María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Director
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9001
Mexico City, Mexico — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) carried out an on site visit to Mexico from September 28 to October 2, 2015. The Inter-American Commission observed the country’s human rights situation on the ground, with particular emphasis on forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture, the situation of citizen insecurity, lack of access to justice, impunity, the situation of journalists, human rights defenders, and other groups particularly affected by the context of violence in the country.
The delegation was composed of the President of the Inter-American Commission, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine; First Vice-President James Cavallaro; and Commissioners Felipe González, Tracy Robinson, and Rosa María Ortiz. Other members of the delegation included the Executive Secretary Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria; Assistant Executive Secretary Elizabeth Abi-Mershed; the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza; and other members of the Executive Secretariat of the Commission.
The Inter-American Commission interviewed authorities from the three branches and the different levels of government, and met with representatives of civil society, autonomous entities, international organizations, academics and journalists. It also received testimony from victims of human rights violations and their family members. The delegation visited Mexico City, Coahuila, Guerrero, Nuevo León, Tabasco, and Veracruz.
The Commission thanks the government and the people of Mexico for facilitating this visit. The Inter-American Commission values and appreciates the support and information provided by government authorities at the federal, state, and municipal levels, as well as by civil society organizations and international agencies. The Commission especially values and appreciates the effort made by victims of human rights violations and their family members to met with the delegation and share their testimony and information.
The Commission endorses the work done by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Interdisciplinary Group), established by the Inter-American Commission at the request of the Mexican State and the representatives of the family members of the disappeared, murdered and injured students in Iguala on September 26 and 27, 2014. The Commission supports the reports issued by the Interdisciplinary Group. Based on these reports, the Inter-American Commission urges the Mexican State to establish the truth about what happened and determine criminal responsibility. Specifically, the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) should adopt as soon as possible the measures requested by the Interdisciplinary Group: transfer responsibility for the investigation to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General for Human Rights; appoint, in consultation with the Interdisciplinary Group, a new Special Prosecutor in charge of the investigation; replace all team members; redirect the investigation to pursue the leads laid out in the Interdisciplinary Group’s report, which are far from the hypotheses upon which the Attorney General’s Office has based its investigations thus far; and allow the experts to interview all witnesses, including the members of the 27th Infantry Battalion.
The Inter-American Commission has been able to confirm on the ground the serious human rights crisis Mexico is experiencing, which is characterized by a situation of extreme insecurity and violence; serious human rights violations, especially forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture; critical levels of impunity; and inadequate and insufficient attention to victims and their families. The effect of the violence and violations of fundamental rights is especially serious and disproportionate for people living in poverty, migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, internally displaced persons, women, children, adolescents, human rights defenders, journalists, indigenous peoples, and gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans persons (LGBT), among others. Violence against families of victims, human rights defenders and journalists is carried out with the aim of silencing complaints and calls for truth and justice, and perpetuating impunity for gross human rights violations. Violence and intimidation seeks to silence the voices that Mexico most needs; as indicated by a high ranking official during a meeting with the Commmission: “We Mexicans need the truth about our own history and about our own tragedies.”
These problems are a result of a structural situation that Mexico has endured for decades. Today is the 47th anniversary of the massacre that occurred in Tlatelolco on October 2, 1968. The massacre remains in impunity to this day, without a final number, much less individual identification, of the people who were executed or disappeared in that context.
The magnitude of the problem of disappeared persons in Mexico is alarming. The figures and testimonies the Commission has collected recount kidnappings at the hands of organized crime groups. The ample and consistent information concerning the existence of a practice of forced disappearance at the hands of agents of the State or with their participation, acquiescence, or tolerance, is especially serious. As with cases of forced disappearances in the past, there are high levels of impunity regarding disappearances and forced disappearances in the present. The deficiencies in the investigation of disappearances are many and serious. Many cases of disappearance are not reported due the distrust of family members in the capacity of the State to respond, or for fear of retaliation, and in cases in which complaints are filed, the response from the authorities falls seriously short.
In this context, in all places visited by the Commission over the course of this week, it met with victims, family members, and human rights defenders who described the obstacles they have encountered in their search for justice and their distrust of the authorities. The finding by family members of mass graves with tens of corpses has shown that they are the ones who have had to assume the search for their loved ones, while the authorities do not comply with their duty to investigate with due diligence.
The lack of access to justice has created a situation of structural impunity that perpetuates and in some cases encourages the repetition of serious human rights violations. The threats, harassment, killings, and disappearance of persons who seek truth and justice have had a chilling effect on Mexican society, which leads to serious underreporting in official statistics.
Another deeply troubling phenomenon is that of extrajudicial executions. Recent incidents have occurred in Tlatlaya, in southern Mexico State, in June of 2014; in Apatzingan, in the state of Michoacan, in January 2015; and in Tanhuato, also in Michoacan, in May 2015.
The Commission values the measures the State has taken to address this situation, without prejudice to the insufficiencies and obstacles in the implementation. Specifically, the Inter-American Commission recognizes significant human rights reforms that have been introduced in Mexico beginning in 2011, including the constitutional reforms and the recently approved protocols for the investigation of cases of torture and forced disappearance. Nevertheless, the Inter-American Commission confirmed the profound gap between the legislative and judicial framework, and the daily reality that millions of people in the country experience. Again and again, throughout the country, the Commission heard from victims that the process of justice is a “simulation.”
The Inter-American Commission received reports in many areas of the country regarding the lack of justice for victims of gross human rights violations and their families. Particularly, there is an alarming number of criminal proceedings that have remained stagnant for years in the investigation phase without criminal charges being brought and, therefore, without a conviction or final judgment. The number of legal processes for gross violations that have concluded with convictions is extremely low. The lack of access to timely, effective, and reliable justice significantly weakens the culture of legality and the rule of law in the country. A first step in this sense must be solving crimes and assigning due criminal responsibility for gross violations committed in the past, in order to break with the historic impunity that has dragged on for decades in Mexico. The fight against impunity and corruption at all levels of government, understood as a concrete and resolute State policy, is essential in order to regain the citizens’ trust in the justice institutions.
Consequently, it is necessary to address the structural causes of the lack of access to justice in Mexico, such as the infiltration by groups of organized crime in many police bodies, especially at the municipal level, as well as in agencies of the justice system. The lack of codification of certain crimes in the criminal codes of some states, as well as deficiencies in existing ones, makes the prosecution of justice more difficult. In this sense, the lack of independence and autonomy of forensic agencies, both at the state and federal levels, is a challenge for the State in the process of implementing the new Criminal Justice System. The Inter-American Commission considers that it is fundamental to strengthen and consolidate judicial independence in Mexico.
The Commission expresses its willingness to work with the State to find solutions that protect fundamental rights and meet international human rights standards. This press release is accompanied by an Annex with Preliminary Observations of the Inter-American Commission regarding the situation of human rights in Mexico. The Commission will prepare and approve a Country Report, which will be published during the first semester of 2016.
Finally, the Commission recalls that it is unacceptable for a State to take any type of reprisal or stigmatize anyone because of the participation or actions of individuals or organizations before the bodies of the inter-American human rights system, in furtherance of their treaty rights. Article 63 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure establishes that States “shall grant the necessary guarantees to all the persons who attend a hearing or who in the course of a hearing provide information, testimony or evidence of any type,” and that States “may not prosecute the witnesses or experts, or carry out reprisals against them or their family members because of their statements or expert opinions given before the Commission.”
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.