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Mexico: Human Rights Concerns
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Public Order and Internal Security > Human Rights Concerns


Brutality and systematic abuses of human rights by elements of the Mexican internal security forces are pervasive and have largely gone unpunished. Practices cited by human rights groups include the use of torture, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other cruelties perpetrated against private persons and prisoners. According to several sources, the number and seriousness of such offenses has declined somewhat in the early 1990s. The improvement has been attributed to the greater determination of the national government to prosecute offenders and to the work of national and local human rights agencies in exposing instances of police violations of human rights and in pressing for punishment.

In 1990 the Mexican government established the National Human Rights Commission (ComisiĆ³n Nacional de Derechos Humanos -- CNDH). Initially under the Secretariat of Government, the CNDH was granted constitutional status and full autonomy under a law enacted in 1992. By the following year, similar offices to investigate abuses had been established in all states of Mexico. The CNDH has the power to compel officials to grant access and give evidence. Its recommendations are nonbinding on government agencies, however. As of 1993, 268 of 624 CNDH recommendations had been followed fully. These resulted in eighty-two people being arrested and twenty sentenced to prison terms averaging more than five years for human rights violations.

According to the private human rights organization, Amnesty International, state judicial police and other law enforcement agencies frequently use torture in the form of beatings, near-asphyxiation, electric shock, burning with cigarettes, and psychological torture. Most victims are criminal suspects, but others, such as leaders of indigenous groups or civil rights activists engaged in demonstrations or other peaceful activities, have been targeted as well. According to the CNDH, complaints of torture declined from 446 in its first year of operation to 141 cases in its fourth.

New laws enacted in 1991 permit courts to accept confessions only when made before a judge or court official in the presence of defense counsel. Similar rules were adopted by several states. Formerly, confessions obtained under duress were admitted as evidence in court. Some defendants have claimed that even with the change, they still fear torture if they fail to confess.

Although in the 1990s fewer new cases of human rights violations were reported each year, numerous charges of extrajudicial killings continue to be made against the police. Police linked to drug rings have been accused of narcotics-related executions. In several well publicized instances, civil-rights workers were slain, as were peasant activists involved in disputes over land titles. Police often assist local landowners in evicting peasant and urban squatters in conflicts over land and in employing violence without appropriate judicial orders.

Police officers seldom are prosecuted or dismissed for abuses. In 1992, however, the attorney general removed sixty-seven Federal Judicial Police agents and federal prosecutors and referred 270 cases of alleged corruption or human rights violations for prosecution. Acceptance of the CNDH has grown steadily, and its investigations have resulted in a reduction of reported police misconduct, especially at the federal level.

According to the CNDH, illegal deprivation of liberty is the most common human rights complaint among its human rights cases. Between 1990 and 1992, there were 826 allegations of arbitrary detentions. Torture complaints numbered 446 in the commission's first year but fell to 290 during its second. Nearly 100 nongovernmental human rights monitoring groups also have formed, making it increasingly difficult for law enforcement bodies to remain indifferent to public opinion. Nevertheless, the United States Department of State, in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995, reported a continuing failure to try, convict, and sentence prison and police officials guilty of abuse.

Data as of June 1996

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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