Mexico’s Judicial System is Modernizing with Digital Justice

02/10/21 – The following work is an investigative piece by Justice in Mexico Training Coordinator Janice Deaton.

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted all sectors of society in Mexico, including its criminal justice system. Judicial powers throughout the country, which administer the state and federal justice systems, have had to modernize with new and updated technologies as they migrate to digital administration of justice. Many envision the potential of digital justice to broaden access to justice, but caution against further exclusion and marginalization of vulnerable groups.

Closure of Mexican Judicial Powers

On March 17, 2020, Mexico’s Health Secretary (Secretaría de Salud) issued an order closing all non-essential government offices, including the courts.  The administration of justice in Mexico came to a standstill. Hearings were postponed with the expectation to resume them when conditions allowed and the pandemic ended. As weeks turned into months with no end in sight, however, judicial powers had to balance public health and safety with fundamental legal rights.  This led to an acceleration of digital administration of justice, for which some states were more prepared than others.

Many state judicial powers initially relied on remote technology such as videoconference to resolve matters not requiring hearings or in-person appearances. In-person hearings were held for only the most urgent of matters, such as domestic violence and evictions. In the criminal justice system, defendants remained in custody, awaiting resolution in their cases.

Some States Are More Prepared than Others

On August 10, 2020, courts throughout the country reopened to a backlog of cases. Social distancing and other conditions of the pandemic required the judicial powers of each state to incorporate some form of technology in their administration of justice. Some states such as Nuevo León, Aguascalientes, and the State of Mexico, were able to accelerate the transition to digital administration of justice because they had already been using the technology in other facets of the administration of justice. For example, the judicial power in Nuevo León implemented electronic filing of legal forms and remote hearings in 2016. In May 2020, the judicial power in Nuevo León opened its “Virtual Courthouse” to the public, with an instructional video on YouTube. In 2018, the State of Mexico implemented its virtual court by employing electronic signatures and resolving certain disputes on-line. The Coahuila Judicial Power (Poder Judicial del Estado de Coahuila de Zaragoza) set up an electronic mailbox on its website to accept legal documents or forms 24 hours a day. Its implementation was completed on August 17, 2020.

As of August 2020, six months into the pandemic, the federal judicial power and 21 state judicial powers were holding hearings through videoconference. However, in criminal matters, only Nuevo León and Coahuila provided remote public access to hearings, raising concerns of public access to hearings (publicidad). Although there has been progress, there is still no national uniformity in the administration of justice or public access to justice during the pandemic.

The technologically-advanced judicial powers of some states have been assisting other states that are new to digital justice. For example, when the judicial power in Jalisco initiated its virtual justice program in July 2020, judicial powers in Nuevo Leon, Aguascalientes, and the State of Mexico provided assistance.

In spite of good progress, there remains a lack of uniform implementation of digital justice as judicial powers continue to await an over-due National Code of Civil Procedure. This resulting lack of coordination between the federal judiciary and the 32 states and entities is paramount among the challenges of digital justice.

Current and Pending Legislation

On March 18, 2014, the Mexican legislature issued a National Code of Criminal Procedure (Código Nacional de Procedimientos Penales , CNPP) that applies in federal cases throughout Mexico, as well as in each state and Mexico City. Article 51 of the CNPP provides for the use of digital technologies in criminal justice, including videoconferences. Three years later, the September 15, 2017, constitutional reform provided the Mexican legislature would draft a national, unified code of family law and civil procedure, whose ambit would include legal standards, norms, and procedures for the digital administration of justice. Congress agreed that, during the following 180 days during which time it would draft a new code, the current code would remain in place. 

In spite of Congress’s agreement to draft and approve a new, unified code of family law and civil procedure in 2017, it has not yet happened. This code will establish rules and standards for digital justice nationally. In the meantime, states are prohibited  from issuing their own codes, rules, or regulations in the interim period because, as the Supreme Court of Mexico (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) has held on two occasions, this would invade the exclusive purview of Congress. This leaves the state judicial powers unable to ensure their use of digital technology is in compliance with yet-unknown standards on appeal.

Constitutional reform proposals have been brought to the floors of Congress. On June 3, 2020, the president of the Justice Commission in the House of Representatives, Pilar Ortega, along with Representative Janet Melanie Murillo Chávez, presented an Initiative for a National Code of Civil Procedure to the floor. While the Ortega bill mentions digital or electronic administration of justice, it does not provide standards or norms. 

Senator Ricardo Monreal Ávila proposed a different constitutional reform on July 8, 2020. According to the MORENA party (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional), Senator Monreal’s proposal specifically addresses digital platforms, and attempts to provide easy access to digital justice, through the use of information and communication technologies.

These are not the only proposals being considered. Congress is currently evaluating over 24 constitutional reform initiatives  to ensure justice administrated through digital platforms conforms with Mexican constitutional and human rights standards. Additionally, the Federal Judicial Council (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, CJF), which oversees and administers the federal judicial branch, (excluding the Supreme Court of Justice and the Electoral Court) has issued several General Agreements regulating the integration of electronic files and the use of videoconferences in federal jurisdiction. In June 2020, it issued General Agreement 12/2020, with criteria for the use of video conferences and electronic filing in all federal matters, including criminal justice. This does not negate the need for a new civil procedure code, however. There will not be uniform guidelines or norms governing this crucial area of law until a new civil procedure code is legislated and passed for state judicial powers.

Creativity, Patience, and Thinking Outside the Box

Academics, think tanks, civil society organizations, and judicial operators have attempted to fill gaps in legal standards and norms by producing webinars, and writing guides or manuals to aid judicial powers as well as litigants and judges.  Judicial operators generally agree digital administration of justice requires flexibility, creativity, and patience. They agree vast disparities in resources throughout the country, from access to infrastructure and the internet, to the consumer power to purchase the tools required for such access, require new approaches to justice. As retired Supreme Court Justice José Ramón Cossío  stated, “We are not building a utopia (…) We must think about how we bring the greatest number of tools to the greatest number of people, to resolve the greatest number of conflicts in the best possible way.” (“No estamos construyendo una utopía (…) Debemos pensar cómo acercamos el mayor número de herramientas al mayor número de personas, para resolver el mayor número de conflictos de la mejor manera posible.” Translation by author)

In Chile, Leonardo Moreno, an instructor and senior researcher with Justice in Mexico’s OASIS project, co-authored a manual, “Technology, Criminal Process, Hearings and Oral Trial.” It was published in collaboration with Alberto Hurtado University (Universidad Alberto Hurtado) and CEJA (Justice Studies Center of the Americas, Centro de Estudios de Justicia de las Américas), on June 6, 2020. The manual offers a broad approach to justice administration during the pandemic, and emphasizes flexibility and creativity. The authors suggest varied approaches to case management, from rescheduling hearings where defendants are not in custody, to holding remote hearings where possible. There might be cases that are processed in a hybrid manner, with certain witnesses appearing in-person and others remotely. Where internet is not available, telephones can be used as long as it is possible to confidently identify the witness. 

The think tank México Evalúa is a leader in the study of the use of technology in the administration of justice. In October 2020, building on their long-term research project on digital justice, México Evalúa published its “Guide to Good Practice on the Use of New Technologies in the Administration of Justice” (available here in English  and Spanish.) The manual focuses on the potential of technology to broaden access to justice while checking its capacity to further marginalize vulnerable groups. It also provides good policy practices for judiciaries or judicial powers, as digital justice becomes a permanent part of Mexican justice. The guide concludes with recommendations for the judicial powers, based on its case studies and research. As Laurence Pantin, the Coordinator of the Transparency in Justice project at México Evalúa says in her introduction to the manual, “Our intention is to offer a referential guide … to the various dilemmas that judiciaries face when they promote the use of new technologies, not only to expand access to justice, but also to make proceedings more efficient, faster and/or less costly or, ultimately, to guarantee the service of remote administration of justice under the circumstances we find ourselves in this year.”

Newspapers and opinion writers have also weighed in. In his editorial for El Universal, Miguel Carbonell offers various ways digital justice can save time and resources, including providing direct public access to legal forms, streamlining certain processes and lowering legal costs. He also highlighted four tools each judicial power needs in order to implement digital administration of justice. These include: access to file complaint or initial filings, with availability 24 hours a day; electronic filing system available to litigants; telephonic or videoconference hearings; electronic signatures; and a reduction of “red tape.”

OASIS’s Contribution

On July 29, 2020, Justice in Mexico’s OASIS project presented a webinar on fundamental rights in the administration of justice during the pandemic. Three OASIS instructors, from Chile, Mexico, and the United States, presented challenges and successes in the administration of justice in their respective countries since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Jesus Romero, from San Diego, California, said the closure of courts is denying fundamental rights to defendants, especially those who are detained pretrial. Mr. Romero mentioned several potential rights violations, including the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. In the United States, the right to confront witnesses means confront in person, with face-to-face cross examination.  Confronting witnesses or the accused via video or the internet would violate the Sixth Amendment rights of the defendant.

Mr. Romero explained that the California judicial system has made various adjustments in response to the pandemic, including allowing money-based bail to be eliminated in certain cases. 

Leonardo Moreno, from Santiago, Chile, explained there are some hearings and cases that can easily be resolved remotely, without the need for any in-person hearings. With trials or more complicated hearings, Mr. Moreno emphasized the need for legal standards covering the admission of evidence, use of prior statements to impeach or refresh recollection, and other litigation tools typically used. 

Iker Ibarreche, from Mexico City,agreed the lack of uniform code or regulations governing digital administration of justice is a paramount challenge. Mr. Ibarreche said each state is proceeding based on procedures it believes comply with the federal constitution, creating as many approaches to justice during the pandemic as there are states in the Republic of Mexico. This makes it difficult for litigants to prepare for hearings since the requirements change, depending on which jurisdiction a case is under. Further, this lack of a uniform code means there is no assurance that the cases will be upheld or affirmed on appeal. Thus, when the cases arrive in front of the federal tribunals or the Supreme Court, Mr. Ibarreche continued, they might be reversed on appeal and result in a “waste of time.”

All three presenters agreed on the need for litigants and parties to conduct themselves ethically, and testify in accordance with the law without notes or coaching from others. This is even more true with the use of videoconferences where it is difficult to monitor all conduct off-screen.  OASIS is now working in collaboration with the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) to publish a practical, hands-on manual on best practices in digital justice for litigants and judges. The manual will address the challenges and successes litigants and judges have encountered during digital hearings. This includes minimum technological requirements; proper use of cameras and microphones; the use of exhibits and prior declarations; the regulation of witness behavior, and other issues. OASIS expects to publish the manual in the Spring of 2021.

Conclusion

Mexico is undergoing a modernization of its judicial system that is here to stay.  Justice system operators envision digital justice to positively transform Mexican system of justice, making it more accessible and user friendly for the nation’s citizens. If so, Mexican citizens will find their judicial system more accessible and more user-friendly, which would in turn lead to a stronger judicial institution.

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Diario Oficial de la Federación. Acuerdo General 12/2020, del Pleno del Consejo de la Judicatura Federal. June 12, 2020. 

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García Mejía, Mauricio.  Justicia y COVID-19: 3 formas de impartir justicia durante una pandemia. Sin Medios. June 9, 2020.

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Ortega Martínez, Pilar and Murillo Chávez, Janet Melanie.  Iniciativa Con Proyecto De Decreto Por La Que Se Expide El Código Nacional De Procedimientos Civiles Y Familiares. Camara de Diputados. June, 2020.

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COVID-19’s impact on indigenous women in Mexico

10/09/20 (written by vrice) – While COVID-19 has affected various sectors of the Mexican population, indigenous communities—and especially women—have been particularly impacted in the wake of pandemic austerity measures. Budget cuts to Indigenous and Afro-Mexican Women’s Shelters (Casas de la Mujer Indígena y Afromexicana, CAMIs) have led indigenous women to mobilize and increasingly accuse the government of negligence. This unrest challenges claims in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) recent government report that his administration has effectively supported women and indigenous communities during the pandemic.

Members of the “La Abuela Sabia” CAMI in Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero. Photo: La Dekonstrucción
Members of the “La Abuela Sabia” CAMI in Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero. Photo: La Dekonstrucción

Coronavirus rates in indigenous communities

Approximately 21.4% (25 million) of Mexico’s 120 million citizens are indigenous. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, 1,882 deaths and 15,390 cases of the coronavirus have been registered in Mexican indigenous communities. This data translates into a 12% mortality rate from COVID-19 for indigenous Mexican communities, compared to the national average of 10%. The country currently has the fourth highest number of deaths from coronavirus in the world (79,088). 

Indigenous women face disproportionate vulnerabilities 

Health and Education 

The lack of hospitals in indigenous communities, coupled with pandemic travel restrictions, make seeking medical care even more difficult than for the non-indigenous population. These factors further threaten indigenous women’s access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. Indigenous women already have higher infant mortality rates, at 3.3 deaths for every 1,000 live births, compared to 2.2 deaths for non-indigenous women. Given these rates, the prenatal care and birthing assistance provided by CAMIs becomes even more indispensable. In addition, 19.9% of indigenous populations lack access to water and 24.6% do not have sewage systems. Compliance with COVID-19 safety measures, like frequent hand washing, is unfeasible without access to these resources. Further threats to indigenous women’s health arise from gender based violence. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) México, the rural location of most indigenous communities impedes the ability of women to escape increasing domestic violence rates during pandemic lockdowns. 

COVID-19 is also having a significant effect on the education indigenous women receive. In indigenous communities, 23% of individuals are already illiterate, compared to 4.2% in the general population. Women in indigenous communities also have even fewer years of schooling than indigenous men, whereas the inverse is true amongst the non-indigenous population. While the average woman in Mexico receives 9.1 years of schooling, indigenous women receive only 6.2 years. School closures due to COVID-19 may increase the rates at which indigenous children abandon their studies, particularly indigenous girls, as has occurred during past pandemics according to UNESCO México. The government is currently pursuing a “Learn from Home” (Aprender en casa) program where students can watch classes on television or access them via the internet. It is also worth noting that only 40% of indigenous communities have 4G coverage, meaning the majority of individuals cannot attend online classes. 

Income and Employment 

Studies by the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (El Consejo Nacional de Evaluación de la Política de Desarrollo Social) indicate that 80% of indigenous Mexicans work in the informal economy. As a result, they do not have access to benefits like unemployment insurance or labor protections. Coronavirus lockdowns have also hindered activities in the informal sector, leading to a loss of vital income for survival. UN Women and UNESCO identify how this diminution of income disproportionately impacts the food security of indigenous single mothers. 

Closures exacerbate the already disproportionate access of indigenous women to the labor market compared to non-indigenous women. Only 26% of the former participate in some form of labor compared with 46% of the latter. Moreover, stay at home orders have increased the amount of unpaid, domestic labor with which indigenous women are tasked. Nearly 65% of indigenous women 12 years of age and older perform this uncompensated labor, compared with only 35.3% of indigenous men. Financial vulnerability is heightened by how even before the pandemic, indigenous individuals earned monthly wages 45.5% lower than non-indigenous individuals. Indigenous women earn less than their male counterparts, making 3,840 pesos ($171.30 USD) each month compared to males’ 4,155 pesos ($185.35 USD).  Indigenous communities are also more susceptible to financial burdens from medical treatment for COVID-19 and other health ailments. Approximately 82% of the non-indigenous population possesses social security, which provides healthcare, while over 77% of the indigenous population does not. Thus, the 69.5% of the indigenous population currently living in poverty is likely to increase due to COVID-19.

Resistance from Indigenous Communities

On May 11, amidst rising COVID-19 death rates and AMLO’s announcement of austerity measures, indigenous artisan women gathered outside the National Palace in Mexico City to protest for government assistance. Demands ranged from potable water to economic aid, as lockdowns have shut down the informal economy on which many of these women rely for income. Francisca de la Cruz, coordinator of the CAMI of Ometepec, in the state of Guerrero, reflected the demonstrators’ frustrated sentiment, stating that the government does not prioritize the problems of indigenous women. Global NGOs like Amnesty International rallied behind the rights of indigenous women during the pandemic, by releasing a letter template to send complaints about the suspended CAMI funding to Mexico’s Minister of Interior. AMLO’s failure to issue government assistance to indigenous communities, while simultaneously advancing construction on the Maya Train (Tren Maya) during the pandemic sparked additional unrest and civil resistance.

Indigenous artisan women protesting outside of the National Palace in Mexico City on May 11, 2020 to demand financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: The Washington Post.
Indigenous artisan women protesting outside of the National Palace in Mexico City on May 11, 2020 to demand financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: The Washington Post.

The Government’s Response 

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced COVID-19 austerity measures at the end of March, which included the indefinite suspension of the Indigenous Rights Program (Programa de Derechos Indígenas) budget. This program is managed by the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (Instituto Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas, INPI) and helps fund 35 Indigenous and Afro-Mexican Women’s Shelters (CAMIs). These spaces are often the only sources of legal and medical aid for indigenous and Afro-Mexican women. A third of the CAMIs were forced to shut down in May due to a lack of funding. They have since received only half of the 30 million pesos ($1,373,445 USD, approximately $25,000-40,000 USD per shelter) originally earmarked for them. The National Network of Shelters for Indigenous Women denounced the budget cuts for reducing the amount of resources available to women amidst increasing rates of domestic violence during COVID-19 lockdowns. According to Mexican federal authorities, the first three weeks of lockdown saw a 30-100% increase in violence against women.

On September 1, AMLO issued his second government report, which cited significant support from his administration for indigenous communities and women during the COVID-19 pandemic. News outlet Animal Político critiqued how the report did not mention that only half of the original budget was distributed, or that one-third of CAMIs were forced to close. Echoing the sentiment of feminist activists, Animal Político argues that the government’s failure to financially support CAMIs contradicts AMLO’s statements that services for women experiencing domestic violence are “essential” during the pandemic. Moreover, the report fails to cite any statistics to justify its claim that government support was provided to CAMIs to continue providing aid for indigenous and Afro-Mexican women experiencing gender-based violence (e.g. consultations, translations, case follow-up). The report claims that 30,430 women received such support through CAMIs during the pandemic (from September 1, 2019-June 30, 2020), even though a footnote on the document reveals this data is solely from the last quarter of 2019. Thus, the statistic provides no insight into the care women received via CAMIs during the outbreak and augmentation of COVID-19 rates. 

The government defended itself against these accusations of neglect by promoting its “Guide for Assistance to Indigenous Communities and Afro-Mexicans during the health emergency created by the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus” (Guía para la Atención de Pueblos y Comunidades Indígenas y Afromexicanas ante la emergencia sanitaria generada por el virus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)). Initially issued in Spanish on May 8, the guide was released on May 21 in 35 indigenous languages to make information about COVID-19 and safety precautions more widely accessible. These indigenous language versions were released almost three months after the first COVID-19 case was registered in Mexico. During a press conference in the National Palace at the end of August, Adelfo Regino Montes, the head of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (Instituto Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas, INPI), praised the guide for its crucial role in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in indigenous communities. However, as there are 68 recognized indigenous languages in Mexico, the report is only available in a little over half of these.

As COVID-19 rages on, inadequate government assistance threatens to amplify the obstacles indigenous Mexican women already face in regard to education, health, income, and employment.

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Civilians call for Prison Reform in Nuevo Léon

09/24/20 (written by mlopez) – Nuevo Léon’s penal system has been facing critique as the protocols and adherence of inmate rights are being questioned by locals and authorities. The prison system in Mexico has long had its issues with overcrowding and gang violence, as well as recent complications with COVID-19. These factors are making the cells inhabitable for Nuevo Léon’s inmates. Families of the detained are now calling for a fair and impartial investigation into these prison environments. 

In September 2020,  two respected human rights watch group organizations — Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Ciudadanos en Apoyo a Los Derechos Humanos (CADHAC) — co-authored a letter demanding the investigation into the suspicious deaths of three inmates. HRW’s Jose Miguel Vivanco and CADHAC’s Hermana Consuelo Gonzales addressed the letter to Nuevo Leon’s governor, JRC, “El Bronco.” In it, they ask for clarity on the prisons Apodaca 1 and 2.

In these jails, there are allegations of gang violence and corrupt payoffs, unsafe and unhygienic social distancing and safety guidelines pertaining to COVID-19, and a lack of medicinal support for any COVID-19 cases. The three deaths mentioned in the letter by HRW and CADHAC add to the complaints made by other inmates’ families and have raised suspicion among the public. The first involved Estanislao Aguilera Escamilla, who died of electrocution on July 14, within a day of being detained. The second victim was Modesto Martínez de la Cruz who died of pneumonia on July 24, within three days of being detained. Just two weeks later, Óscar Hugo de León Martínez was also found dead after having allegedly committed suicide. HRW and CADHAC are urging Governor Rodríguez Calderón to take action in these prisons and to protect prisoners’ rights.

Nuevo Léon’s prisons

One of the nine banners hung in Monterrey, NL’s plaza. The banner directly calls for the governor to look into these two commanders who allegedly protected an inmate for the sake of being hostile to other prisoners and to trafficking drugs. Photo: Especial

The prisons themselves have been harshly critiqued by authorities and by the families of inmates. El Norte’s Christian Lara reported on the display of mantas (banners) in Monterrey Plaza. This public display was an attempt to bring the conditions of the prisons to the forefront of the issues that Nuevo Léon is facing. These issues include penitentiaries that are overcrowded, influenced by gang activity, and unsanitary. Overcrowded prisons have a low guard to inmate ratio, there is supposed to be 1 guard per 3 inmates, yet realistically there is one guard per every 5.91 prisoners. Due to this imbalance of guards, riots and gang violence persist through the detention centers. Two notorious such riots were those of Topo Chico in 2012 and 2016. While authorities have promoted cutting the lifeline of gangs in detention facilities, there are still allegations of families having to pay off gang leadership in prisons to protect their families that are incarcerated. Carlos Jáuregui, former public security secretary, stated, “the problem is that the majority of Mexican prisons are out of control. They are run by organized crime and the prisoners themselves.”

Shutting down of Topo Chico

The 2016 closure of Topo Chico, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, was in response to how inoperable the facility was and due to all the violence that erupted in this facility. Its closure meant the relocation of 2,000 inmates to Apodaca 1 and Cadereyta with the caveat that they would be under surveillance. Some lawyers saw this move as dangerous as it would be a mezcla — or mix — of gang leadership, which could result in more violence. Many inmates have detailed that certain cartels and gangs controlled various aspects of Topo Chico, signifying the prison officials were out of the loop. Yet, Carlos Martín Sánchez Bocanegra, Director of prison reform group Renace, claimed Topo Chico was primarily shut down because it no longer met national standards, citing a shortage of custodians. Meanwhile, others claim that it was the prison’s infrastructure that posed a threat to the guards, visitors, and inmates. 

Topo Chico was the home to the largest penal massacre due to gang violence between Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, two of the most notorious organized crime groups in Mexico. This resulted in 49 dead and the escape of 37 gang leaders. Nevertheless, despite the massacre, the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel were still believed to have had influence within the prison. Governor Rodríguez Calderón responded to these prison riots saying “The self-governance (of prisons) will not return because we made the decision: no more extortion of prisoners, of depriving people’s liberties, to their families that have lost heritage as well as tranquility. Imagining and building are what is best. I imagine that Nuevo Léon will recover its happiness.” [author’s own translation]

COVID-19 as a new factor in prisons

The latest challenge to the livelihoods of prisons is the novel coronavirus. Although Governor Rodríguez Calderón encouraged all of the state’s businesses to implement the proper guidelines to reduce the virus’ spread, prisons have fallen through the crack with reports of minimal social distancing measures in place.  In fact, 37% of Mexico’s detention facilities report having overcrowded cells. “Our main aim is to depressurize the prisons in the face of the overpopulation we have,” Maribel Cervantes, the security secretary for Ciudad de Mexico, told EFE. She further highlights that the state’s prisons are designed to house 13,500 inmates but currently contain 31,000 prisoners. With the lack of COVID preventative measures, there is also a lack of proper testing for inmates. Citizens in Monterrey Plaza called for intervention from “El Bronco” by means of the banners they displayed in May of this year. Since then, prisons reportedly have had 100 cases of Covid-19, 79 suspected cases, nine deaths, and three riots linked to the virus since the outbreak of the pandemic according to Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de Los Derechos Humanos, CNDH).

There has yet to be a response from “El Bronco” on this specific letter from the HRW and CADHAC. However, Mexico has responded to the inefficient health measures in prisons by asking the judicial branch to release at least 380 prisoners who are serving under five-year sentences or are chronically ill to minimize the crowding in prisons. Penitentiaries are notorious for having substandard living conditions, yet Mexico has been attempting to rebrand the prisons in the country. The 2016 reform of Article 18 in the Mexican Constitution, for example, further defines the mission of detention centers as a resocialization effort to promote work, education, sport, health, and basic human rights. The overcrowding, lack of gang control, and inefficient prevention of disease present serious challenges to upholding this mission.

Sources: 

Malkin, Elisabeth. “At Least 49 Inmates Killed in Mexican Prison Riot,” New York Times. February 6, 2016.

Barrios, Adrián Franco. “En Numeros: Características de la población privada de la libertad en México,” Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. March 2018. 

“Nuevo Léon opens its doors to reveal 76 years of history,” Mexico News daily. September 2019.

Carrizales, David. “Topo Chico Cierra Penal Incontrolable,” El Universal. September 9, 2019.

Campos Garza, Luciana. “Termina la era de Topo Chico, uno de los capítulos más oscuros del sistema penal,” Proceso. September 30, 2019. 

I Admetlla, Eduard Ribas. “Mexican Prisoners at serious risk for COVID-19,” La Prensa Latina. May 14, 2020. 

Lara, Christian. “Aparecen mantas; reportan ‘abusos’ en penales,” El Norte. May 24, 2020. 

Vivanco, José Miguel. “Letter to the Governor of Nuevo León regarding abuses in state prisons,” Humans Right Watch. September 2, 2020.

Domestic Violence in Mexico During COVID-19

Overview

06/16/20 (M MacGregor)- According to a survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía), or“INEGI”, 7 out of 10 women in Mexico have experienced violence at some point in their lives, and among those, almost half (43.9%) of women were abused by their boyfriend, husband, or partner. Additionally, according to INEGI, the states with the highest levels of domestic violence are the State of Mexico, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, and Queretaro. Domestic violence is defined by the United Nations as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain control over an intimate partner and encompasses physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological threats that influence another person. At the international and regional level, Mexico is part of various agreements that share the goal of eradicating violence against women. Some of these include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW 1979), the InterAmerican Commission of Women, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). Despite the country’s membership in these agreements, the current COVID-19 pandemic has shown the weaknesses in the Mexican government in protecting women from domestic violence and ensuring their safety.

Domestic Violence During COVID

According to Reuters, since the COVID-19 lockdown, women in Mexico have been fighting “another shadow pandemic”. There has been “an increase in reports of domestic violence, many of those psychological violence”, according to Blanca Aquino, director of the Municipal Institute for Women of Veracruz. Similarly, Maria Noel Baeza, the regional director for UN Women, believes that the lockdown is exacerbating violence against women by forcing them to stay in situations of confinement in which [women] are locked up with their abusers and have very limited outlets to escape violence. 

Before social distancing was implemented in the country, Expansión Política reported that the Mexican emergency number registered 21,727 domestic violence related calls during the month of February. According to El Universal, three weeks after the stay at home orders were issued, Mexican federal authorities estimated that violence against women had increased between 30 and 100%. Almost two months after the first case of COVID-19 in Mexico, the National Network of Shelters (la Red Nacional de Refugios)  observed an “increase of 5% in women’s admissions [to the shelters] and an increase of 60% in guidance via telephone calls, social networks, and email”. Additionally, women’s centers linked to the network are at “80% to 110% of their capacity, especially in entities such as Guanajuato, the State of Mexico, and Chiapas”. These cases of violence against women are expected to persist as the pandemic continues, as human rights specialists in an article by El Sol de Mexico are predicting domestic violence to grow by 92% during the quarantine period.

Government Response

At the national level, many lawyers and human rights activists have criticized the problematic remarks of current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as well as the Mexican government’s failure to release a comprehensive plan to tackle the spike in domestic abuse amid the COVID-19 emergency. According to Latino USA, AMLO stated in a press conference in May 2020 that “violence against women has not increased since the national lockdown” and that “there has been no increase in complaints from women”, despite statistical reports indicating otherwise. Jacqui Hunt, director of Equality Now, a non-governmental organization that aims to promote the rights of women and girls globally, told Independent, “the appalling increase in the number of women murdered and abused in Mexico since the start of 2020 should be seized upon as a watershed moment in which the government finally steps up to address the root causes of harm against women”. Hunt called for the Mexican government to “work closely alongside organizations which help women and girls and provide additional funding to make sure those locked up with their abusers can access safe housing and other specialist support”, as statistics collected by El Sol de Mexico estimate that “two-thirds of the female population in the country over the age of 15 will quarantine alongside a violent partner”.

A gender perspective to combat COVID-19

Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres called for measures to address a “shocking global upsurge in domestic violence against women and girls”, stating that “together, [the international community] can and will prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes”. United Nations Women in particular has made a number of recommendations to the Mexican authorities in order to alleviate the conditions that women and girls have experienced during the lockdown. Some of these recommendations include: 

  • Raising awareness of the increased burden on female staff for extra care tasks against COVID-19.
  • Helping employers take into account the risks that their employees displacement will have, as well as ensuring their payments during the quarantine.
  • Protecting the workforce in manufacturing companies (maquiladoras) economically and through labor protection measures since women make up a large part of the workforce.
  • Procuring strategies to protect those affected by the sexual division of labor in areas such as education, social work, which are mostly composed of women.

“No estás sola, seguimos contigo” and “#ContingenciaSinViolencia”

On April 7th, the Mexican government in conjunction with the Citizens’ Council (Consejo Ciudadano) and the Women’s Secretariat (Secretaria de las Mujeres) launched the “No estas sola, seguimos contigo” (“You’re not alone, we are still with you”) initiative to address domestic violence during the quarantine. This program consists of several resources to help women report domestic violence and seek professional help. The resources include chat rooms in which victims can send video, audio, and photos, channels to Moon Centers, or Centro Lunas, which provide psychological and legal care for medium and high risk cases. 

In addition, the government and the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (CONAVIM) created a directory to publicize these resources as well as the National Shelter Network so that women can access safe spaces away from their abusers. The hashtag, #ContingencyWithoutViolence, or #ContingenciaSinViolencia was launched by the State of Mexico and has spread on social networks throughout the country. Despite these efforts to address violence against women, the National Shelter Network is lacking the budget and the space to operate effectively and this leads them to deal with double or triple contigency. Milenio reports that several organizations have argued that the “delay in the allocation of financial resources violates the shelters’ operation and rights of women to safety”. Wendy Figueroa, the director of the National Shelter Network, has demanded that the Mexican government “establish a budget, as well as evaluation and monitoring mechanisms that guarantee the permanent flow of resources allowing the shelters to work through the year without impediment”.

In conclusion, it is clear that COVID-19 has exacerbated the effects of domestic violence in Mexico, a country that already suffers from staggering statistics due to the normalization of gender based violence. The implications of the lockdown are widening gender inequalities and increasing violence against women. In order to address this crisis, the Mexican government must strengthen all mechanisms to combat domestic violence at the local, regional and national levels. Steps must be taken immediately because women’s lives depend on it.

Domestic Violence Resources

United States

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Online Chat: https://www.thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat/

Safety planning and legal information: https://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/

Resources for victims and survivors by State: https://www.thehotline.org/resources/victims-and-survivors/

Mexico:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 9-1-1

Shelter Network Directory: https://eldiadespues.mx/directorio-de-organizaciones/

Domestic Violence Hotlines by State:

Sources:

Bettinger-Lopez, Caroline. “A Double Pandemic: Domestic Violence in the Age of COVID-19.”  Council on Foreign Relations, 13 May 2020

Oppenheim, Maya. “Mexico sees almost 1,000 women murdered in three months as domestic abuse concerns rise amid coronavirus.” Independent. 28 April 2020. 

Machicao, Monica, Martinez, Ana Isabel, Ramos Miranda, Natalia, & Sigal, Lucila. “Another Pandemic: In Latin America, domestic abuse rises amid lockdown. Reuters. 27 April 2020.

Castellanos, Laura. “México abandona a las mujeres violentadas en esta contingencia.” Aristegui Noticias. 16 April 2020.  

Almazan, Jorge. “CdMx lanza programa para denunciar violencia familiar.” Milenio. 14 April 2020

Galvan, Melissa. “Otra contingencia: la violencia contra las mujeres va en aumento.” Expansión Política. 5 April 2020.

Noticias de las Naciones Unidas. “Ante el aumento de la violencia doméstica por el coronavirus, Guterres llama a la paz en los hogares.” Noticias ONU. 5 April 2020

Ortiz, Alexis. “Coronavirus en México. Estiman aumento de hasta 100% en violencia de género. El Universal. 4 April 2020.

Nava, Cecilia. “En cuarentena, violencia contra la mujer escalará 92%, prevén expertas.” El Sol de México. 26 March 2020. 

De la Peña, Angelica. “El Covid-19 y la perspectiva de género.” El Sol de México. 23 March 2020. 

United Nations Women: Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “Paying attention to women’s needs and leadership will strengthen COVID-19 responses.” UN Women. 19 March 2020.

Seguridad de Estado de México. “Contingencia sin Violencia.” Twitter. 2020. 

Gobierno de la Ciudad de México: Secretaría de las Mujeres. “Lunas.” Gobierno de la Ciudad de México. 2020.

United Nations. “What is Domestic Abuse?” United Nations. 2020. 

Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (INEGI). “Encuesta Nacional sobre la Dinámica de las Relaciones en los Hogares (ENDIREH 2016).” INEGI. 18 August 2017.

Red Nacional de Refugios. “Red Nacional de Refugios A.C.” 3 November 2014.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR). “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” United Nations. 18 December 1979.

United Nations Women: Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.” UN Women, September 1995.

 Comisión Nacional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra las Mujeres (CONAVIM). “Sistema Nacional de Prevencion, Atencion, Sancion, y Erradicacion de la Violencia Contra las Mujeres.” 

Latin American News Dispatch. “AMLO Denies Rise of Violence Against Women During Lockdown.” 

National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Get Help.” 

Organization of American States (OAS). “Inter-American Commission of Women”. OAS.

Veracruz Gobierno del Estado. “Instituto Veracruzano de las Mujeres.” IVM. 

COVID-19 and violence in Mexico

05/06/20 (written by lcalderón) – As the world faces the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, members of the government and the academic community in Mexico expected to see a decrease in violent crime after the federal government implemented the “Stay Home” initiative. According to The New York Times, this seems to have been the case for other Latin American countries, where quarantine and travel restrictions have reduced the incidence of crime in places like Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, etc.

However, Mexican media sources such as El Universal claim that violence in Mexico has not decreased and continues to rise. The Associated Pressreported that places like Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Chihuahua –particularly the municipality of Juárez– have experienced higher levels of violence despite the pandemic. Some of this violence has targeted members of the medical profession because of the supposed risk of contagion they bring to their communities. Nurses have been burned with bleach, clinics have been set on fire, and some medical professionals have been verbally assaulted, making healthcare workers afraid of wearing their uniforms outside the hospitals.  

Nurses ask citizens to stay home amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
“I am a nurse, I fight for you and your life #stayhome” [author’s translation]. Picture by BBC News Mundo.

COVID-19 measures in Mexico

Mexico adopted “Sana Distancia” or social distancing on March 16, 2020 in an attempt to flatten the curve of COVID-19 contagions. By March 30, a sanitary emergency was declared, calling on citizens to stay in quarantine, avoid social gatherings, and only leave home when necessary. In addition, officials ordered all activities for non-essential businesses to cease and reduced operations in essential enterprises, hoping to reduce the exposure of essential workers to the virus.

In theory, there are two reasons why having less people in the streets could result in a significant reduction in crime. First, there are fewer victims because there are fewer people in public that could potentially become victims of violence. Second, there are fewer perpetrators of violence because potential assailants are also following stay-at-home orders. Yet on the ground, the statistics tell another story. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador admitted that the quarantine measures had not yielded decreased levels of violence, as was initially projected, but he remains hopeful that such reductions will be observed over time. In an unprecedented move, the president even addressed his daily morning speech on April 20, 2020 to drug traffickers and criminals asking them to reduce the levels of violence amidst the crisis.   

Analyzing crime trends

Although it is still too soon to analyze the real consequences of these public health measures in 2020, violent crime in Mexico has followed a distinctive pattern over the years. Violent crime is regularly registered by General Attorney offices and reported by Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). If one compares these national figures from January through March 2020 with the same period in 2019, it is noteworthy that both years had the same number of intentional homicides during that quarter (7,279 cases). Although the total for each month differed, March was the most lethal month in both years. The two main differences between this period in 2019 and that in 2020 are a 2.1% increase in the use of firearms to commit homicide and a 5.3% increase in the number of femicides.

In terms of other violent crime, 2020 showed decreased numbers for cases of kidnapping and robbery (including burglary, commercial robbery and theft), with a 44.4% reduction in reported kidnappings and a 10.7% decrease in robbery. Cases of theft decreased 15.5% from 2019 to 2020, the greatest drop among any type of robbery. The only steady increase shown in the first three months of 2020 was in cases of assault. For the same period in 2019, there were 38,067 cases of assault, while in 2020 that number was 38,267, or a 0.53% increase.

The Secretary General of National Public Security (SESNSP) also reports the total number of victims for a given crime. When analyzing the number of victims for each crime, March 2020 was the deadliest month (3,000 victims) since July 2018, when SESNSP reported 3,074 victims of intentional homicide. However, taking into account the previous comparison looking at January through March 2020 against the same months in 2019, there is less than a 1% increase in the number of victims of homicide in the new year.

Intentional homicides
Trends in intentional homicides in Mexico during the first quarter of years 2018-2020. Graph generated by the author with SENSP data.

The other two crimes that experienced an increase in the number of victims in the first three months of 2020 compared to 2019 were assault with a 1.12% increase and femicide with a 1.24% increase in total victims. At the same time, victims of kidnapping and extortion decreased by 39% and 1.78%, respectively.  

Kidnap and Extortion in Mexico
Trends in kidnap and extortion in Mexico during the first quarter of years 2018-2020. Graph generated by the author with SENSP data.

As Mexico continues to extend the “Stay Home” period, it is important to continue to analyze crime data to determine whether COVID-19 has had a significant impact on levels of violence in Mexico. Specifically, this will help to ascertain whether or not initiatives like social distancing and self-isolation lead to reductions in crime. As such, crime data for April and May will be key to determine if it is accurate to say that COVID-19 measures have had the same impact in Mexico (nationwide) as in other Latin American countries.

Sources:

Miranda, Justino et al. “COVID-19: Healthcare workers experience discrimination and violence in Mexico.” El Universal. April 27, 2020.  https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/english/covid-19-healthcare-workers-experience-discrimination-and-violence-mexico

“Mexico’s gang violence appears to rise during pandemic.” The Associated Press. April 24, 2020. https://apnews.com/a33c15a157abcf26d52de04bd16ab474

“En México hay más gente llorando por la violencia que por el coronavirus: experto.” El Universal. April 23, 2020. https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/en-mexico-hay-mas-gente-llorando-por-la-violencia-que-por-el-coronavirus-experto

“Incidencia delictiva del Fuero Común, nueva metodología.” Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. April 20, 2020. https://www.gob.mx/sesnsp/acciones-y-programas/incidencia-delictiva-del-fuero-comun-nueva-metodologia?state=published

Grupo REFORMA. “La mañanera de AMLO – 20 de abril.” Reforma. April 20, 2020. https://www.reforma.com/libre/acceso/accesofb.htm?urlredirect=/la-mananera-de-amlo-20-de-abril/ar1923705

“Víctimas y unidades robadas, nueva metodología.” Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. April 20, 2020. https://www.gob.mx/sesnsp/acciones-y-programas/victimas-nueva-metodologia?state=published

Simple, Kirk and Azam Ahmed. “El virus disminuye la criminalidad en América Latina (por ahora).” The New York Times. April 13, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/es/2020/04/13/espanol/america-latina/coronavirus-delincuencia-crimen.html