Chihuahua when a dam holding liquid waste collapsed. Through its DECLARALAB self-evaluation tool, the ministry provided technical assistance to almost 4,000 registered workplaces to help them meet occupational safety and health regulations.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach–requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting hours when it is light–to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquiladora sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays. Additionally, many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers informally or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. INEGI estimated 57 percent of the workforce was engaged in the informal economy during the year.

Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multi-national apparel brands reported that employers in export-oriented supply chains were increasingly using hiring methods that lessened job security. For example, manufacturers commonly hired workers on one- to three-month contracts, and then waited a period of days before rehiring them on another short-term contract, to avoid paying severance and to prevent workers from accruing seniority. This practice violates federal labor law and restricts worker’s rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Observers noted it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Outsourcing practices made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, limiting their ability to seek redress of labor grievances.

Private recruitment agencies and individual recruiters violated the rights of temporary migrant workers recruited in the country to work abroad, primarily in the United States. Although the law requires these agencies to be registered, they often were unregistered. There were also reports that registered agencies defrauded workers with impunity. Some temporary migrant workers were regularly charged illegal recruitment fees. The Labor Ministry’s registry was outdated, inaccurate, and limited in scope. Although the government did not actively monitor or control the recruitment process, it reportedly was responsive in addressing complaints.

The situation of agricultural workers remained particularly precarious, with similar patterns of exploitation throughout the sector. Labor recruiters enticed families to work during harvests with verbal promises of decent wages and a good standard of living. Rather than pay them daily wages once a week, as mandated by law, day laborers had to meet certain harvest quotas to receive the promised wage. Wages may be illegally withheld until the end of the harvest to ensure the workers do not leave, and civil society organizations alleged workers were prohibited from leaving by threats of violence or by nonpayment of wages. Workers had to buy food and other items at the company store at high markups, at times leaving them with no money at the end of the harvest after settling debts. Civil society groups reported families living in inhuman conditions, with inadequate and cramped housing, no access to clean water or bathrooms, insufficient food, and without medical care. With no access to schools or childcare, many workers brought their children to work in the fields.

News reports indicated there were poor working conditions in some maquiladoras. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, a lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and no freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse. Most maquiladoras hired employees through outsourcing with few social benefits.

INDEX, the association of more than 250 factories in Ciudad Juarez, signed an agreement in March to prevent and eradicate violence against women with the Chihuahua Institute of Women and the National Commission.

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