University of Minnesota



Nº 15/96

Today, July 24, 1996, marks the end of the visit that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) made to Mexico, at the invitation of that country's President, to observe the human rights situation there. Participating in the visit were all the members of the Commission: Dean Claudio Grossman, Chair; Ambassador John S. Donaldson, First Vice Chair; Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao, Second Vice Chair; Dr. Oscar Luján Fappiano; Ambassador Alvaro Tirado Mejía; Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé, and Professor Robert Kogod Goldman. The Commission was assisted during its visit by Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana, Executive Secretary; Dr. Domingo E. Acevedo, Assistant Executive Secretary; Dr. David J. Padilla, Assistant Executive Secretary; Dr. Osvaldo Kreimer, Senior Legal Counsel, and Mr. Ibrahim García, the Commission's legal counsel for Mexican affairs. The Commission was provided with administrative support by the secretaries Mmes. Rosario McIntyre, Martha Keller, and Tania Hernández.

During the visit, the IACHR met with the President of the Republic, Dr. Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, and other high-level officials of the Federal Government, including the Secretaries of Foreign Affairs, the Interior, and Defense, Ministers of the Supreme Court of Justice; representatives from both chambers of the Mexican Congress, the National Human Rights Commission, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), and the Federal Electoral Tribunal; representatives from the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Baja California; church dignitaries; political leaders; businessmen; media representatives; and representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the area of human rights.

As is customary on such visits, the Commission received complaints from parties who alleged, directly or through their representatives, that their human rights had been violated.

During its visit, the IACHR completed its work schedule in Mexico City and in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Baja California, to which it traveled to meet with state officials and representatives of civil society. /

The IACHR wishes to underscore that it was entirely free to meet with whomever it wished and to travel anywhere in the territory it saw fit. The Government of Mexico made it possible for the IACHR to complete its schedule and provided it with the utmost assistance and cooperation in all areas.

The extensive schedule of meetings and visits afforded the most diverse social and political groups the opportunity to share their views with the IACHR on the human rights situation in Mexico. In addition, this first visit also made it possible for the Commission to explore in depth its relationship with the government and with civil society in order to continue cooperation in the ongoing task of protecting and promoting human rights.

Its schedule of activities allowed the IACHR to make an appraisal which, for the time being, is necessarily preliminary and provisional. The complex body of information it received will require more detailed study at the regular session to be held by the Commission in October of this year to prepare a special report on Mexico.

It is important to emphasize that when the IACHR receives and processes complaints from persons alleging human rights violations, it is performing quasi-judicial functions. In such cases, the IACHR refrains from issuing specific pronouncements that may prejudice the merits of the cases submitted for its consideration.

Without prejudice to the foregoing, the current considerations of the Commission are as follows:

At all levels, federal as well as state and local, and in the media and civil society in general, the IACHR has noted the existence of a widespread debate on human rights. The IACHR welcomes the presence of human rights on the agenda of Mexican society, given their importance in strengthening democracy and the rule of law.

The human rights debate, as well as important steps taken by President Zedillo, has been translated into institutional and nongovernmental activities and developments for the promotion and protection of human rights.

The invitation to the IACHR from President Zedillo's Government to visit Mexico for the first time in the Commission's 37 years of existence is an historic event that reveals the significance the President attaches to human rights. At the same time, it appropriately illustrates the Government's open attitude to dialogue and cooperation with the international community and to its criticism. The invitation also confirms the universal value of human rights within the framework of freely assumed international obligations.

Within Mexico itself, the IACHR welcomes the development of institutions and standards to promote and protect human rights. The IACHR has observed the worthy efforts made by the National Human Rights Commission. The IACHR finds it highly significant that more than 60% of the Commission's recommendations have been carried out and that there is public debate on them. The IACHR calls on the state commissions to learn from the example of the National Human Rights Commission and to perform their duties to the utmost.

The IACHR appreciates that a debate is under way to strengthen the autonomy of the national as well as district and state human rights commissions, to broaden their spheres of competence, and to fully carry out their recommendations. The IACHR has noted the presidential initiative to increase the constitutional autonomy of the National Human Rights Commission.

The IACHR recognizes the major reforms carried out in the judiciary, particularly regarding judicial administration, professional training for judges, the appointment system for ministers of the Supreme Court of Justice and other judges, and the establishment of a legal procedure for challenging the constitutionality of laws. It was also able to observe that the agenda of forthcoming reforms included important items aimed at institutional enhancement, specifically, the incorporation of all jurisdictional bodies in the judiciary and oversight of the constitutionality of federal and state electoral laws. Because of the importance of these items for the rule of law, the IACHR will continue observing their implementation with interest.

The IACHR is in favor of strengthening federal institutions which serve to improve the electoral system and promote the free exercise of the right to vote. In that connection, the IACHR has learned of the positive achievements of the Federal Electoral Institute and the Federal Electoral Tribunal.

With regard to the establishment of a legal framework that fully guarantees the right to vote and to be elected, the IACHR is also in favor of the current debate in Mexico on initiatives to strengthen the independence and autonomy of the electoral bodies, to achieve equitable conditions for all participants in the electoral process, and to hold state elections under principles and standards similar to those that must govern in the federal framework. The IACHR will continue attaching great importance to the evolution of this process referred to in certain reports since 1986 which targets full implementation in Mexico of the right to participate in government, as set forth in Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The IACHR was impressed by a rich, multifaceted, and diverse civil society, which is reflected in many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involved in the most diverse areas of national life. The existence of these organizations and the possibility of their functioning freely within the legal framework of democratic societies, in accordance with Article 16 of the American Convention, is universally recognized today as a manifestation of democracy, which, by definition, is not limited to government structures or to elections. Without prejudice to the obvious differences that must exist among various institutions and organizations playing different roles, the IACHR considers that ongoing and open dialogue between the organizations and government institutions is very useful, in the interests of the lofty common goal of promoting and protecting human rights.

The Commission wishes to underscore that, upon ratification of the American Convention, the governments assumed, under Articles 1 and 2 of that document, the obligation of adapting its domestic legislation to the American Convention. In particular, it undertook to provide, in accordance with due legal process, effective remedies for identifying and punishing government agents responsible for human rights violations and to make appropriate and effective reparations to the victims of those violations. These provisions are necessary if the rule of law in a democratic society is to be reaffirmed.

In the view of the IACHR, the citizens' aspirations to live in a secure environment are fully justified. What is essential is strengthening of the rule of law, which entails an efficient, professional, modern, and completely nonpartisan police force that acts in compliance with the law.

During its visit to Mexico, the IACHR received information about a strong distrust of the police and heard complaints about their inefficiency, corruption, arbitrary arrests, and torture.

The IACHR attaches the utmost importance to the claims it has received regarding torture in Mexico. Based on its abundant experience throughout the Hemisphere, the IACHR wishes to underscore that in the ongoing fight against the scourge of torture, tribunals must not accord any evidentiary value to confessions extracted under torture and must punish those guilty of such acts. The IACHR is aware that the National Human Rights Commission has made numerous recommendations in cases of torture, only some of which have been implemented. The IACHR will investigate the complaints submitted to it in this regard.

The IACHR wishes to note that, unless distrust of the police is encountered through effective measures, it will continue to undermine the development of a culture respectful of human rights, inasmuch as it nurtures the erroneous idea that the security sought by the people can only be obtained through extralegal measures. On the basis of its experience, the IACHR believes that the public security that the citizens desire—and to which they are entitled—will be achieved only by strengthening the rule of law.

The Commission believes that to strengthen the rule of law arbitrary acts must be condemned and their perpetrators punished. On the basis of information it received, the IACHR was able to determine that impunity is still a serious problem despite the prosecution and dismissal of some public officials who have violated human rights. The murders of Monsignor Posadas, Luis Donaldo Colosio, and Ruiz Massieu, which have stirred public opinion in Mexico and abroad, are still not fully cleared up. The IACHR will continue to insist that the fight against impunity is an essential component in achieving public security and is an internationally recognized obligation under Article 1 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The IACHR received information that court and ministry of justice employees were slow, inefficient, and biased in performing their duties. The fact that the Ministry of Justice has been given exclusive control over criminal prosecution calls for the establishment of an institution that is independent, autonomous, professional, efficient, and impartial. The compulsory nature of due process is set forth in Article 8 of the American Convention on Human Rights. Without prejudice to the Commission's continued monitoring of this subject, the IACHR wishes to refer to two specific situations.

The IACHR was able to observe the effort made by the Attorney General of Mexico City to implement an interesting program to educate and purge the police. It was also able to observe his willingness to offer protection to those whose lives had been threatened. In the Commission's view, this is a model worthy of emulation, notwithstanding the difficulties inherent in longstanding problems.

As regards the serious incident that occurred in the state of Guerrero in which, as is known, 17 persons were killed, it should be noted that this case is before the Commission for alleged violations, including the failure to institute criminal proceedings. The Commission notes that, despite appeals by President Zedillo and the Supreme Court of Justice for a full investigation of this case, it was informed that liability and the alleged coverup had still not been fully established.

In those cases in which the Ministry of Justice failed to prosecute, the IACHR has been able to note a situation of legal uncertainty concerning the use of Article 21 of the Constitution to pursue a judicial remedy making it possible to examine the failure to act. To establish actual liability, both the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution and the possibility of its effective implementation in practice must be clear.

This situation is all the more significant since the IACHR received numerous complaints of intimidation against community and NGO leaders, which, according to the complainants, have not been investigated. The IACHR attaches great importance to this matter and will investigate the complaints.

During its stay, the IACHR met with numerous NGOs in the area of women's rights. It listened to their statements concerning violations of those rights, in particular domestic violence, and the need for achieving true equality. The IACHR will continue attaching great importance to this topic in its report on women's rights in the Hemisphere and through the individual complaint system.

The IACHR considered in particular the situation of millions of Mexicans who are members of indigenous peoples, with their diverse cultures, problems, and aspirations. It held talks with numerous delegations, including delegations from different ethnic groups in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, on dignity, respect for their cultures and autonomy, equal access to economic and all other types of opportunity, as well as property and land tenure.

In that connection, the IACHR was informed that, as agreed in the Chiapas peace negotiations, a special joint committee of the legislative and executive branches was preparing a set of draft constitutional and legal amendments that would lay the basis for enhancing the cultural status and the autonomy and dignity of the Mexico's indigenous peoples. The Commission looks forward to the early adoption of those constitutional and legal reforms.

For its part, the IACHR has prepared a preliminary draft Inter-American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has been circulated throughout the Hemisphere for comment.

In the Chiapas segment of its schedule, the IACHR confirmed the deep yearning for peace and human rights shared by the most diverse groups in that state. The IACHR is pleased that negotiation was given preference over solutions based on force. The IACHR is gratified that because the current dialogue is continuing within the institutional framework, the recommendations and commitments are being properly implemented, and the judgments are being appropriately enforced through suitable mechanisms and competent institutions.

In Chiapas, the IACHR received numerous complaints concerning the existence of groups that are opposed to the peace negotiations and seek to disrupt them by financing and promoting violent conflicts and "guardias blancas" (private security personnel hired by land owners in the rural areas). The IACHR expresses concern over this matter and hopes that a fitting outcome to the negotiations will establish a climate that will conclusively prevent such groups from acting without prejudice to the immediate adoption of effective measures against them.

The IACHR will investigate the complaints received in Chiapas about intimidation, eviction, murder, kidnapping, and other serious crimes. The IACHR wishes to underscore that these complaints refer primarily to acts of violence which, in the vast majority of cases, affect indigenous populations and often concern land tenure disputes.

Lastly, the IACHR wishes to refer to a specific matter in Chiapas. The Commission was able to learn firsthand at once that, without prejudice to the progress made with regard to religious tolerance in the state, children are still being denied the right to an education, allegedly because of religious intolerance.

During its visit to Guerrero, the Commission learned from the Governor and other state officials about the legislative and administrative measures that have been or were being adopted to improve the human rights situation in the state.

Representatives of the civil society in the state of Guerrero presented numerous complaints to the Commission regarding the use of torture by the police as a method of investigation, illegal detention, false charges, and the activity of armed groups who frequently perpetrate acts of random violence against peasants. In that connection, the Commission also received complaints about the climate of insecurity in which many people live because the very officials responsible for ensuring public order are perceived as the perpetrators of arbitrary treatment and other excesses, against whom no proceedings are instituted. In many of the complaints on torture submitted to the IACHR, it has been noted that the victims were apprehended without an arrest warrant issued by the competent authority. The IACHR will investigate these complaints.

The IACHR also heard complaints of situations in which the Armed Forces performed police functions. In this connection, the IACHR—on the basis of its experience—wishes to highlight the consequences of using the Armed Forces for activities involving public security, since the use of those forces may seriously infringe upon human rights, because of their military nature and training.

In the city of Tijuana, the Commission toured a stretch of the northern border of Mexico and saw various groups of persons waiting to cross it.

The IACHR members attended a seminar on "Migration and Human Rights," which was held at the Northern Border College in Tijuana. This seminar provided the Commission with very valuable information which will be used in a report it will prepare on migrant workers in the Hemisphere. At the seminar, the Commission learned about the human rights violations perpetrated against the migrant populations from their places of origin.

In this connection, the Commission wishes to underscore the effective, humanitarian work done by the Beta Group to protect the migrant population from the abuse and outrage meted out to that population by various criminal groups.

Finally, the Commission met with representatives of NGOs and other groups representing the civil society in that city. These groups provided further information on general topics concerning human rights.

In concluding its visit, the IACHR wishes to say that it has a great readiness on the part of the most diverse groups in the nation to continue forging ahead in promoting and protecting human rights. Further it has noted that, in this endeavor, there is no alternative to dialogue, negotiation, and the search for consensus.

The Commission wishes to thank the Government of Mexico, its President, Dr. Ernest Zedillo Ponce de León, the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, and the other federal and state authorities for the hospitality, facilities, and cooperation they afforded the IACHR in carrying out the visit and making it a success. It also wishes to thank the NGOs and individuals who, in an open and transparent fashion, provided valuable testimony and documents and thus helped the IACHR to fulfill its mission.

The Commission also wishes to thank the media for the interest they showed in covering the visit.

Pursuant to the functions assigned it in the OAS Charter, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the other applicable international legal instruments, the Commission will monitor the human rights situation in Mexico. It reiterates its wish to collaborate with the Mexican authorities within the framework of their competence so as to help strengthen domestic and international mechanisms for the defense and protection of basic rights under of the rule of law.

Mexico City, July 24, 1996


In Mexico City, the IACHR met with the President of the Republic, Dr. Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León; the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, José Angel Gurría; the Secretary of National Defense, Major General Enrique Cervantes; the Secretary of the Interior, Emilio Chuayffet Chemor; members of the Supreme Court of Justice; the Attorney General of the Republic, Alfonso Lozano Gracia; the Attorney General of the Federal District, José Antonio González Fernández; the Secretary General of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), Agustín Ricoy Saldaña; the head of the Federal Electoral Tribunal, José Fernández Franco González Salas, and judges of the Tribunal; members of the National Commission for Conciliation and Peace (COCOPA) and the human rights commissions of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies of the national Congress; the leader of the National Action Party (PAN), Felipe Calderón Hinojosa; the leader of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Porfirio Muñoz Ledo; the leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Santiago Oñate; and with representatives of NGOs and other groups and persons representing the civil society. The Commission received representatives from Mazatecas, Mixteco, Chapines, Mijes, Zapoteca, and other ethnic groups in the state of Oaxaca, accompanied by Senator Héctor Sánchez López.

During its stay in the state of Chiapas, the Commission was able to engage in dialogue various state officials and civic organizations. It met with the Governor, Julio César Ruíz Ferro; the Secretary of the Interior, Eraclio Zepeda Ramos; the President of the Supreme Court, Noé Catañon León; the Chair of the State Congress Special Committee, Juan Carlos Bonifaz Trujillo, as well as with members of that body and of the State Congress Human Rights Committee; the State Attorney General, Jorge E. Hernández Aguilar, and his immediate staff; and with the Commander of the Seventh Military Region, General Mario Renán Castillo Fernández, and his senior staff.

The Commission also met with the bishops of Tuxtla, Tapachula, and San Cristóbal de las Casas; representatives of the evangelical churches, and with numerous human rights organizations called together by the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Center and the network of human rights organizations, titled "Todos los Derechos para Todos" (All Rights are for Everyone); and with the Chiapas Human Rights Commission. It also met with the leaders of the principal boards and associations for businessmen, employers, professionals, merchants, carriers, and rural producers. Similarly, it met with Monsignor Samuel Ruíz García, head of the National Mediation Commission (CONAI). It was also able to speak with various indigenous groups, including representatives of the Reconciliation Association (ARICO), and with the Federation of Unions. Further, it was received by representatives and leaders of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) at its headquarters in the municipality of San Andrés de Larrainzar.

A group of the Commission traveled to the state of Guerrero and met with the Governor of the state, Angel H. Aguirre Rivero; the Attorney General of the State, Antonio Hernández Díaz; the Coordinator of the State Congress, Zótico García Pastrana; the Chair of the Human Rights Defense Commission in Guerrero, Juan Alarcón Hernández, and other members of the Commission; and with the state's Director General of Traffic and Public Safety.

The Commission group also met with NGO representatives and spokespersons and with the widows and relatives of those who lost their lives in the massacre at the

Vado de Aguas Blancas on June 28, 1995.

The group also visited the Acapulco prison where it met with prisoners from whom the Commission received complaints alleging torture by members of the security services (Army) which detained them.

In the city of Tijuana, the Commission carried out the following activities. On the night of July 21, it toured a stretch of the northern border of Mexico where it observed several groups of persons waiting to cross into the United States as undocumented persons in search of work or, in some cases, to join their relatives.

On June 22, the members of the IACHR participated in a seminar on "Migration and Human Rights," held at the Northern Border College, and subsequently met with representatives of NGOs and other civic groups in that city.


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