Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. Organized criminal groups also 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 24 complaints of “deprivation of life” between January and December 15.
In May the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) arrested and immediately transferred to civilian authorities a military police officer accused of the May 3 unlawful killing of a man during a confrontation in Puebla between soldiers and a gang of fuel thieves. No trial date had been set at year’s end.
The civilian trial that started in 2016 continued for the commander of the 97th Army Infantry Battalion and three other military officers who were charged in 2016 for the illegal detention and extrajudicial killing in 2015 of seven suspected members of an organized criminal group in Calera, Zacatecas.
A federal investigation continued at year’s end in the 2015 Tanhuato, Michoacan, shooting in which federal police were accused of executing 22 persons after a gunfight and of tampering with evidence. An August 2016 CNDH recommendation stated excessive use of force resulted in the execution of at least 22 individuals. The CNDH also reported that two persons had been tortured, police gave false reports regarding the event, and the crime scene had been altered. Security Commissioner Renato Sales claimed the use of force by police at Tanhuato was justified and proportional to the threat they faced and denied the killings were arbitrary executions. The CNDH called for an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, expanded human rights training for police, and monetary compensation for the families of the 22 victims. No federal police agents were charged.
Authorities made no additional arrests in connection with the 2015 killing of 10 individuals and illegal detentions and injury to a number of citizens in Apatzingan, Michoacan.
On August 1, a judge ordered federal authorities to investigate whether army commanders played a role in the 2014 killings of 22 suspected criminals in Tlatlaya, Mexico State. In his ruling the judge noted that the federal Attorney General’s Office had failed to investigate a purported military order issued before the incident in which soldiers were urged to “take down criminals under cover of darkness.” In January a civilian court convicted four Mexico State attorney general’s office investigators on charges of torture, also pertaining to the Tlatlaya case. In 2016 a civilian federal court acquitted seven military members of murder charges, citing insufficient evidence. In 2015 the Sixth Military Court convicted one soldier and acquitted six others on charges of military disobedience pertaining to the same incident. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concerns regarding the lack of convictions in the case and the perceived failure to investigate the chain of command.
On October 17, the Federal Police developed a use of force protocol. The protocol instructs federal police to use force in a “rational, proportional manner, with full respect for human rights.”
Criminal organizations carried out human rights abuses and widespread killings throughout the country, sometimes in coordination with state agents.
As of November 20, according to media reports, families of disappeared persons and authorities had discovered more than 1,588 clandestine mass graves in 23 states. For example, in March, 252 human skulls were found in a mass grave in Colinas de Santa Fe, Veracruz. From January 2006 through September 2016, the CNDH reported that more than 850 mass graves were identified throughout the country. Civil society groups noted that there were few forensic anthropology efforts underway to identify remains.
There were reports of forced disappearances–the secret abduction or imprisonment of a person–by security forces and of many forced 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.
Federal law prohibits forced disappearances, but laws relating to forced disappearances vary widely across the 32 states, and not all classify “forced disappearance” as distinct from kidnapping.
Investigation, prosecution, and sentencing for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. The CNDH registered 19 cases of alleged forced disappearances through December 15.
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. The government’s statistics agency (INEGI) estimated that 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated and that underreporting of kidnapping may have been even higher.
In January, five sailors were charged by civilian prosecutors for illegal detention of a man in Mexico State. No trial date had been set at year’s end. In July the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR) arrested and transferred to civilian authorities seven sailors for their alleged involvement in a series of kidnappings.
On November 16, the president signed into law the General Law on Forced Disappearances after three years of congressional debate. The law establishes criminal penalties for persons convicted, stipulating 40 to 90 years’ imprisonment for those found guilty of the crime of forced disappearance, and provides for the creation of a National System for the Search of Missing Persons, a National Forensic Data Bank, an Amber Alert System, and a National Search Commission.
The CNDH registered 19 cases of alleged forced disappearances through December 15. In an April report on disappearances, the CNDH reported 32,236 registered cases of disappeared persons through September 2016. According to the CNDH, 83 percent of cases were concentrated in the following states: Tamaulipas, Mexico State, Sinaloa, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora, Guerrero, Puebla, and Michoacan.
As of April 30, according to the National Registry of Missing Persons, 31,053 individuals were recorded as missing or disappeared. Tamaulipas was the state with the most missing or disappeared persons at 5,657, followed by Mexico State at 3,754 and Jalisco with 2,754. Men represented 74 percent of those disappeared, according to the database.
As of August the deputy attorney general for human rights was investigating 943 cases of disappeared persons. The federal Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for the Search of Missing Persons had opened cases for 747 victims; the Unit for the Investigation of Crimes against Migrants had opened cases for 143 victims; the Iguala Case Investigation Office had opened cases for 43 victims; and the special prosecutor for violence against women and trafficking in persons had opened cases for 10 victims.
At the state level, in March, Jalisco state authorities announced the creation of the specialized attorney general’s office for disappeared persons. As of May 31, the Jalisco Amber Alert system for missing minors had been used 964 times (since its inception in 2013). As of May 31, a separate Jalisco Alba Alert system to report the disappearance of a woman or girl had been employed more than 1,200 times since its inception in April 2016.
In June the state government of Chihuahua announced the creation of a specialized attorney general’s office for grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearances. According to a local NGO, the Center for Women’s Human Rights (CEDEHM), Chihuahua was one of the states with the highest numbers of enforced disappearances, with more than 1,870 victims as of May 2016. During the year the state also signed a memorandum of understanding with a group of independent forensics experts from Argentina to analyze human remains found in the municipalities of Cuauhtemoc, Carichi, and Cusihuiriachi and to gather DNA.
The Coahuila governor’s office and state attorney general’s office formed a joint working group early in the year to improve the state’s unit for disappearances, collaborating with the local NGO Fray Juan de Larios to build the first registry of disappeared persons in Coahuila. The governor met monthly with families of the disappeared. Coahuila state prosecutors continued to investigate forced disappearances between 2009 and 2012 by the Zetas transnational criminal organization. These disappearances, carried out in collusion with some state officials and municipal police, occurred in the border towns of Piedras Negras, Allende, and Nava. State prosecutors executed 18 arrest warrants in the Allende massacre, including 10 for former police officials. Separately, they issued 19 arrest warrants for officials from the Piedras Negras state prison accused of allowing a transnational criminal organization to use the prison as a base to kill and incinerate victims.
Local human rights NGOs criticized the state’s response, saying most of those arrested were set free by courts after the state erred by filing kidnapping charges against the accused rather than charges of forced disappearance. A coalition of Coahuila-based human rights NGOs, many of them backed by the Roman Catholic diocese of Saltillo, filed a communique with the International Criminal Court in the Hague stating that state-level government collusion with transnational criminal organizations had resulted in massive loss of civilian life between 2009 and 2012, during the administration of then governor Humberto Moreira. They further stated that between 2012 and 2016, during the administration of then governor Ruben Moreira (brother of Humberto), state security authorities committed crimes against humanity in their fight against the Zetas, including unjust detention and torture. In July the state government disputed these findings and produced evidence of its investigations into these matters.
In a study of forced disappearances in Nuevo Leon released in June, researchers from the Latin American Faculty of Social Science’s Observatory on Disappearance and Impunity, the University of Minnesota, and Oxford University found that the 548 documented forced disappearances in the state between 2005 and 2015 were almost equally divided between those ordered by state agents (47 percent) and those ordered by criminal organizations (46 percent). Of the state agents alleged to be behind these disappearances, 35 were federal or military officials, 30 were state-level officials, and 65 were municipal officials. The study relied primarily on interviews with incarcerated gang members and family members of disappeared persons.
In May the Veracruz state government established an online database of disappearances, documenting 2,500 victims, and began a campaign to gather samples for a DNA database to assist in identification.
In 2016 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) launched the follow-up mechanism agreed to by the government, the IACHR, and the families of the 43 students who disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The government provided funding for the mechanism to continue the work of the group of independent experts (GIEI) that supported the investigation of the disappearances and assisted the families of the victims during their 2015-16 term. At the end of the GIEI mandate in April 2016, the experts released a final report critical of the government’s handling of the case. The federal government reported it had complied with 923 of the experts’ 973 recommendations. In December the government extended the GIEI mandate for an additional year.
According to information provided by the Attorney General’s Office in August, authorities had indicted 168 individuals and arrested 128, including 73 police officers from the towns of Cocula and Iguala, and 55 alleged members of the Guerrero-based drug trafficking organization Guerreros Unidos connected to the Iguala case. Authorities held many of those arrested on charges related to organized crime rather than on charges related to the disappearance of the students, according to the GIEI. In 2016 authorities arrested the former police chief of Iguala, Felipe Flores, who had been in hiding since the 2014 disappearances. A 2016 CNDH report implicated federal and local police officers from nearby Huitzuco in the killings. Representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, Foreign Ministry, and Interior Ministry met regularly with the families of the victims to update them on progress being made in the case. Both federal and state authorities reported they continued to investigate the case, including the whereabouts of the missing students or their remains.
In April the Follow-Up Mechanism expressed its “concern about the slow pace in the search activities and in the effective clarification of the various lines of investigation indicated by the GIEI.” The commission also noted, “Not a single person has been prosecuted in this case for the crime of forced disappearance, and no new charges have been filed since December 2015.” The commission noted progress in “the administrative steps taken to contract the Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) surveying technology to be used in the search for the students, the progress made in the investigation of telephone communications, and the establishment of a timeline for taking statements from those arrested and other individuals. It also values the progress made in the investigations into possible involvement of police officers from Huitzuco.” In July the IACHR Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expressed concern regarding alleged spying that targeted “at least one member of the GIEI” along with human rights defenders and journalists.
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 of torture and other illegal punishments.
As of November 30, the CNDH registered 85 complaints of torture. NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH misclassified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.
Fewer than 1 percent of federal torture investigations resulted in prosecution and conviction, according to government data. The Attorney General’s Office conducted 13,850 torture investigations between 2006 and 2016, and authorities reported 31 federal convictions for torture during that period. Congress approved and the president signed the General Law to Prevent, Investigate, and Punish Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that entered into force on June 26. Human rights groups and the OHCHR commended the law, which establishes an “absolute prohibition” on the use of torture “in any circumstance,” assigns command responsibility, sets a sentence of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for convicted government officials and of up to 12 years’ imprisonment for convicted nonofficials, stipulates measures to prevent obstruction of internal investigations, and envisions a national mechanism to prevent torture and a national registry maintained by the Office of the Attorney General.
The law also eliminates the requirement that formal criminal charges be filed before a complaint of torture may be entered in the national registry, adds higher penalties for conviction of torturing “vulnerable” classes of victims (women and persons with disabilities), permits federal investigation of state cases of torture when an international body has ruled on the case or if the victim so requests, and eliminates requirements that previously prevented judges from ordering investigations into torture.
In 2015 the Attorney General’s Office created the Detainee Consultation System website to allow the public to track the status of detainees in the federal penitentiary system, including their physical location, in real time. The office collaborated with all 32 states on implementation of the system at the state and federal level, and the site was visited on average 476 times a day. The states that were farthest along in implementing the system were Campeche, Mexico City, Coahuila, Mexico State, Jalisco, Nuevo Leon, Michoacan, Puebla, Queretaro, and Tlaxcala.
On March 30, the Quintana Roo attorney general’s office apologized to Hector Casique, who was tortured and wrongly convicted of multiple counts of homicide in 2013 during a previous state administration. In September 2016 Casique was released from prison. On June 9, he was killed by unknown assailants.
On August 22, a state judge acquitted and ordered the release of Maria del Sol Vazquez Reyes after nearly five years of imprisonment for conviction of crimes that the court found she was forced to confess under torture by the former investigation agency of the Veracruz state police. The officers who tortured her had not been charged by year’s end.
In May in Chihuahua, prosecutor Miguel Angel Luna Lopez was suspended after a video from 2012 became public that showed him interrogating two suspects with bandaged faces. Luna was reinstated as a police agent while the investigation continued. Also in Chihuahua, in January a former municipal police officer, Erick Hernandez Mendoza, was formally charged with torturing a housekeeper who was suspected of stealing from her employer. Two other police officers who allegedly took part in her torture were not charged.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention centers could be 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 CNDH report, state 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.” Some of the most overcrowded prisons were plagued by riots, revenge killings, and jailbreaks. Criminal gangs often held de facto control inside 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 the lack of access to adequate health care was a significant problem. Food quality and quantity, heating, ventilation, and lighting varied by facility, with internationally accredited prisons generally having the highest standards.
A CNDH report in June noted many of the prisons, particularly state-run correctional facilities, were unsafe, overcrowded, and understaffed. It surveyed conditions at more than 190 state, local, and federal facilities and found inmates often controlled some areas of prisons or had contraband inside. The report cited insufficient staff, unsafe procedures, and poor medical care at many facilities. Inmates staged mass escapes, battled each other, and engaged in shootouts using guns that police and guards smuggled into prison. A report released in March by the National Security Commission stated that 150 federal and state prisons were overcrowded and exceeded capacity by 17,575 prisoners.
On July 31, INEGI released its first National Survey on Population Deprived of Freedom 2016, based on a survey of 211,000 inmates in the country’s 338 state and federal penitentiaries. The survey revealed that 87 percent of prison inmates reported bribing guards for items such as food, making telephone calls, or obtaining a blanket or mattress. Another survey of 64,000 prisoners revealed that 36 percent reported paying bribes to other inmates, who often controlled parts of penitentiaries. Fifty percent of prisoners said they paid bribes to be allowed to have appliances in their cells, and 26 percent said they paid bribes to be allowed to have electronic communications devices, including cell phones, which were banned in many prisons.
The CNDH reported conditions for female prisoners were inferior to those for men, due to a lack of appropriate living facilities and specialized medical care. The CNDH found several reports of sexual abuse of inmates in the State of Mexico’s Nezahualcoyotl Bordo de Xochiaca Detention Center. Cases of sexual exploitation of inmates were also reported in Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Guerrero, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.
The CNDH reported 86 homicides and 26 suicides in state and district prisons in 2016. Fourteen states did not report information regarding homicides and suicides to the CNDH. The CNDH noted in its 2016 report on prisons that in general prisons were not prepared to prevent or address violent situations such as suicides, homicides, fights, injuries, riots, and jailbreaks.
The state government in Tamaulipas struggled to regain control of its prisons after decades of ceding authority to prison gangs, according to media and NGO reports. Criminal organizations constantly battled for control of prisons, and numerous riots claimed more than a dozen prisoners’ lives, including three foreign prisoners in the past year (two in Nuevo Laredo, one in Ciudad Victoria). On April 18, an inspection at the prison in Ciudad Victoria uncovered four handguns, two AK-47s, one hand grenade, and 108 knives. On June 6, a riot at the same facility claimed the lives of three state police officers and four inmates. On July 31, the official in charge of the prisons in Tamaulipas, Felipe Javier Tellez Ramirez, was killed in Ciudad Victoria reportedly in retaliation for challenging the criminal gangs in the state’s prison system.
Prisoner outbreaks or escape attempts also plagued Tamaulipas’ prisons. On March 22, 29 prisoners escaped through a tunnel from a prison in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. On June 19, eight inmates escaped from the youth detention center in Guemez. On August 10, nine inmates were killed and 11 injured in an inmate fight at a prison in Reynosa where a tunnel had previously been discovered. Guards fired live ammunition to control the situation, which occurred during family visiting hours.
In June, 28 inmates were killed by their rivals at a prison in Acapulco. Three prison guards were arrested for having allowed the attackers to exit their cells to kill their rivals.
On October 9, a riot at Nuevo Leon’s Cadereyta state prison was initially contained but flared up again the next day as inmates set fires. Press reports indicated one prisoner died in the fires. After three prison guards were taken hostage, state police were sent into the prison to control the situation. Official sources reported that at least 16 inmates died during the riot, some because of police action to reclaim control of the prison. This was the fifth lethal riot at a Nuevo Leon prison since 2016.
Civil society groups reported abuses of migrants in some migrant detention centers. Human rights groups reported many times asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle of Central America held in detention and migrant transitory centers were subject to abuse when comingled with other migrants such as MS-13 gang members from the region. In addition migration officials reportedly discouraged persons potentially needing international assistance from applying for asylum, claiming their applications were unlikely to be approved. These conditions resulted in many potential asylum seekers and persons in need of international protection abandoning their claims (see also section 2.d.).
Administration: While prisoners and detainees could file complaints regarding human rights violations, access to justice was inconsistent, and authorities generally did not release the results of investigations to the public.
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. Independent monitors were generally limited to making recommendations to authorities to improve conditions of confinement.
Improvements: State facilities continued to seek international accreditation from the American Correctional Association, which requires demonstrated compliance with a variety of international standards. As of August 20, an additional 12 correctional facilities achieved accreditation, raising the total number of state and federal accredited facilities to 70.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The federal police, as well as 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 secretary and the National Security Commission, state police are under the authority of the state governors, and municipal police are under the authority of local mayors. SEDENA and SEMAR also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combatting organized criminal groups. Article 89 of 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 National Migration Institute (INM), under the authority of the Interior Ministry, is responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants.
On December 21, the president signed the Law on Internal Security, which provides a more explicit legal framework for the role the military had been playing for many years in public security. The law authorizes the president to deploy the military to the states at the request of civilian authorities to assist in policing. The law subordinates civilian law enforcement operations to military authority in some instances and allows the president to extend deployments indefinitely in cases of “grave danger.” Upon signing the law, President Pena Nieto publicly affirmed he would not seek to implement it until the Supreme Court had the opportunity the review any constitutional challenges to the new law. At years end, no challenges had been submitted to the Supreme Court. The law passed despite the objections of the CNDH, the Catholic archdiocese, some civil society organizations, the IACHR, and various UN bodies and officials, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who argued that it could further militarize citizen security and exacerbate human rights abuses. The government argued the law would in fact serve to limit the military’s role in law enforcement by establishing command structures and criteria for deployments. Military officials had long sought to strengthen the legal framework for the domestic operations they have been ordered by civilian authorities to undertake. Proponents of the law also argued that since many civilian police organizations were unable to cope with public security challenges unaided, the law merely clarified and strengthened the legal framework for what was a practical necessity. Many commentators on both sides of the argument regarding the law contended that the country still had not built civilian law enforcement institutions capable of ensuring citizen security.
The law requires military institutions to transfer all cases involving civilian victims, including human rights cases, to civilian prosecutors to pursue in civilian courts. There are exceptions, as when both the victim and perpetrator are members of the military, in which case the matter is dealt with by the military justice system. SEDENA, SEMAR, the federal police, and the Attorney General’s Office have security protocols for the transfer of detainees, chain of custody, and use of force. The protocols, designed to reduce the time arrestees remain in military custody, outline specific procedures for handling detainees.
As of August the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 138 cases involving SEDENA or SEMAR officials suspected of abuse of authority, torture, homicide, and arbitrary detention. Military tribunals have no jurisdiction over cases with civilian victims, which are the exclusive jurisdiction of civilian courts.
Although civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces and police, impunity, especially for human rights abuses, remained a serious problem. The frequency of prosecution for human rights abuse was extremely low.
Military officials withheld evidence from civilian authorities in some cases. Parallel investigations by military and civilian officials of human rights violations complicated prosecutions due to loopholes in a 2014 law that granted civilian authorities jurisdiction to investigate violations committed by security forces. Of 505 criminal proceedings conducted between 2012 and 2016, the Attorney General’s Office won only 16 convictions, according to a November report by the Washington Office on Latin America citing official figures, which also indicated that human rights violations had increased in tandem with the militarization of internal security. The Ministry of Foreign Relations acknowledged the report, stated that the problems stemmed from the conflict with drug-trafficking organizations, as well as the proliferation of illegal weapons, and emphasized that the military’s role in internal security was only a temporary measure.
On November 16, women of the Atenco case testified before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and called for the court to conduct an investigation into the case. The 2006 San Salvador Atenco confrontation between local vendors and state and federal police agents in Mexico State resulted in two individuals being killed and more than 47 women taken into custody, with many allegedly sexually tortured by police officials. In 2009 an appeals court reversed the sole conviction of a defendant in the case.
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 only applicable 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 provides for 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, but 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 for up to 96 hours before they must seek judicial review.
The procedure known in Spanish as “arraigo” (a constitutionally permitted form of 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 for up to 80 days prior to the filing of formal charges. Under the new accusatory system, arraigo has largely been abandoned.
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.
Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The IACHR, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for arbitrary detention to lead to other human rights abuses.
A July report by Amnesty International reported widespread use of arbitrary detention by security forces.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, although NGOs such as the Institute for Economics and Peace credited the transition to the accusatory justice system (completed in 2016) with reducing its prevalence. A 2015 IACHR report showed that 42 percent of individuals detained were in pretrial detention. The law provides time limits on pretrial detention, but 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 also 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 basic 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 the crime may challenge the lawfulness of their detention during their court hearing.
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.
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. The law provides defendants with 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 and underfunded. Administration of public defender services was the responsibility of either the judicial or executive branch, depending on the jurisdiction. According to the Center for Economic Research and Economic 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 convictions for civil rights offenses.
The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property.