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.
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 delISSSTE), 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
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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
Why the Increase in Military Presence?
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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
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)
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.”
to read more about WOLA’s comprehensive reporting on Mexico City’s Technical Commission.
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.