Mexico is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the MORENA party coalition won the presidential election in generally free and fair multiparty elections in 2018. In the June midterm elections, citizens voted for all members of the Chamber of Deputies, 15 governors, state legislators, and mayors across the country. The elections were generally free and fair.
The National Guard and state and municipal police are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order. The National Guard, which began operations in 2019, is a civilian institution reporting to the Secretariat of Public Security and Civil Protection. In 2019 the Federal Police was disbanded, and in May 2020 all remaining assets and personnel transferred to the National Guard. A 2019 constitutional amendment grants the president the authority to use the armed forces to protect internal and national security through 2024. Most National Guard personnel are seconded from the army and navy and have the option to return to their services after five years. State preventive police report to state governors, while municipal police report to mayors. The Secretariat of National Defense and Secretariat of the Navy also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combating organized criminal groups. The National Migration Institute, under the authority of the Interior Secretariat, is responsible for enforcing migration law. Although authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, there were instances in which security force elements acted independently of civilian control. There were credible reports that members of security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police, military, and other governmental officials; forced disappearance by government agents; torture and degrading treatment by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence against journalists; acts of corruption; insufficient investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.
Impunity and extremely low rates of prosecution remained a problem for all crimes, including human rights abuses and corruption. There were reports some government agents were complicit with international organized criminal gangs, and prosecution and conviction rates were low for these abuses.
Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs, and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of homicide, torture, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, bribery, intimidation, and other threats, resulting in high levels of violence and exploitation, particularly targeting vulnerable groups. The government investigated and prosecuted some of these crimes, but the vast majority remained uninvestigated and unprosecuted.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that government entities or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) is responsible for independently investigating security force abuses, including killings, and can issue nonbinding recommendations for prosecution. State human rights commissions investigate state and municipal police forces and can issue similar recommendations. State and federal prosecutors are independent of the executive branch and have the final authority to investigate and prosecute security force abuses.
In February authorities arrested 12 state police officers in Camargo, Tamaulipas, on homicide charges in connection with the massacre and burning of the bodies of three smugglers and 16 Guatemalan migrants en route to the United States. As of August 16, the suspects remained in detention awaiting trial. In March police officers broke the neck of Salvadoran refugee Victoria Salazar. The Quintana Roo prosecutor general confirmed police officers used disproportionate force during the arrest. Authorities arrested four police officers and charged them with femicide (killing a woman because of her gender). As of August 27, the suspects were awaiting trial.
Human rights and environmental activists, many from indigenous communities, continued to be targets of violence. The CNDH reported that assailants killed 12 human rights defenders from January to July.
As of September 13, three municipal police officers from Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, remained in pretrial detention for the killing of Giovanni Lopez. The Jalisco government disarmed the municipal police force of Ixtlahuacan and turned over public security duties to the National Guard and the Jalisco Secretariat for Public Security.
In July the army provided reparations to two of the three families of persons killed in July 2020 by soldiers in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, during an encounter with suspected cartel members. On October 7, the army relieved Colonel Miguel Angel Ramirez Canchola, accused of ordering the killings, of his posting, but as of October prosecutors had not taken action against the soldiers.
On October 1, a judge sentenced Fidel Figueroa, mayor of Zacualpan, state of Mexico, to 236 years in prison for murder. Figueroa collaborated with criminal organizations to kidnap the prosecutor general of Ixtapan de la Sal, state of Mexico, and others in 2019, resulting in the death of one of the prosecutor general’s bodyguards.
Organized criminal groups were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in collusion with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials. On June 19, a dispute between factions of the Gulf cartel killed 15 persons in the state of Tamaulipas. Security forces responded by killing four suspects and arresting 25.
Disappearances remained a persistent problem throughout the country, especially in areas with high levels of cartel or gang-related violence. There were reports of numerous forced disappearances by organized crime groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion with authorities. Investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime of forced disappearance were rare.
Federal and state databases were incomplete and had data-crossing problems; forensic systems were highly fragmented between the local, state, and federal levels; and the sheer volume of unsolved cases was far greater than the forensic systems were capable of handling. 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.
As of December 2020 the Prosecutor General’s Office reported a total of 2,041 federal investigations underway into disappearances involving approximately 3,400 persons. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and family members of disappeared persons alleged the prosecutors undercounted the actual number of cases.
Through a nationwide assessment process, the National Search Commission (CNB) revised the government’s official number of missing or disappeared persons repeatedly as additional data became available. As of July the CNB reported that there were 89,572 missing or disappeared persons in the country. Some cases dated back to the 1960s, but the vast majority occurred since 2006. The year 2020 had the second-highest number of cases on record, with 8,626 reported missing or disappeared, down from 9,185 cases reported in 2019. The states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Mexico, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas, plus Mexico City, accounted for 76 percent of reported disappearances from 2018 to June 30.
The federal government and states continued to implement the law on forced disappearances. On August 30, the Extraordinary Mechanism for Forensic Identification became fully operational. It was created in 2019 to bring together national and international forensic experts to help identify 37,000 unidentified remains held in government facilities, coordinate implementation of the general law on forced disappearances, and allocate resources to state search commissions. In July 2020 the CNB launched a public version of the National Registry of Disappeared and Missing Persons. Between January 1 and August 4, it received 4,119 reports of missing persons and located 3,805 alive and 277 deceased.
In July the CNB reported it had recovered more than 1,100 pounds of charred human remains from La Bartolina, Tamaulipas, a clandestine cremation site found in 2017. Nationwide the CNB reported the exhumation of the remains of at least 3,025 persons in 1,749 clandestine graves between December 1, 2018, and June 30. The CNB reported that during that period, of the 3,025 bodies exhumed, authorities identified 1,153 and returned 822 to their families.
The government increased the CNB budget 8 percent over the 2020 budget. According to NGOs, however, the state search committees often lacked the capacity to fulfill their mandate. Civil society and families of the disappeared stated the government’s actions to prevent and respond to disappearances were largely inadequate to address the scale of the problem.
The federal government created a National System for the Search of Missing Persons as required by law, but as of August it had not established the required National Forensic Data Bank. The Prosecutor General’s Office owned a previous genetics database, which consisted of 63,000 profiles, and was responsible for the new database. The previous platform lacked interconnectivity between states and failed to connect family members effectively to the remains of their missing relatives.
In July the Supreme Court ruled that authorities at all levels must investigate enforced disappearances, search for disappeared persons, and inform victims of the process.
The government made efforts to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of disappearance involving government agents. From January to June, the CNDH received nine complaints accusing government agents of forced disappearances, including five against the army and four against the National Guard. In April authorities arrested 30 members of the navy and charged them with forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, in 2018. As of October the accused were in a military prison awaiting trial. In July the secretary of the navy publicly apologized to families of the victims, marking the first time the armed forces apologized for committing forced disappearances.
Investigations continued into the 2014 disappearances of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Iguala, Guerrero. Victims’ relatives and civil society continued to criticize handling of the original investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, noting there had been no convictions related to the disappearances of the 43 students. In June President Lopez Obrador announced that forensic scientists at the University of Innsbruck conclusively identified the remains of Jhosivani Guerrero, marking the third body identified of the 43 disappeared students.
As of October the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa case had arrested more than 80 suspects, including army captain Jose Martinez Crespo, an Iguala municipal police officer, and the Iguala municipal police chief. The government continued to pursue the extradition of Tomas Zeron from Israel. Zeron led the investigation of the case by the former criminal investigations unit in the Attorney General’s Office at the time of the students’ disappearances. In March 2020 a federal judge issued an arrest warrant for Zeron on charges related to his conduct of the investigation, including torturing alleged perpetrators to force confessions, conducting forced disappearances, altering the crime scene, manipulating evidence, and failing to perform his duties. He fled to Israel, and the government requested that the Israeli government issue an arrest warrant and extradite him.
In addition to the outstanding Zeron arrest warrant, the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa case issued 12 warrants and made 10 arrests for investigative irregularities, such as torture and obstruction of justice. As of September no alleged perpetrators of the disappearances had been convicted, and 78 of those initially accused were released due to lack of evidence, generally due to irregularities in their detention, including confessions obtained through torture. As of October the special unit had reissued arrest warrants for 11 of the 78 released detainees, including municipal police officers, but made no arrests.
State search collectives reported being victims, at times fatal, of attacks, threats, and other acts of harassment. In June unknown assailants killed Javier Barajas Pina in the state of Guanajuato. He was a member of a search collective and the state search commission. The state search commission paused all search efforts between May and June due to increased levels of insecurity for family search collectives, according to civil society groups. As of August 16, authorities had not arrested any suspects.
In July unknown assailants abducted and killed Aranza Ramos in the state of Sonora. Ramos had been searching for her missing husband for the previous seven months as a member of two search collectives. As of August 16, authorities had not arrested any suspects. Following Ramos’ killing, Cecilia Flores, the leader of one of the search collectives in which Ramos participated, received death threats. Flores received temporary protection from the Interior Secretariat protection mechanism.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Federal law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as the admission of confessions obtained through illicit means as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports of security forces torturing suspects.
Between January and August, the CNDH registered 26 complaints of torture and 123 for arbitrary detention. Most of these complaints were against authorities in the Prosecutor General’s Office, National Guard, Interior Secretariat, and the armed forces. As of August, 25 of 32 states had specialized prosecutor’s offices for investigating torture, or specialized investigative units within the state attorney general’s office as called for by law. Between January and May there were an additional 20 complaints of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment against the National Guard, 20 against the army, and 11 against the National Migration Institute. The CNDH did not report on the merits of the complaints.
In February the Attorney General’s Office arrested former Puebla governor Mario Marin and charged him with torturing journalist Lydia Cacho, who exposed Marin and several business leaders’ involvement in a child sex trafficking ring in 2005. As of August 23, Marin was awaiting trial. In June authorities sentenced Quintana Roo police officer Miguel Mora Olvera to five years in prison for his role in torturing Cacho.
Impunity for torture was prevalent among the security forces. NGOs stated authorities failed to investigate torture allegations adequately. As of December 2020 the Prosecutor General’s Office was investigating 3,703 torture-related inquiries under the previous inquisitorial legal system (initiated prior to the 2016 transition to an accusatorial system) and 565 investigations under the accusatorial system. According to the Mexican Commission for the Promotion of Human Rights, from 2006 to 2020, federal authorities issued 27 sentences for torture. There were accusations of sexual abuse against authorities during arrest and detention. There is no single independent oversight mechanism to review police actions, but many federal and state security and justice sector institutions have internal affairs units providing internal supervision and promoting best practices for transparency and accountability. The government’s National Council of Norms and Labor Competencies certified law enforcement internal affairs investigators and created standard internal affairs training to promote transparency and accountability. Most internal affairs units, however, were insufficiently staffed and funded. The army and the navy have human rights units to create protocols and training. The armed forces operated a military justice system to hold human rights abusers accountable.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention centers were often harsh and life threatening.
Physical Conditions: According to the Federal Prison System, as of June there were 220,393 inmates in 288 state and federal facilities with a designed capacity for 217,064. Some prisons were undersubscribed, while others were overcrowded. The CNDH’s 2020 National Diagnostic of Penitentiary Supervision reported that state prisons were understaffed and suffered from poor sanitary conditions as well as a lack of separation between those sentenced and those awaiting trial. The report noted 40 state prisons experienced overcrowding. The report singled out Hidalgo, Nayarit, Puebla, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Tamaulipas as the states with the worst prison conditions. The CNDH noted significant understaffing at all levels in federal prisons, which affected access to programs, activities, medical services, and opportunities to report possible human rights abuses.
Organized criminal groups reportedly continued to oversee illicit activities from within penitentiary walls, and rival drug cartel members often fought in prison. In June media outlets reported that a fight between two rival groups of inmates left six inmates dead and nine wounded at a prison in Villahermosa, Tabasco.
According to civil society groups, migrants at some detention centers faced abuse when commingled with gang members and other criminals.
As of July 13, a total of 3,501 prisoners had contracted COVID-19 and 75,162 had received vaccines, according to the CNDH. In response to a 2020 civil society organization lawsuit, a Mexico City court ruled authorities must implement COVID-19 detection and preventive health protocols for detainees and their families in prisons in Mexico City and psychiatric wards nationwide.
The CNDH in its report on COVID-19 measures in holding facilities found most detention facilities could not comply with social distancing measures or several other health recommendations due to lack of space, personnel, or equipment.
Administration: Authorities did not always conduct investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, CNDH, and state human rights commissions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Federal 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; however, the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements.
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; in a 2018 report, the domestic think tank Mexico Evalua determined that 90 percent of all arrests fell under this category. 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 detainees to 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 requiring them to 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. Following the introduction of the accusatorial justice system, however, there was a significant reduction in the number of persons detained in this manner, falling from more than 1,900 in 2011 to 21 in 2018.
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 arrests and investigations as provided for by law, although the right to public defense during trial was generally respected. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for it to lead to other human rights abuses. Between January and August the CNDH recorded 123 complaints of arbitrary detention.
On July 21, Merida, Yucatan, municipal police detained Jose Eduardo Ravelo Echeverria. According to the victim’s mother, police detained and interrogated him without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Media outlets reported authorities tortured and sexually abused Ravelo. A forensic doctor at the Yucatan Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed that he had suffered sexual abuse. On August 3, Ravelo died from his injuries. On August 7, Yucatan governor Mauricio Villa announced the arrest of four police officers, but on August 14, a judge set them free due to a lack of evidence.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, and authorities did not always promptly release those detained unlawfully. 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. Abuses of time limits on pretrial detention were endemic in state judicial systems. The UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented cases in the states of Mexico and Chiapas in which detainees remained in pretrial detention for more than 12 years. A 2019 constitutional reform increased the number of crimes for which pretrial detention is mandatory and bail is not available, including armed robbery, electoral crimes, fuel theft, and weapons possession. An additional February reform mandated pretrial detention for femicides, sexual violence against minors, forced disappearances, and corruption. As a result the number of pretrial detainees increased 25 percent since 2018, and pretrial detainees comprised 40 percent of all prisoners, according to government figures.
Reports indicated that women suffered disproportionately from pretrial detention. As of June, 58 percent of women in federal prison and 51 percent in municipal and state prisons were in pretrial detention, while 42 percent of men in the federal and local judicial system were in pretrial detention, according to a report from the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection. In October 2020 authorities announced they would release Brenda Quevedo Cruz, who had been in prison without trial since 2007. Nonetheless, Quevedo Cruz remained in detention as of September 11.
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 capacity to carry out their duties fairly and consistently in line with the principle of equal justice.
In 2016 all civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatorial trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. In most states alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.
Under the accusatorial system, judges conduct all hearings and trials 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 most 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. 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 for indigenous languages 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.
In July 2020 legislators approved a law making all judicial sentences public.
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 abuses. For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, authorities first must find the defendant guilty in a criminal case, a significant barrier due to the relatively low number of criminal convictions.
The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property. By law the government collected biometric data from migrants.
According to the NGO Freedom House, “Researchers continued to document cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures targeted with Pegasus spy software. After denying they existed, in 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office provided evidence of Pegasus licensing contracts in 2016 and 2017.” In July Public Safety Secretary Rosa Isela Rodriguez revealed that the Felipe Calderon and Enrique Pena Nieto administrations signed 31 contracts for $61 million to buy Pegasus spy software. In July a joint investigation by media outlets reported a leaked Pegasus list of more than 15,000 individuals as possible targets for surveillance in 2016 and 2017. The list named at least 50 persons linked to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, politicians from every party, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, prosecutors, diplomats, judges, and academics.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations were privately owned. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained a significant source of advertising revenue for many media organizations, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, at times constrained freedom of expression.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction but often self-censored due to fear of reprisal. Journalists could criticize the government and discuss matters of general interest with no restrictions. Politicians publicly discredited and criticized such journalists, however.
On August 7, several journalist organizations, including the Puebla Network of Journalists, National Network of Journalists, Communication, and Information on Women, and International Network of Journalists with a Gender Vision, issued a statement denouncing increased levels of violence against female journalists in Puebla from security forces and criminal organizations. The group reported 16 acts of aggression against female journalists between January and July and called on the Puebla governor to guarantee the adoption of public policies to respect, protect, and guarantee the exercise of journalism.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists were killed or subjected to physical and cyberattacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) in response to their reporting. This limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. High levels of impunity, including for killings or attacks on journalists, resulted in self-censorship and reduced freedom of expression and the press.
According to NGO Article 19, lethal attacks occurred against journalists in Sonora, including the killings of Benjamin Morales on May 3 and Ricardo Lopez Dominguez on July 22 and the disappearance of Jorge Molontzin on March 16.
The Interior Secretariat registered 224 verbal and physical attacks against journalists in 2020 and a total of 1,052 between 2015 and 2020, 41 percent of which the secretariat attributed to public servants. The most common aggressions were intimidation and harassment, followed by threats and physical attacks, according to civil society groups. In the first six months of the year, Article 19 registered 362 attacks against journalists and accused public officials of committing 134 of them.
Between 2017 and August the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists, a unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office, charged 136 public servants for crimes against journalists. For example, the office issued three arrest warrants in the case of the August 2020 killing of Juan Nelcio Espinosa, an independent journalist in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, who died while in police custody. The investigation continued as of August 30.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported that some state and local governments censored media. Journalists reported altering their coverage due to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of media and newsrooms, and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship due to threats from criminal groups and government officials.
Freedom of expression advocacy groups reported the government, despite reductions in its advertising budgets, continued to have a strong financial impact and influence on the largest media companies. According to advocacy groups, no information was available concerning the criteria through which the government chooses media outlets for public advertising.
Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal criminal laws against defamation, libel, or slander; however, eight states have criminal laws on these acts. In Baja California Sur, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, and Yucatan, the crimes of defamation and libel are prosecuted, with penalties ranging from three days to five years in prison and fines for committing defamation or slander, both considered “crimes against honor.” Slander is punishable under the criminal laws of the states of Campeche, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, Yucatan, and Zacatecas, with sentences ranging from three months to six years in prison and fines. Five states have laws that restrict the publishing of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.
In addition to criminal libel and defamation laws, civil law defines “moral damage” as similar to defamation concerning harm to a person’s “feelings, affections, beliefs, dignity, honor, reputation, and privacy,” according to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists. A 2016 ruling by the Supreme Court removed the cap on fines for moral damages, leaving journalists vulnerable to exorbitant fines. In 2019 a Mexico City court ordered academic Sergio Aguayo, a columnist of the daily newspaper Reforma, to pay a fine of 10 million pesos ($530,000) in moral damages to former Coahuila governor Humberto Moreira. In July 2020 the Supreme Court agreed to analyze the case but as of August 23 had not issued a ruling.
According to civil society, libel and defamation proceedings tripled from 11 cases in 2019 to 33 cases in 2020. The Puebla state government sued the news outlet E-Consulta seven times due to its reporting.
Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted regarding organized criminal groups’ use of physical violence in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence faced by traditional journalists. For example, journalists in Nogales, Sonora, said they were aware of unspoken red lines in covering organized crime and that crossing lines, such as mentioning the name of an alleged assailant, could result in personal harm.
The government’s National Protection Mechanism to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Defenders provided panic buttons, bodyguards, and temporary relocation to journalists and human rights defenders. According to the Interior Secretariat, between 2018 and July assailants killed seven journalists and two defenders under protection of the mechanism.
On June 17, while journalist Gustavo Sanchez Cabrera was riding his motorcycle, two unidentified individuals in a car crashed into him, exited the car, and fatally shot him. Sanchez was a reporter for Facebook-based Panorama Pacifico and was in the protection mechanism after suffering an attempt on his life in July 2020. According to civil society, the protections the mechanism provided after the attempt to his life were lacking. As of August 27, there were no updates in this investigation.
On August 8, self-proclaimed members of Cartel Jalisco New Generation released a video showing a group of armed men threatening to kill journalist Azucena Uresti for reporting on self-defense groups fighting the cartel in Michoacan. As of August 18, authorities had not confirmed whether the threatening video was genuine. President Lopez Obrador condemned the threats, and the Interior Secretariat confirmed that authorities would grant Uresti protection measures.
The threat against journalists by organized crime was particularly high in the state of Guerrero. Journalists in Iguala, Guerrero, received anonymous messages through social networks, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, threatening them and their families, according to civil society. Following the August 2020 killing of Pablo Morrugares, El Diario de Iguala newspaper published a note blaming organized crime and Governor Hector Astudillo Flores’ administration for violence against journalists and impunity. In August 2020 attackers fired multiple shots at the building housing the printing facilities of El Diario de Iguala.
In June a federal judge sentenced Juan Francisco Picos Barrueto to 32 years in prison for the 2017 murder of journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas. Also in June a federal judge sentenced the former mayor of Chinipas, Chihuahua, Hugo Amed Schultz Alcaraz, to eight years in prison for his role in the 2017 murder of Miroslava Breach, a prominent La Jornada newspaper correspondent who reported on organized crime and corruption. In August 2020 a federal judge sentenced Juan Carlos “El Larry” Moreno Ochoa to 50 years in prison for killing Breach.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. Freedom House’s 2021 Freedom on the Net report categorized the country’s internet as partly free, noting concerns regarding online manipulation tactics, potential for politicized content removals, high levels of violence against digital reporters, and investigations surrounding abusive surveillance practices.
In June the Federal Telecommunications Institute, an autonomous agency created to increase the transparency of media regulation, released internet neutrality guidelines for internet service providers. The guidelines allow internet service providers to deny access to certain applications, content, and services based on commercial criteria, in breach of their obligations to protect neutrality. Some public officials blocked critical journalists and media from following their social media accounts.
According to Google Report, Google received 24 requests from authorities in 2020 to remove content – 13 from police, eight from government officials, and three from unspecified sources. The most common reason to remove content was defamation, followed by privacy and security. Google received more removal requests from government agents in 2020 than in any other year except 2014. Digital media journalists covering stories such as crime, corruption, and human rights violations experienced physical violence and online abuse. Online discrimination, harassment, and threats were problems particularly for women journalists and politicians, as well as any individuals and organizations advocating for women’s rights.
NGOs alleged that provisions in laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing authorities to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. While the Supreme Court upheld the provisions, it noted the need for authorities to obtain a judicial warrant to access user metadata.
Twitter users posted threats against journalists. Journalists who asked difficult questions of government officials during press engagements received attacks via Twitter. Tweets disseminated their identities and their media outlets and also made veiled threats.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. There were reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws restricting public demonstrations. Government failures to investigate and prosecute attacks on protesters and human rights defenders resulted in impunity for these crimes, consistent with high impunity rates for all crimes. NGOs reported that acts of excessive use of force and arbitrary detention occurred against female protesters, especially those protesting gender-based violence.
In May in Chicoloapan, state of Mexico, municipal police beat and detained supporters of feminist groups as they led a protest against gender-based violence and political parties. Municipal police arrested eight women and one man, later releasing all detainees.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Federal law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by threats and acts of kidnapping, extortion, and homicide. Organized criminal groups dominated migrant smuggling operations and often kidnapped, threatened, and extorted migrants to pay a fee for facilitating northbound travel.
The NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights identified 15 incidents between January and July of mass forced internal displacement (defined as the displacement of at least 10 families or 50 individuals) due to violence. Violence by organized criminal groups often prompted the incidents, which took place in 10 states and displaced 11,560 persons as of August. Land conflicts, social and ethnic violence, or local political disputes caused other incidents. Forced internal displacement disproportionally affected indigenous communities. There was a lack of comprehensive data on internally displaced persons (IDPs). The COVID-19 pandemic generated additional risks and exacerbated vulnerabilities for IDPs, including overcrowding in shelters and difficulty accessing food, basic health care, and education. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.
According to civil society organizations, up to 3,250 persons, mostly women and children from indigenous communities, were forcibly displaced in July in Chenalho and Pantelho, Chiapas, due to territorial disputes between armed groups. This mass displacement elevated the group’s risk of malnutrition and health maladies. Three states have state-level IDP laws, but the country does not have a federal internal displacement law, which created challenges in resource allocation and interagency governmental coordination.
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, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: Federal law provides for granting asylum, refugee status, or complementary protection to those fleeing persecution or facing possible threats to their life, security, or liberty in their country of origin; this right was generally respected. The government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protections. The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to refugee status and the procedure to determine refugee status, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and refugee applicants, and integration in local communities (including access to school, work, and other social services) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The press, international organizations, and NGOs reported targeting and victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials, including at land borders and airports. There were numerous instances of criminal armed groups extorting, threatening, or kidnapping asylum seekers and other migrants. In many parts of the country, human smuggling organizations wielded significant power, and media alleged frequent collusion among local authorities. There were credible reports of sexual assaults against migrants, particularly women, while migrating in and through the country.
On January 11, the government ended migratory detention for children. The government generally exempted accompanying adults from detention to preserve family unity. Children constituted 19 percent of irregular migrant flows identified by authorities; 30 percent of them were unaccompanied. Child protection authorities lacked sufficient capacity to shelter and process migrant children and families, and the government made modest headway to increase that capacity.
In a June International Organization for Migration survey, 20 percent of citizens and 35 percent of third-country migrants reported using a smuggler to arrive to the U.S.-Mexico border. The government increased efforts to target human smuggling organizations. In July the Prosecutor General’s Office arrested seven members, including the leader, of the Tamayo human smuggling organization. Authorities accused the suspects of smuggling 20 to 80 migrants per day through Baja California into the United States for more than a decade.
Obstacles to accessing international protection related most closely to capacity limitations and lack of coordination between the relevant agencies, as opposed to government policy. The Interior Secretariat reaffirmed its commitment to protect refugee applicants even as the country experienced an unprecedented number of applicants. From January to August the Mexican Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) received 77,559 applications for refugee status, a 41 percent increase from the same period in 2019, and anticipated that it would receive up to 120,000 applications in total by the end of the year. Between January and July COMAR processed approximately 25,000 cases. COMAR’s budget increased modestly in recent years but was not commensurate with the growth in refugee claims in the country.
Between August 23 and August 27, hundreds of migrants from Haiti, Cuba, and Central America protested in front of the National Migration Institute offices in Tapachula, Chiapas, to demand expedited refugee proceedings that would allow them to move freely throughout the country. Unprecedented numbers of migrants arriving at the country’s southern border and requesting refugee status stretched the refugee agency’s capacity to process requests.
On August 28, approximately 500 migrants, the majority from Haiti, started a caravan from Tapachula to Mexico City to obtain expedited asylum processing. The government deployed hundreds of security forces to contain the caravan. Various news outlets showed a video of two National Migration Institute agents with riot gear and shields grabbing one migrant, knocking him to the ground, and kicking him. On August 31, the government suspended the two agents for inappropriate conduct.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to increase its legal authority to pursue these crimes. On February 19, a constitutional reform eliminated presidential immunity for corruption and other crimes. On March 11, an anticorruption and antinepotism constitutional reform granted the Federal Judiciary Council – the administrative organ of the federal court system – more oversight over district and appeals courts and limited hiring authorities of individual judges.
Corruption: There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. On June 6, authorities arrested former Nayarit governor Roberto Sandoval and his daughter Lidy Alejandra Sandoval Lopez for corruption and money laundering. Sandoval remained in pretrial detention as of August.
As of August 25, former governor of Chihuahua Cesar Duarte was awaiting an extradition decision. In July 2020 he was arrested in another country pursuant to a Mexican extradition request on charges that he diverted millions of dollars in public funds.
As of November authorities held Emilio Lozoya in pretrial detention. In July 2020 authorities extradited Lozoya, former director of PEMEX, the state-owned petroleum company, from Spain. In 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a corruption investigation against Lozoya for receiving up to $10 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. The Prosecutor General’s Office also obtained an arrest warrant against Lozoya’s mother for money laundering, and in 2019 Interpol agents arrested her in Germany. Lozoya accused high-level politicians representing multiple parties of complicity in his corrupt acts and was acting as a state’s witness in trials against them.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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, with the president and cabinet officials meeting with human rights organizations, such as OHCHR, IACHR, and CNDH. Some NGOs alleged individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders at times acted with tacit support from government officials.
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 abuses.
The CNDH 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 that 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 known publicly. It may exercise its power to call before the Senate government authorities who refuse to accept or enforce its recommendations.
All states have their own human rights commissions. The state commissions are funded by state legislatures and are semiautonomous. Some civil society groups, however, asserted that state commissions were subservient to the state executive branch. State commissions do not have uniform reporting requirements, making it difficult to compare state data and therefore 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.