• Sheet of paper Report

Annual Report: Mexico 2011

March 19, 2011

Head of state and government: Felipe Calderón Hinojosa
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 110.6 million
Life expectancy: 76.7 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 22/18 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 92.9 per cent

Thousands of people were abducted and killed by criminal gangs. Police and military forces deployed to combat gangs were responsible for grave human rights violations. Serious deficiencies in the judicial system and oversight mechanisms persisted and impunity for human rights violations was the norm. Several human rights defenders and journalists were killed, threatened and harassed. Promised protection measures and new procedures to investigate attacks were still pending at the end of the year. Irregular migrants were routinely targeted for abduction, rape and murder; the mass killing of 72 migrants revealed the scale and systematic nature of the abuses committed against them. Legislative measures were insufficient to prevent and punish widespread violence against women. The National Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) issued several landmark rulings on human rights cases. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Inter-American Court) issued judgements against Mexico for grave human rights violations committed by the armed forces. There were no advances in ending impunity for past human rights violations committed during Mexico's "dirty war" (1964-1982). Many Indigenous communities continued to have limited access to basic services. Five prisoners of conscience were released.


The government recorded more than 15,000 gang-related killings, particularly in the northern states. The majority of these occurred in conflicts between drug cartels and other criminal gangs, but an unknown number also resulted from clashes with police and security forces. In Ciudad Juárez, nearly 3,000 people were killed, including several mass killings of young people. Drug rehabilitation centres were targeted and scores of patients were killed in different states. More than 50 soldiers and 600 police officers were killed in gang-related violence. Police were suspected of widespread involvement with criminal gangs. Passers-by and other members of the public were also killed, forcing thousands to flee their homes. Violence spread to new regions of the country. Prosecutions of those responsible for the killings were rare.

The US government continued to provide security and other transfers to Mexico as part of the Merida Initiative, a three-year regional co-operation and security agreement. However, the State Department recommended that Congress withhold approval of a small proportion of funds as the Mexican government had failed to meet human rights conditions.

A number of legal reforms affecting the constitutional recognition of international human rights treaties, the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH), the criminal justice system, policing, national security, and the role of the military in law enforcement and military jurisdiction were still pending before Congress at the end of the year. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on the situation of human rights defenders. The SCJN dismissed legal challenges to Mexico City's legalization of same-sex marriages and adoption.

Police and security forces

The military

There were further reports of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention by members of the military. The CNDH registered 1,163 complaints of abuses by the military and in November reported ongoing investigations into more than 100 complaints of unlawful killings by the armed forces in the 18 months to November 2010.

The military justice system continued to claim jurisdiction in such cases, while the civilian judicial authorities refused to investigate. Little information was available on progress of military prosecutions, but no serving military official was known to have been convicted of human rights violations during the year. Government proposals for limited legislative reform to military jurisdiction did not guarantee that human rights violations would be excluded from the military justice system.

  • On 19 March, Javier Francisco Arredondo and Jorge Antonio Mercado Alonso, two students at a private university in Monterrey, were killed when the military opened fire on suspected members of a criminal gang. A CNDH investigation into the case showed that the military planted guns on the students and destroyed crime scene evidence to falsely accuse the victims of belonging to a criminal gang. There were no further advances reported in the investigation by the end of the year.
  • On 3 April, two brothers aged five and nine – Bryan and Martín Almanza – were shot and killed by the army, according to eyewitnesses, while travelling by car with their family in Tamaulipas state. Military and civilian authorities denied military responsibility, but the CNDH demonstrated that the crime scenes had been altered and evidence ignored. No information was available on progress in the investigation, which remained under military jurisdiction at the end of the year.

Police forces

Reports of arbitrary detention, torture, excessive use of force and enforced disappearance by municipal, state and federal police forces continued. Attempts to reform the police were undermined by the failure to establish credible oversight controls or conduct effective criminal investigations into human rights abuses.

  • In May, six municipal police officers were detained in Cárdenas, Tabasco state, by members of the organized crime unit of the Federal Attorney General's Office. They were reportedly nearly asphyxiated with plastic bags, subjected to electric shocks and beaten during interrogation. No information was available at the end of the year on the investigation into the allegations of torture.

Irregular migrants

Tens of thousands of migrants heading for the USA faced abduction, rape and murder by criminal gangs as they travelled through Mexico. Often these crimes were carried out with the knowledge, complicity or acquiescence of federal, state or municipal police. Those responsible for the abuses were rarely held to account. The appointment of a special prosecutor in Chiapas state was one of the few successful initiatives to investigate abuses against migrants. The government announced improved co-ordination of federal and state agencies to tackle the issue. Some migration legislation was reformed to allow migrants to file criminal complaints and receive emergency medical care.

  • In August, 72 mainly Central American migrants were killed by a criminal gang in Tamaulipas state. Eight suspects were later arrested in connection with the killings.

Staff and volunteers at church-based shelters providing humanitarian assistance to migrants faced intimidation and threats.

Freedom of expression – journalists

Threats and attacks on journalists and media outlets continued. At least six journalists were killed. Criminal gangs particularly targeted journalists covering crime issues. In some states, local media outlets self-censored, avoiding coverage of such stories. The Federal Attorney General's Office renewed commitments to investigate these offences. However, the vast majority remained unresolved. A government protection programme for journalists was agreed but not operational by the end of the year.

  • In June, two journalists – Juan Francisco Rodríguez Ríos and his wife, María Elvira Hernández Galeana – were shot and killed in Coyuca de Benítez, Guerrero state. He was a trade union representative and had called for an end to impunity for those responsible for attacks on journalists. There were no advances in the investigation into the couple's killing by the end of the year.

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders in many parts of the country were attacked and harassed. Despite government commitments to respect their work and guarantee their safety, some government officials made statements questioning the legitimacy of some defenders and official protection measures were often poorly applied. A protection programme and new procedures for investigations into attacks against defenders had not been finalized by the end of the year.

  • In August, after intense national and international campaigning, Indigenous rights activist and prisoner of conscience Raúl Hernández was acquitted and was released from jail in Guerrero state. He had spent more than two years in custody on fabricated murder charges. After his release, he and other members of the Me'phaa Indigenous People's Organization faced threats and intimidation.
  • In April, two human rights defenders, Alberta Cariño and Jyri Antero Jaakkola, a Finnish citizen, were shot and killed by armed men belonging to the Social Welfare Union of the Triqui region (Unión del Bienestar Social de la Región Triqui, UBISORT), linked to the then Oaxaca state government. The two defenders were participating in a humanitarian convoy to take food, water and medical supplies to the Indigenous Triqui community of San Juan Copala, which was under siege by UBISORT and another armed group. Those responsible for the shooting remained at large at the end of the year.

Unfair trials

The criminal justice system often fell short of international fair trial standards, facilitating politically motivated prosecutions, unsound convictions and the widespread use of pre-charge detention orders (arraigo). In those cases where national and international attention highlighted injustices, federal legal remedies sometimes secured releases. However, those responsible for the misuse of the criminal justice system were not held to account.

  • In June, the SCJN ordered the release of 12 activists of the Peoples' Front for the Defence of Land in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico state, after concluding that their conviction for kidnapping was unsound. No official has been held to account for the torture and other ill-treatment of more than 200 detainees, including sexual assault of women prisoners, during the police operation which resulted in their detention.
  • In June, prisoners of conscience Sara López, Joaquín Aguilar and Guadalupe Borja were released on bail after a federal review court reduced the charges against them. In December, they were convicted of a lesser charge but not imprisoned. An appeal was pending at the end of the year. The three community leaders had been detained in July 2009 and falsely accused of kidnapping officials during protests against high electricity bills in the community of Candelaria, Campeche state.

Violence against women and girls, and sexual and reproductive rights

Violence against women remained widespread. Hundreds of women were killed in the home and community during the year. Legislative measures introduced in recent years to improve protection were often not applied in practice or were ineffective in protecting women or ensuring perpetrators were held to account.

Despite the 2009 judgement by the Inter-American Court, the government failed to take effective measures to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the abduction and killing of three women in Ciudad Juárez in 2001 (the Cotton Field case) or to combat the ongoing pattern of violence against women and discrimination in the city. More than 300 women were killed during the year. The bodies of at least 30 victims bore injuries suggesting that they had suffered sexual violence and torture. Few perpetrators were held to account. In December, Marisela Escobedo was shot and killed by a gunman outside the governor's palace in Chihuahua City during a protest to demand justice for her daughter who was murdered in Ciudad Juárez in 2008.

An SCJN ruling was pending on suits challenging the constitutionality of amendments to 17 state constitutions guaranteeing the legal right to life from the moment of conception. In another case, the SCJN ruled that state governments were obliged to comply with national health professional procedures when providing services to women victims of violence, including the provision of emergency contraception.

Indigenous Peoples' rights

Indigenous communities continued to have unequal access to justice, health, education and other rights and services. Government authorities failed to engage effectively with Indigenous communities to improve the protection of their rights and access to services. Despite government commitments to reduce maternal mortality, inadequate health services continued to contribute to disproportionately high levels of maternal deaths among Indigenous women in southern states.

  • In April, prisoners of conscience Alberta Alcántara and Teresa González were released from prison after the SCJN ruled that their conviction was unsafe. The two Indigenous women, both from Santiago Mexquititlán, Querétaro state, had spent three years in prison falsely accused of kidnapping federal police officers.
  • The local government failed to prevent armed groups laying siege to San Juan Copala in the Indigenous Triqui region of Oaxaca state. As a result, sections of the community were denied access to basic heath care, food, water and education services for several months.

International scrutiny

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued judgements against Mexico for grave human rights violations in the cases of Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo, two Indigenous women raped by soldiers in 2002, and Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, two environmentalists tortured in 1999 by the army in Guerrero state and imprisoned and convicted of spurious criminal charges. The Court ordered Mexico to recognize its responsibility, provide reparations to the victims, and ensure effective investigation of those responsible by the civilian authorities. The Mexican government promised to comply, but at the end of the year these judgements – and two others from 2009 – remained largely unimplemented.

In March, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a series of recommendations to the Mexican government after reviewing its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

There were visits by the UN Special Rapporteurs on education and on the independence of judges and lawyers, and a joint visit by the UN and OAS Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression. In May, the government was forced to make public a 2008 report by the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture.