University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Mexico, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.100, Doc. 7 rev. 1 (1998).





673. The Commission is aware of the current situation in Mexico, where an expansion of public freedoms is under full swing and where the participation of opposition political groups in the administration of state, congressional and municipal organs is growing. The IACHR is also cognizant of the deep-seated economic and social problems afflicting the country.

674. As it has expressed on previous occasions, the IACHR recognizes the open debate in Mexican society about the effectiveness of human rights in that country. Also, the Commission highlights the importance of recently approved human rights norms in Mexico, and it notes the positive reforms that have taken place in the country's Judiciary. The strengthening of Mexican civil society and of non-governmental human rights organizations is also recognized by the Commission.

675. Notwithstanding the above, and although the Mexican State cannot be held responsible for all the problems affecting its citizens, it is responsible for human rights violations committed by State agents in the performance of their duties, even when they are acting outside the limits of their authority. This is also true when violations are committed by individuals, and the State has tolerated or consented to those acts. According to what has been said in earlier chapters of this report, the Commission reiterates that the State may also incur international responsibility in the event that it fails to adopt the measures required to prevent violative acts. It may also incur responsibility for failure to comply with its obligation to investigate and provide for adequate punishment of the persons responsible for those violations, and for its failure to comply with its duty to provide for compensation or reparations to the victims.

676. The Commission has considered the information received before, during and after the on-site visit, and as a result of the analysis set forth in this report, it has issued recommendations to the Mexican State, some of which are specific and others are of a general nature. Therefore, the State shall adopt the necessary and timely measures to comply with such recommendations -reiterated in this chapter-- in accordance with its constitutional and legal procedures.


677. Based on the extensive review of the situation which it has conducted and the various conclusions reached in the present report, the Commission now wishes to present some of the most important conclusions which may be drawn about the general situation of human rights in Mexico.

678. The United Mexican States, as a society and as through its system of government, has been pursuing over the past several years concrete measures to promote democratization and liberalization aimed at destroying the rigid structures of the past that encouraged the violation of human rights and created a system of privileges that failed to respect the dignity and equality of large sectors of the population.

679. The difficult balance between a process of liberalization and democratization on the one hand and the maintenance of public order and the rule of law in the face of attacks against this process and the new forms of systemic illegality, such as drug trafficking, on the other, creates a complex overall framework within which to consider the general situation of human rights in Mexico and the role of the Government and the State authorities (at the various levels) in ensuring respect for and guaranteeing those rights.

680. The adoption of a Law on the National System of Public Security, which blurs the professional specialization between the different police and military forces and also affects the autonomy of the Office of the Public Prosecutor through the creation of the Unit for the Coordination of Public Security, weakens the institutional safeguards against the existence of abuses of authority and violations of human rights.

681. The Commission has noted the considerable efforts made by different State organs to control the situation of increasing violence that has broken out in the country as well as the interest shown by the State in finding a peaceful solution to the problems of internal violence. In some respects, the State has succeeded in strengthening the climate of openness and peace. This is of particular importance, in the light of the situations of violence that exist in the regions to the south of Mexico, especially in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca and in Huastecas de Veracruz and Hidalgo.

682. The emergence of new dissident armed groups of various types has led not only to a resumption of measures of control by the security forces but also to the indiscriminate repression of social organizations and leaders. Several states have now been militarized on the grounds of the need to fight drug trafficking and crime. However, this military presence has led to an increase in complaints of violations of the human rights of the civilian population, including the right to life.

683. As for the situation of indigenous populations in Mexico, their economic and social rights are often violated, a situation that in itself reflects injustice and discrimination in comparison with the rest of the population. The tensions that exist in the indigenous communities and between these communities and the rest of the general population are old, complex and widespread. These tensions have intensified not only through the armed zapatista movement but also through numerous conflicts in different entities of the Union.

684. Despite the fact that the State is currently participating in a dialogue, in an attempt to negotiate a solution to the demands of the peasants and indigenous people, the spiraling violence against the leaders of their community organizations has continued in the past year, in many cases through the action of "guardias blancas," or armed groups which either have the support of official sectors in Chiapas State, or are allowed by those sectors to operate freely.

685. The Commission has taken note that the Federal Government has expressed concern in recent years over the situation in the southern states of the country and has take a number of initiatives to prevent any further worsening of the social and economic differences between the various sectors of the population and to restore legal order.

686. Despite these efforts and, more particularly, the various initiatives taken by the State to purge its security forces, complaints continue to be received of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, which have taken place in the context of the fight against guerilla groups, drug trafficking and common crime. The Commission acknowledges and respects the obligation and right of a State to defend itself against the armed dissident groups and to combat crime, but only within the juridical limits established by international human rights and international humanitarian law. The Commission reiterates its view that, despite the complexity of these operations, agents of the State must at all times respect human rights, including the right to life and personal freedom.

687. The absence from national legislation of the characterization of enforced disappearance as a crime contributes to the State's inability to prevent and punish this practice.

688. Torture and cruel treatment continue to be used by some sectors of the security forces, particularly in the phases of preventive detention and prior investigation as a means of obtaining confessions and/or intimidation. Impunity of torturers is the rule owing to the difficulty of initiating criminal action against them or the leniency of the judicial branch in such cases.

689. The National Human Rights Commission, among other institutions of the Mexican State, has been waging a vigorous campaign against impunity for public servants that violate the rights of citizens. The Commission notes that between 1990 and 1995, its recommendations led to the trial and punishment of 2,035 agents of the Federal Government, state governments and municipalities. These figures, however, are insignificant compared to the high rates of impunity that persist.

690. The IACHR notes the establishment by the Mexican State of the National Women's Programme - Alliance for Equality, which seeks to promote the full participation of women on an equal footing with men. Inequalities in education and socio-economic opportunities have been significantly reduced. However, the pattern of sexual abuse and violence --especially domestic-- remains. As to State agents who abuse their authority and engage in such acts, no adequate preventive and punitive measures have yet been enforced.

691. Overcrowding of the prison population of Mexico is a serious problem, especially in the light of the slow pace of criminal proceedings and the widespread use of preventive detention for accused persons. The latter practice must be restricted to individual cases in which there is a genuine threat to society and public order. The Commission has noted that in a high percentage of prison establishments the conditions of treatment, disciplinary regime and medical and employment services are inadequate and below established international standards. It has also noted that Mexican law and practice use the concept of subjective dangerousness of accused persons standing trial and of minors who are not even under trial or have no previous convictions, to restrict their freedom or to make their conditions of detention harsher, in violation of the American Convention.

692. The fact that the Mexican State cannot guarantee prompt and timely trial has led to the unlawful trend among the population to take the law into their own hands. When this happens, the very essence of the law and of the State is destroyed.

693. During its on-site visit to Mexico, IACHR received genuinely serious and alarming reports and testimony about corruption, abuses and ill treatment in different police stations in the country. It took note of the lack of confidence on the part of large sectors of the population in the judicial police, a fact that was confirmed by the very authorities themselves when consulted. One reason for this is the makeshift training of police personnel during which insufficient attention is paid to their basic function, namely, the investigation and prosecution of crime. Other factors that contribute to inefficiency and corruption are the material working conditions and poor salaries of police personnel.

694. The Commission notes that the process of electoral reform in Mexico, which has succeeded in remedying major deficiencies in the law, has significantly improved the equality of the rules of the game for the large political movements and the right of each Mexican citizen to elect, to be elected and to participate in public affairs. The guarantees provided to the Federal Electoral Institute and the Federal Electoral Tribunal have helped to make them independent organs with their own jurisdiction and have given greater credibility to the impartiality and objectivity of the conditions under which the processes for the expression of the political will of Mexicans take place. In short, the electoral system of Mexico has been subjected to a basic reform of its organization, leadership and management and it can now be said to have moved from a system of party control to a gradual return to the sovereign citizens themselves. However, the IACHR is concerned that only limited progress has been made in the process of reforming the legislation of some states of the Union to offer similar guarantees.

695. Also contributing to this growing political openness is the growing diversity of approaches by the press and electronic communications media, which tends to ensure respect for ideas, beliefs and the multicultural richness of Mexico. In spite of this and of the growing strength of a free and critical press in the country, journalists continue to be the victims of serious attacks and threats. Human rights workers and members of other community organizations in Mexico are also affected by this type of incidents. The Commission attaches the utmost importance to the freedom of expression, since this is an essential ingredient of a democratic society in which human rights are fully exercised. As a result, the Mexican State needs to offer maximum guarantees to persons whose work entails the exercise of the freedom of expression in its various forms within its territory.

696. Mexico is currently a society that is experiencing rapid change, where far-reaching State initiatives are facilitating more harmonious access by the different sectors of society to political power, greater respect for the will of the people and the strengthening of the rule of law. This very dynamic and the elimination or attempt to eliminate privileges are causing reactions and practices from certain sectors of civil society and State agents that lead to violence and attacks, which are violations of human rights. This in itself is one of the most serious challenges in the history of the State and society of Mexico, the task of strengthening the rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights.


697. The Commission acknowledges the significant efforts being made by civil society and the Mexican State (at the national, state and municipal levels) to improve the situation of human rights. Those efforts would be strengthened by closer cooperation with international organizations such as the Commission itself, through the adoption of its recommendations to the Mexican State, within the framework of the principles and international obligations that have been freely contracted. In this connection, the Commission wishes to reiterate its commitment to collaborate with the authorities and society of Mexico in the search for dialogue, peace, consensus and reforms that are necessary to achieve full respect for human rights.

698. The IACHR also believes that it is essential to continue and to expand the joint activities between the international community and the authorities of Mexico, with the participation, where pertinent, of non-governmental organizations and other sectors of civil society.(199) In that understanding, the Commission recommends to the Mexican State that it seriously consider the initiatives of international technical cooperation in the field of human rights.

699. Finally, the IACHR reiterates the recommendations contained in the various chapters of this report so that the Mexican State may adopt the measures that are necessary to deal with the critical situations that are obstacles to the full respect for human rights in that country. The Commission, in accordance with its competence and practice, will monitor the follow-up to its recommendations by the authorities of the Mexican State.

A. Right to life

700. To take the necessary steps to reform the criminal law of Mexico with a view to characterizing forced disappearance as a crime.

701. To conduct meaningful, prompt and impartial investigations in all cases of disappearances that have not yet been resolved and those responsible punished.

702. To act in a meaningful, immediate and effective manner to ensure that complaints about violations of the right to life committed by members of the Mexican police or Armed Forces are immediately and thoroughly investigated and that those found guilty are duly punished.

703. To take the necessary steps in order to ensure that security agents are subject to administrative suspension during the investigation of complaints of alleged violations of the right to life.

704. To develop coordinated strategies to effectively combat the proliferation of paramilitary groups ("white guards"), who are organized by landowners, to disband such groups, disarm its members, investigate the violations, and to punish those persons whose responsibility has been established.

705. To provide better training for police personnel with particular emphasis on the excesses which they commit during operations to control crowds, especially of rural dwellers; and to clearly inform such officials of their duties and obligations and of the criminal liability which they may incur if they fail to observe the requirements of the law.

706. To provide remedies and compensation to the relatives of victims of violations of the right to life.

707. To promote and develop peace initiatives in areas affected by armed conflict, especially in the states of Chiapas and Guerrero, with a view to bringing about the reforms that are necessary to ensure full compliance with human rights.

B. Right to personal freedom

708. To review the procedures used by police organizations with a view to enhancing the effectiveness of their efforts to combat crime and to ensure that such activities are carried out in accordance with the law.

709. To adequately regulate the principle of freedom of the accused during the trial phase, providing for specific exceptions in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the IACHR.

710. To expand the scope of application of sentences that are alternatives to imprisonment, adopt the measures that are required to speed up trials, and increase the capacity of prison establishments.

711. To put an end to the confinement of prisoners for up to 30 days as a disciplinary measure.

712. To implement the legislative provisions intended to separate persons awaiting trial from convicted criminals, as well as minors from adults, and women from men.

713. To adopt measures aimed at guaranteeing the conditions of prison establishments and the treatment of inmates, including the right of inmates to maintain contact with the outside world.

714. To duly investigate complaints of corruption and influence peddling, which are alleged to occur inside prisons, to punish those found guilty and to take the necessary steps to correct such situations.

715. To discontinue the practice of carrying out studies to determine the degree of danger posed by an individual and the so-called "personality profiles", which are a violation of the American Convention.

C. Right to personal integrity

716. To provide the National Human Rights Commission and the respective state Commissions with the necessary support to enable them to continue to monitor and denounce acts of torture to the appropriate authorities; and adopt the necessary measures to ensure that the recommendations of the above mentioned Commissions are implemented.

717. To adopt the measures toward ensuring that acts of torture are characterized and punished as such by jurisdictional organs, in accordance with the international definition of this violation of the right to personal integrity.

718. To take the necessary measures to exercise effective judicial supervision over the arrest and the agencies entrusted with making the arrest, since detention and arrest are among the most critical phases in any criminal proceeding during which the detainee is under the exclusive control of the police.

719. To give the relevant instructions to State agents making the arrest to inform the persons being arrested, at the time of such arrest, of the reasons for their arrest and of their rights and guarantees in terms that he or she can understand, taking into account the person's background, educational level and language spoken.

720. To implement specific programs to educate and train public officials responsible for enforcing the law about the absolute prohibition of acts of torture and of all cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

721. To guarantee the right of those arrested to communicate immediately with an attorney of their choice.

722. To take the necessary measures to ensure that the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala adopt specific legislation on torture.

723. To adopt the necessary measures, legislative or of other nature, to ensure that the statement which the accused makes before the competent judge in the case is deemed to be the only valid confession, eliminating expressly the incriminating value of confessions made to the judicial police.

724. To provide specific guidelines for the competent authorities requesting them to reject any statement or testimony in which there are presumptions or good reason for believing that such statement or testimony was obtained by coercion or physical or moral torture.

725. To investigate and punish, with the severity required by each specific case, those responsible for acts of torture.

726. To take all necessary steps to ensure that victims of torture are rehabilitated and provided with fair and adequate compensation.

727. To instruct the relevant authorities to pay special attention to and properly supervise State agents (army and police) in combat zones with a view to preventing acts of torture.

D. Right to justice

728. To continue adopting the necessary measures for the implementation of article 21 of the Mexican Constitution, with a view to making effective the right to a fair trial and the guarantees of legal protection provided for in articles 8 and 25 of the American Convention.

729. To take the necessary measures to execute, as soon as possible, those warrants of arrest which have not yet been carried out in criminal proceedings.

730. To strengthen the autonomy and independence of the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

731. To review the legal attributes and competence of the Unit for the Coordination of Public Security in the Nation.

732. To limit the authority of the Office of the Public Prosecutor to those functions which are consistent with its mandate.

733. To improve the working conditions training and remuneration of employees of the Office of the Public Prosecutor and the Judicial Police.

734. To establish strict criteria for the recruitment of personnel for the Office of the Public Prosecutor and the Judicial Police, utilizing to that effect the current rules for the selection of magistrates and judicial employees; and to provide them with courses in technical matters, as well as in human rights.

735. To strengthen the impartiality, independence and autonomy of the judicial branch, providing it with the necessary material and budgetary resources; to implement the necessary reforms to guarantee the stability of judges in Mexico, establishing by law a system of discipline for the judiciary.

736. To take the necessary steps to guarantee prompt, timely and expeditious justice.

737. To strengthen the judicial career and organize competitive examinations for the appointment of judges, with evaluation by persons of high moral authority and acknowledged expertise in the field.

738. To reform the Law on the National System of Public Security with a view to restricting the National Armed Forces to the role for which they were created, namely, the security and defense of the Federation against outside attack, in accordance with relevant international law, specifically Article 27 of the American Convention.

739. To review the procedures adopted by the National Armed Forces in those states in which they have been deployed to put down the activities of armed groups of dissidents, in accordance with relevant international law, specifically Article 27 of the American Convention.

E. Political rights

740. To adopt the necessary measures so that the right to vote and to be elected provides for the most ample and participatory access of candidates to the electoral process, as an element of consolidation of democracy.

741. To monitor compliance by local entities with the provisions of article 115 of the Constitution, which provides that "for their internal government, the States shall adopt the popular, representative, republican form of government, with the free Municipality as the basis of their territorial division and political and administrative organization....".

742. To clearly define electoral crimes and establish mechanisms to guarantee their effective punishment.

743. To adopt the necessary legislation with a view to effectively auditing the finances of political parties.

F. The situation of indigenous peoples and their rights

744. To adopt such public measures and policies as are necessary to adequately meet the needs of the indigenous population of Mexico, especially in areas such as health and education.

745. To resume and strengthen the initiatives for dialogue and peace, especially in conflict areas like Chiapas, so that agreements reached could be effectively implemented.

746. To investigate and punish in accordance with the law criminal acts committed against residents of indigenous localities, especially by State agents or with their tacit agreement or condoning; and to ensure that the victims of such crimes or their families receive due reparation, including compensation and damages.

747. To protect and adequately provide for indigenous populations which have been internally displaced by conflict.

748. To adopt measures to combat and dismantle private armed groups linked to political or economic groups and promote the necessary political, social and economic reforms, paying special attention to zones such as the south of Chiapas.

G. Economic, social and cultural rights

749. To increase investments in health so as to guarantee everyone access to basic services.

750. To continue to invest in education, and to improve the conditions of that sector in general, with the aim of increasing school enrollment rates and developing literacy programs specifically for adults and indigenous populations.

751. To expand basic domestic infrastructure services (piped drinking water, wiring for electricity, sanitation services) for all housing in urban areas, and placing special emphasis on rural areas.

H. Women's rights

752. To ensure strict compliance by employers with national and international norms relating to employment in order to prevent the occurrence of discrimination against women in hiring and to promote a wholesome working environment which would provide greater safety for women and enhance their on-the-job performance.

753. To take all necessary steps to ratify the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women - the "Belem do ParĂ¡ Convention", and to make its internal law compatible with that international instrument.

754. To investigate and punish those officials who use their positions to sexually abuse women who have been detained in Government offices.

755. To investigate complaints presented about the practice in some health establishments of inserting intra-uterine devices without the consent of the woman, and where this is done to punish those responsible in accordance with the law.

756. To adopt such urgent and effective measures of a juridical, educational and cultural nature as required to put an end to domestic violence against women, a serious problem that affects Mexican society.

757. To create the conditions necessary for the equal development of women within public and private institutions in Mexico by assigning a significantly larger amount of resources to the relevant State entities; and to promote initiatives for such development with the participation of non-governmental organizations and other private entities.

I. The right to freedom of expression

758. To foster an open and democratic revision of laws regulating Articles 6 and 7 of the Mexican Constitution, so that the guarantees established in those articles are fully effective, pursuant to the right to freedom of thought and expression enshrined in the American Convention.

759. To adopt the measures needed to punish perpetrators of crimes committed against persons exercising their right to freedom of expression, including a speedy, effective, and impartial investigation of complaints related to harassment of journalists, human rights defenders, and members of community organizations.

760. To offer all guarantees so that both Mexican and foreign human rights defenders can perform their important work in promoting and defending those rights, without any abusive interference on the part of the authorities; especially, to review claims of arbitrary expulsion of foreigners who reside legally in Mexican territory, so as to strictly conform such decisions to rules of due process set forth in internal and international law.


199. In the same sense, Mrs. Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated the following:

The Office of the High Commissioner is prepared to assist the Government in meeting its obligations under the international covenants and other human rights treaties it has ratified including International Labour Office Convention 169 of 1989 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. We would also welcome opportunities to assist civil society organizations active in promoting respect for human rights as an essential condition for improving the lives of people in Chiapas.

United Nations, HR/98/38, June 12, 1998, High Commissioner for Human Rights expresses mounting concern about situation in Chiapas, Mexico


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