Slaying of Sonora Journalist Reignites Calls for More Protections

Protestors gather in response to Ricardo Domínguez López’s killing. Photo: Cristina Gómez Lima, La Jornada

08/05/21 (written by rramos) – On July 22, journalist Ricardo Domínguez López was killed by a group of armed assailants in the parking lot of a shopping center in Guaymas, Sonora. At the time of his death, Domínguez López was director of local media outlet InfoGuaymas and also served as president of the Metropolitan Association of Independent Journalists of Guaymas and Empalme (Asociación Metropolitana de Periodistas Independientes de Guaymas-Empalme). 

The slaying of Domínguez López drew widespread condemnation. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) issued a press release denouncing the murder, and specifically called on Sonora authorities to investigate the possibility that Domínguez López was targeted because of his journalistic work. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador himself expressed condolences to Domínguez López’s family in his morning press conference the day after the killing, and reaffirmed the Mexican Government’s commitment to protecting journalists. 

Back in March 2021, Domínguez López expressed fears over threats and harassment that he claimed he had been receiving from criminal groups. In a formal complaint filed with the federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR), Domínguez López asserted that criminal elements were attempting to intimidate him and other journalists in Guaymas specifically because of their reporting. In the filing, he also lamented that although many media workers in the city had made numerous reports to various government agencies, journalists continued to receive threats, including from allegedly corrupt local officials such as the Guaymas public security commissioner

Recent Violence Against Media Workers 

The July 22 killing in Sonora follows a recent string of violent incidents targeting journalists and other media workers. On July 19, just days before Domínguez López was killed, radio broadcaster Abraham Mendoza died after being shot at point-blank range as he exited a gym in Morelia, Michoacán. Mendoza had become well-known in the Morelia area for his work on a radio news talk show in which he often criticized politicians, including some with ties to President López Obrador’s ruling National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA) party. Similar to Domínguez López’s murder, Mendoza’s killing also attracted widespread attention, including a statement from the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 

According to Animal Político, several other journalists throughout Mexico have also been murdered in 2021 so far, including cases in Coahuila, Mexico State, and Oaxaca. Along with homicides, disappearances represent another serious danger for media workers. This year alone in Domíguez López’s state of Sonora, two journalists—Jorge Molontzín and Pablo Felipe Romero Chávez—both went missing in March and have yet to be located. 

Reaction from Journalists

There have been some high-profile successes in resolving acts of violence against journalists recently. This includes the sentencing in June 2021 of one of the participants in the murder of Sinaloa journalist Javier Valdez and the February arrest of former Puebla Governor Mario Marín Torres in connection with the 2005 torture of investigative reporter Lydia Cacho. Nevertheless, the series of killings and disappearances of media workers this year has compelled journalists to demand greater protections, including more police protection for them and their families.

Days after the Domínguez López homicide in Guaymas, media workers from throughout Sonora, including photographers, camerapersons, reporters, and others also marched towards the offices of the state Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de Justicia del Estado, FGJE) in Hermosillo. There, the protestors delivered a document to Sonora Attorney General Claudia Indira Contreras calling for government officials to either redouble their efforts in investigating and prosecuting crimes against media workers, or resign. 

The exasperated response from journalists in the wake of these most recent aggressions appears to be justified. A 2020 report issued by the Reporters Without Borders found Mexico to be the deadliest country for journalists. According to the international non-governmental organization Artículo 19, at least 139 media workers in Mexico have been killed since 2000 for reasons related to their profession. Of these, 43 were murdered during the administration of current President López Obrador, according to data from the federal Secretary of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB). If authorities fail to heed calls for more meaningful actions to safeguard journalists and hold perpetrators of violence accountable, freedoms of expression and access to information may continue to be further jeopardized in the future. 

Sources:

“Periodistas desaparecidos en México.” Periodistas de a Pie. October 10, 2020. 

“Balance 2020: Periodistas Asesinados.” Reporteros Sin Fronteras. December 2020. 6.

Ahrens-Viquez, Ashley. “Ex-governor of Puebla arrested for the 2005 torture of journalist Lydia Cacho.” Justice in Mexico. February 9, 2021. 

Linares, Albinson. “Mexico is deadliest country for journalists, who also face government harassment.” NBC News/Noticias Telemundo. May 8, 2021. 

“Pasará 32 años preso El Quillo, uno de los asesinos de Javier Valdez.” La Jornada. June 18, 2021.

“Asesinatos de periodistas en México: resultado de la ausencia de una política pública integral de protección.” Artículo 19. June 21, 2021.

“Matan al periodista Abraham Mendoza cuando salía del gimnasio, en Michoacán.” Animal Político. July 19, 2021. 

Estrada, Jocelyn. “Asesinan al periodista Abraham Mendoza en Morelia, Michoacán.” Milenio. July 19, 2021. 

Jiménez, Adid. “Acribillan al periodista michoacano Abraham Mendoza en zona centro de Morelia.” La Prensa/El Sol de Morelia. July 19, 2021

“Asesinan al periodista Abraham Mendoza.” La Jornada. July 20, 2021.

“Asesinato de periodistas en México: Matan al reportero Ricardo López al Norte de Guaymas.” El Imparcial. July 22, 2021. 

“Periodista Ricardo Dominguez López de Info Guaymas es asesinado en centro comercial.” PolíticoMX. July 22, 2021. 

“El periodista Ricardo Domínguez López es asesinado en Guaymas, Sonora.” Expansión Política. July 22, 2021. 

Álvarez, Carlos. “Asesinan en su cumpleaños al periodista Ricardo Domínguez López, en Guaymas, Sonora.” Zeta Tijuana. July 22, 2021. 

Escobar, Amalia. “Asesinan en Sonora al periodista Ricardo López, director de Info Guaymas.” El Universal. July 22, 2021. 

“COMUNICADO DE PRENSA DGC/197/2021.” Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos. July 23, 2021. 

“Director-General condemns the killing of broadcaster Abraham Mendoza in Mexico.” United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. July 23, 2021. 

Aguirre, Ignacio. “AMLO se compromete proteger a periodistas tras el asesinato de Ricardo Domínguez en Sonora.” Línea Directa. July 23, 2021. 

Gómez Lima, Cristina. “Sonora: periodistas exigen garantías para trabajar.” La Jornada. July 24, 2021. 

“Periodistas de Sonora exigen justicia por asesinato de Ricardo López.” La Jornada. July 26, 2021. 

Martínez, Lorena. “Investigarán al comisario de Seguridad Pública de Guaymas por el asesinato de Ricardo López.” Expreso. July 26, 2021.

Martínez, Milton. “Director de seguridad de Guaymas es investigado en asesinato de periodista.” Proceso. July 27, 2021. 

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “Mexican journalist Ricardo López shot and killed in Sonora.” IFEX (International Freedom of Expression Exchange). August 4, 2021.

CNDH’s 2020 Recommendations on Human Rights Violations

Logo for Mexico's National Human Rights Commission
Photo: Wikimedia.

01/21/21 (written by kheinle) — Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) issued 90 standard recommendations (recomendaciones) in 2020 against offending institutions and local, state, and federal bodies. The ombudsman generates these formal reports for the government agency against which a complaint (queja) about a human rights violation has been levied. The recommendations are a list of steps that the accused parties need to take in order to repair and remedy the damages caused.

CNDH’s 2020 Recommendations

Of the 90 such recommendations issued in 2020, the most were against Mexico’s Institute of Social Security (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, IMSS), which received 12. This was followed by the Institute for Social Security and Services for State Workers (Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado, ISSSTE) and its executive leadership (Dirección General del ISSSTE), which had a combined ten. Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) had six recommendations.

The only other authorities that received more than three recommendations were the Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana, SSPC), the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR), and the State Attorney General’s Office of Chiapas (Fiscalía General del Estado de Chiapas), each with four. Below that, four institutions received three recommendations each, and another eight received two each. The remaining 87 bodies all received just one recommendation, the majority of which were municipal governments. These 90 recommendations are categorized differently than CNDH’s general recommendations, recommendations for grave violations, and recommendations based on the national protocol to prevent torture. For more information on CNDH and the recommendation process, check out Justice in Mexico’s special report on human rights violations.

Mexico’s Military and Human Rights

The building headquarters for Mexico's Institute of Social Security located in Mexico City.
Headquarters for Mexico’s Institute of Social Security (IMSS) located in Mexico City. Photo: Wikimedia.

Mexico’s military is among the institutions that regularly receive CNDH recommendations. The military’s presence in the streets increased as former President Felipe Calderón took on Mexico’s brutally violent organized crime groups during his 2006-2012 presidency. As Justice in Mexico reported in its 2012 publication, “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico,” Calderón’s massive deployment of troops increased civilian exposure and vulnerability to abuses by military personnel.

This civil-military relationship in Mexico largely mirrors that of fellow Latin American countries in Central and South America. As Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America wrote in a July 2020 article, “The past decade has already seen a worrying erosion of the region’s transitions from military rule to civilian democracy.” Despite being one of the country’s most trusted institutions, Mexico’s military is notorious for its human rights violations. The CNDH’s recommendations over the years document this civil-military relationship, as discussed below.

Secretary of National Defense

In 2011, Mexico’s Secretary National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) received 25 recommendations, and another 14 in 2012. That number then dropped to three in 2013 and one in 2014 under the Peña Nieto administration (2012-2018). It has since registered between one and five recommendations per year for the six subsequent years, including three in 2020. This brings SEDENA’s ten-year total since 2011 to 62 such recommendations. SEDENA also was part of two general recommendations (recomendaciones generales) received in 2020, as well as two recommendations involving grave violations of human rights (recomendación por violaciones graves).

SEDENA's director, General Sandoval González, stands in front of a historic painting and the Mexican flag.
General Luis Cresencio Sandoval González, head of SEDENA. Photo: Gobierno de México.

Its most recent recommendation received, Recomendación 78/2020, is a reminder of the slow pace at which human rights violations are often reported, verified, and publicized. Released on December 10, 2020, the CNDH recommendation was directed to General Luis Cresencio Sandoval González, the head of SEDENA. It details the agency’s investigation and findings into the case of the arbitrary detention and torture of a soldier who was unlawfully apprehended in Morelia, Michoacán by members of the then named Judicial Military Police (Policía Judicial Militar). The military police allegedly thought the soldier was a member of a drug cartel, feigning his way a member of the military. After his arrest and subsequent torture, the victim was detained in a prison in Tepic, Nayarit. The incident happened in April 2010; the case was filed in 2017; and nearly three and half years later, CNDH published its findings in 2020.

CNDH included several recommendations for SEDENA, the institution in violation, to move forward in addressing and correcting its mistakes. In addition to “repairing damage caused to the victim,” CNDH also recommended instituting human rights training courses for SEDENA personnel that “focus on eradicating arbitrary detention, illegal holding, preventing and eradicating torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.”

Secretary of the Navy

Mexico’s Secretary of the Navy (Secretaría de Marina-Armada, SEMAR), meanwhile, had no standard recommendations issued against it in 2020 and just two in 2019. Over the past ten years, SEMAR received 39 recommendations, about a third less than SEDENA’s total since 2011. Its annual recommendations have varied between one and seven per year, with its highest tallies in 2013 and 2016. In 2020, SEMAR also was named in the same two general recommendations issued against SEDENA. SEMAR did, however, receive three separate recommendations involving incidences of grave violations.

SEMAR did take an important step toward protecting human rights when it signed a Collective Agreement to Collaborate (Convenio General de Colaboración) with CNDH in December 2020. Rooted in principles of building a “culture of legality” and “respect for human rights,” the agreement focuses on “preventing, training, and promoting” human rights programs between SEMAR and CNDH. This agreement comes nearly ten years after the last Collective Agreement between the two was signed in March 2011. Since then, SEMAR and CNDH have signed and implemented a number of more specific agreements to develop and execute courses, certifications, and training programs to ground SEMAR’s officers and personnel in protecting human rights. 

Military Training to Protect Human Rights

The cover image of the Falsas Salvaguardas report
Photo: Equis.

Nevertheless, a recent report found serious concerns with the military’s handling of human rights violations. The report, “False Safeguards: Training of the armed forces on human rights and gender (2010-2019),” was published the week before CNDH’s Recomendación 78/2020 against SEDENA. Data Cívica, EQUIS Justicia para las Mujeres, and Intersecta – a mix of several civic institutions and national and international organizations – authored the report.

“False Safeguards”

The ten-year investigation argues that the military has failed to follow through on recommendations and even mandates made by national and international organizations to properly train members of Mexico’s military on human rights protections. This includes failure to comply with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ ruling from a landmark case involving Ines Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú, two indigenous women who were raped by Mexican soldiers in 2002. It also includes the IACHR’s decision in 2018 that found the Mexican officials responsible for the disappearance of three family members in 2009 in Chihuahua: Nitza, José, and Rocío.

SEDENA, SEMAR, and the National Guard Respond

The three branches of the military named in “False Safeguards” – SEDENA, SEMAR, and the National Guard – all pushed back immediately on the report’s finding. For its part, SEDENA argued that is has spent “hundreds of millions of pesos on training activities.” It continued, stating that the report does not consider all of the work that SEDENA has done “to guarantee that the injustices committed against Inés Fernández Ortega, Valentina Rosendo Cantú, Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, José Ángel Alvarado Herrera, and Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes don’t happen again.” SEMAR and the National Guard made similar arguments, noting that they either were not required to comply with the IACHR’s ruling or simply did not have the capacity to provide all of the information requested from the report’s authors on their specific human rights training and protocols.

To read the full report, “False Safeguards: Training of the armed forces on human rights and gender (2010-2019)” (“Falsas salvauardas: Las capacitaciones de las fuerzas armadas en derechos humanos y género”), click here.

Sources:

“Great News for Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú!” Amnesty USA. October 6, 2010.

Daly, Catherine et al. “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. July 2012.

Isacson, Adam. “In Latin America, COVID-19 Risks Permanently Disturbing Civil-Military Relations.” Washington Office on Latin America. July 20, 2020.

“Falsas Salvaguardas: Las capacitaciones de las fuerzas armadas en derechos humanos (2010-2019).” Data Cívica, Equis, Intersecta. December 2020.

Camacho Servin, Fernando. “Comisionado de ONU-DH cuestiona manejo de derechos humanos en México.” La Jornada. December 9, 2020.

Flores Martínez, Raúl. “Semar y CNDH capacitarán a marinos en protección de DH.” Excelsior. December 10, 2020.

“México no ha cumplido con mandatos de la Corte IDH para capacitar a militares en derechos humanos.” Animal Político. December 10, 2020.

“A 2 años de que la CorteIDH culpó a México de la desaparición de 3, la familia sigue sin justicia.” Sin Embargo. December 21, 2020.

“CNDH emite recomendación a Sedena por caso de integrante del Ejército torturado por militares.” Proceso. December 31, 2020.

Web. “Recomendaciones.” Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Last accessed January 3, 2021.

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.

AMLO’s Decree Further Militarizes the Public Security Strategy

AMLO rides in ceremony for National Guard inauguration
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the inauguration of the National Guard in 2019. Photo: Cuartoscuro.

06/12/2020 (written by kheinle) – President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took steps to further institutionalize the military in addressing public safety. On May 11, the president signed an executive decree that expands the armed forces’ involvement in internal affairs nationwide until March 2024 or until the National Guard can assume the responsibilities.

The decree is officially published as, “AGREEMENT that makes the Armed Forces permanently available to fulfill public security duties in an extraordinary, regulated, fiscally managed, subordinate, and complementary manner.” Additional responsibilities include supporting investigations, “detaining suspects, securing crime scenes, and carrying out arrest warrants,” writes the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Despite assuming more domestic duties, however, the decree does not expand oversight on the military. Soldiers will continue to be held to their own internal controls instead of being accountable to civilian institutions.

Why the Increase in Military Presence?

The military is being called into action to curb the continuing rise in crime and violence, which is currently at an all-time high. Mexico’s most violent year on record was 2019 with 35,588 homicides, according to the National System of Public Security (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP). This year is on track to be even higher. There were also more homicides in March 2020 than any other month under the López Obrador Administration (2,616 cases of intentional homicide and 3,000 victims), prompting the president to act.

President López Obrador assigned the National Guard to temper migration flows at the country’s northern and southern borders. Photo: Notimex.

The military’s presence will complement the work of the National Guard, which has arguably not evolved into the force that the president had hoped since it launched in July 2019. President López Obrador created the unit, which now has more than 100,000 troops enlisted, to combat the country’s ongoing challenges with organized crime and violence. Yet the Guard’s responsibilities in public security have adapted considerably since the outset. During their first year on the ground, National Guard troops were largely charged with aiding Mexico’s response to migration influxes at the country’s northern and southern borders and more recently with supporting efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, commented, “The fact is the National Guard is simply an insufficient response to the violence in Mexico. This was always going to be the case,” he continued, “but with all of the extra responsibilities the Guard took on related to forced migration, there are extreme shortages in the workforce.

The president’s newly signed decree hopes to address the rise in violence by bringing in the military to alleviate some of the responsibility of the National Guard until that force is fully capable of handling the task.   

Human Rights Concerns

The military’s presence in domestic affairs continues to raise red flags given the institution’s record with violating human rights. Said Santiago Aguirre, the director of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center in Mexico City, “In effect, the army and navy are going to be handling police duties until 2024. [Both] have a long history of not being accountable, especially in cases of serious human rights violations.”

Photo: Guardia Nacional.

Concern over the National Guard’s responsibility in violating human rights also persists. The Guard was created as an institution with more accountability to civilian authority. When Congress approved the force in 2019, it instituted constitutional changes that established human rights protocols and protections overseeing the unit. Nevertheless, the National Guard is arguably a militarized force, much to the concern of human rights organizations.  

Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America highlights several ways in which this is so. First, over 75% of the National Guard is composed of soldiers, according to a Mexican government report. This is likely impacted by the fact that National Guard recruitment centers are all located on military bases. Second, the leader of the National Guard has roots in the military as a former member of the armed forces and as a retired general. Finally, the National Guard’s funding and equipment comes from the military.

In her article, Meyer recognizes that the National Guard does indeed have fewer cases of human rights violations documented against it as compared to the military, but it still has some. “Between July and November 2019, the CNDH [National Human Rights Commission, Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos] reported receiving 32 complaints of human rights violations committed by members of the National Guard, including accusations of migrant abuse, torture, and arbitrary detention,” she wrote. Such complaints have continued into the new year.

With a more militarized National Guard and the president’s decree to put the military back on the streets, it will be important to monitor potential rises in human rights violations.

Sources:

Daly, Catherine et al. “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. July 2012.

“AMLO deploys National Guard amidst controversy.” Justice in Mexico. July 24, 2019.

Gobierno de México. “Informe de seguridad, Guardia Nacional y combate a la delincuencia organizada.” YouTube. April 24, 2020.

Agren, David. “López Obrador accused of militarizing Mexico with new security decree.” The Guardian. May 11, 2020.

Diario Oficial de la Federación. “ACUERDO por el que se dispone de la Fuerza Armada permanente para llevar a cabo tareas de seguridad pública de manera extraordinaria, regulada, fiscalizada, subordinada y complementaria.” Secretaría de Gobernación. May 11, 2020.

Rivers, Matt and Jackie Castillo. “Andrés Manuel López Obrador ordena que los militares vuelvan a las calles para combatir la creciente violencia.” CNN Español. May 12, 2020.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Incidencia delictiva.” Goberino de México. May 20, 2020.

“Versión estenográfica de la conferencia de prensa matutina del presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador.” Sitio Oficial de Andrés Manuel López Obrador. May 20, 2020.

Meyer, Maureen. “One Year After National Guard’s Creation, Mexico is Far from Demilitarizing Public Security.” Washington Office on Latin America. May 26, 2020.

Centro Nacional de Información. “Incidencia Delictiva del Fuero Común 2020.” Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana, Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. May 2020.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas y unidades robabas, nueva metodología.” Gobierno de México. Last accessed June 12, 2020.

Around the States: Updates on the New Criminal Justice System

12/29/19 (written by kheinle) – Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) has been in effect for well over three years, but each state’s implementation and effective functioning of the system varies widely. From public defenders to prosecutors, and from human rights protections to police officer trainings, the adversarial justice system encompasses many facets. The updates below from around the states demonstrates the NSJP’s breadth.  

Colima

Source: Justice in Mexico

Just over 40% of Colima’s public defense attorneys are being let go due to budgetary cutbacks approved by that state’s Congress in December, dropping the total number on staff from 83 to 47. The president of Colima’s Bar Association (Federación de Colegios, Barras y Asociaciones de Abogados Asociación Civil), Oswy Delgado Rodríguez, spoke on the matter. He lamented that the lawyers affected were valuable, experienced, and able to sufficiently defend Colima’s vulnerable populations. Their loss would have an impact.

The lack of resources allocated to Colima’s public defenders is not unique to the state. According to the Washington Office on Latin America citing México Evalúa, “In 2018, these [public defense] agencies received less than 2 percent of a pool of funds allocated to public defenders’ offices, federal courts, the Federal Police, the National Prosecutor’s Office, and the Executive Commission for Attention to Victims.”

This is compounded by the fact that Colima has regularly been one of the latter states to advance the NSJP. As Justice in Mexico noted in its 2015 report, Colima was one of the last two states along with Hidalgo to approve the reform to implement the NSJP, not doing so until August of 2014. It was also one of the last five states to begin implementing the system itself, again not doing so until December 2014. This left just over 18 months for the state to fully implement the justice system before the constitutionally mandated deadline of June 2016.

Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CDMX)

Source: Justice in Mexico

Mexico City is complying with the nationwide push at federal and state levels to make the Prosecutor’s Office autonomous from the Executive Branch. In effect, this would bolster the adversarial justice system by “strengthen[ing] the public prosecutor’s offices in combating violence, corruption, and impunity,” writes WOLA in a detailed report from November 2019. In a follow up report, WOLA elaborated that this shift would ultimately bring the Prosecutor’s Office’s structure and investigative priorities “more in line with the adversarial system.”

The nation’s capital is doing so, however, in a “unique and innovative” way, argues WOLA. What sets Mexico City’s approach apart from the other 31 states is that the process is rooted in civil society and led by a Technical Commission. As mandated by Mexico City’s updated constitution in 2018, its State Congress is to “select a Technical Commission made up of seven civil society leaders to design a proposal for how to complete the city’s transition toward an autonomous prosecutor’s office,” writes WOLA.

The commission was filled just over a year ago and has since drafted a proposed “Implementing Law” (Ley Orgánica) to help guide the creation of the Prosecutor’s Office, specifically outlining the office’s structure and function. The Law’s main goals in establishing the Prosecutor’s Office are “improving results in high-impact cases, managing case flows and complaint reception efficiently, strengthening institutional professionalization, and ensuring strong internal controls.”

Click here to read more about WOLA’s comprehensive reporting on Mexico City’s Technical Commission.

Michoacán

Source: Justice in Mexico

The State of Michoacán took two key steps in December to strengthen protection of human rights, a pillar of the New Criminal Justice System.

First, the State’s Legislative Committees recommended the naming of Michoacán’s head of the State Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, CEDH). On December 4, Dr. Jean Cadet Odimba On’Etambalako Wetshokonda was nominated to the ombudsman role, edging out the other candidate, Mtra. Elvia Higuera Pérez. Cadet shared his plans for the CEDH, starting with a “reengineering” of the agency to ensure it can be flexible enough to adjust to the needs of the people. He also plans to ensure all members of the CEDH receive quality training on human rights protections to strengthen the agency’s services. This was Cadet’s second attempt to run for the position.

Human rights were also a key focus of a training attended by Municipal Police from Charo, Michoacán in November and December. The State’s Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) led the course, titled “Updating Police Roles,” which included specific training on human rights vis-à-vis police responsibilities. This portion of the course was facilitated by the FGE’s Director of Human Rights Promotion and Defense, Marcela Verónica Chávez Hernández. At least nine police attended the training.

Sources:

Rodriguez, Octavio and David A. Shirk. “Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016.” Justice in Mexico. October 2015.

Cortes, Nancy G. et al. “Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What Do Its Operators Think?” Justice in Mexico. April 2017.

Hinojosa, Gina and Maureen Meyer. “Mexico’s Rule of Law Efforts: 11 Years After Criminal Justice Reforms.” Washington Office on Latin America. November 13, 2019.

Hinojosa, Gina and Maureen Meyer. “Steps Toward a Functioning Local Prosecutor’s Office: The Mexico City Model.” Washington Office on Latin America. November 25, 2019.

“Ya es tiempo de que Michoacán tenga un ombudsman ciudadano: Jean Cadet Odimba.” Mi Morelia. November 25, 2019.

“Después de las comparecencias, el Panorama se aclara en el nombramiento del Ombudsman Michoacano.” PCM Noticias. December 6, 2019.

“Clausura FGE curso de capacitación a policías de Charo en materia de Derechos Humanos y actualización de la función policial.” Contramuro. December 23, 2019.

De la Torre, Martha. “Gobierno de Colima despide a 40% de sus defensores públicos.” El Heraldo de México. December 26, 2019.

“Hallazgos 2018: Seguimiento y evaluación del sistema de justicia penal en México.” México Evalúa. August 7, 2019.