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.
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. 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 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.