Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 13:14 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Mexico

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Mexico, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4614.html [accessed 14 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

 

The United Mexican States is a federal republic with a President elected to a 6-year term, a bicameral Congress, and a constitutionally mandated independent judicial branch. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has won every presidential election in the last 65 years, many of which involved credible allegations of fraudulent practices. However, the August 21 elections and the January 1 uprising in Chiapas were unparalleled events for human rights in Mexico. Both highlighted progress and underscored issues still needing to be addressed in human rights practices.

In Chiapas the Government initially reacted with force, but in a significant departure from historical practice, it soon adopted a plan which rejected a military solution to end the insurrection of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). With intense domestic and international media attention focussed on Chiapas, the Government declared a unilateral cease-fire 2 weeks after hostilities began, and undertook face-to-face peace talks with the rebels in February. The military perpetrated many human rights abuses during the earliest phase of the conflict, and, as of year's end, authorities had prosecuted no one for those abuses. The talks broke off in mid-May; the Government, however, continued its offer to reestablish a dialog with the EZLN. At year's end, hostilities had not resumed. President Ernesto Zedillo, who took office on December 1, renewed the call for negotiations and accepted a mediation role for the National Mediation Commission (CONAI). Direct talks resumed on January 15, 1995.

The August 21 elections were a significant step forward for Mexico's democratic process. 35.5 million people--nearly 78 percent of registered voters--cast ballots in the August 21 elections. Despite widespread irregularities and the ruling PRI's ability to benefit from government resources and privileged access to the news media, numerous independent observer groups, including the highly critical nongovernmental umbrella group Civic Alliance and a joint delegation from the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and the Carter Center, determined that these factors did not alter the outcome. The elections featured several innovations in the electoral system, including participation of more than 80,000 accredited domestic observers, government- invited foreign witnesses, and electoral organs under the control of nonpartisan, civilian directors.

Mexican security forces, including the military, the federal and state judicial police, federal highway police, and local police are under the control of elected civilian officials. However, the security forces, especially the police, continued to commit human rights abuses. Although economic reforms succeeded in reducing inflation and restructuring the economy, a currency devaluation and financial liquidity crisis at year's end will likely have a sharply negative impact on economic performance in 1995, including a fall in real wages. Serious income disparities and areas of severe poverty remain. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico went into effect at the beginning of the year.

Major human rights abuses included the violence and killings in Chiapas, as well as extrajudicial killings by the police, torture, and illegal arrests. Other abuses include glaring prison deficiencies, discrimination and violence against women, and extensive illegal child labor in the informal economy. The Government attempted to end the "culture of impunity" surrounding the security forces through reforms in the Office of the Attorney General (PGR), continued support to the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), and establishment of state-level commissions for human rights. By year's end, however, it had tried and punished few human rights abusers, and abuses remained widespread.

Fulfilling his pledges to implement political and judicial reforms, President Zedillo appointed a respected member of the opposition National Action Party (PAN), Antonio Lozano, as Attorney General with a mandate to implement reforms in law enforcement. Zedillo also succeeded in enacting a package of judicial reforms designed to improve the performance and accountability of the Attorney General's office and the Supreme Court.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killings

A number of political activists were killed in 1994, but a political motive was not clearly established in any of these killings. A lone gunman murdered Luis Donaldo Colosio, the ruling PRI's presidential candidate, at a political rally in Tijuana in March. The authorities arrested, tried, and convicted the gunman of murder at a trial held in a federal prison, out of public view. The public prosecutor, Miguel Montes, at one point declared that the murder was the result of a conspiracy. He later recanted this statement and subsequently resigned.

In September a gunman shot and killed Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, the Secretary General of the PRI, on a Mexico City street. The police arrested and detained a suspect who was jailed pending trial, along with several co-conspirators. However, Manuel Munoz Rocha, a PRI legislator and suspected intellectual author of the killing, was still at large at year's end. Deputy Attorney General Mario Ruiz Massieu, the victim's brother, resigned his post in November, charging that PRI and government officials obstructed his investigation. The Attorney General's investigation into these charges did not find the evidence sufficient for subsequent prosecution.

President Zedillo, saying that the Mexican people were not satisfied with the results of the Government's inquiries into the Colosio and Ruiz Massieu killings, or the 1993 murder of Guadalajara's Cardinal Posadas, instructed Attorney General Lozano to intensify efforts to resolve these crimes. In December Lozano appointed a special prosecutor to look into all three murders.

The leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and to a lesser extent other opposition parties, asserted that there were political killings associated with the 1994 election campaign. In July an unidentified car struck and killed a PRD campaign organizer while he was jogging, and fled the scene. In August unidentified gunmen killed another PRD activist in Tapachula, Chiapas. In a possible assassination attempt, the PRD's candidate for the governorship of Chiapas suffered severe injury in August when a trailer truck collided with his minivan. The candidate has fully recovered, but two other PRD officials died in the incident, and two more suffered serious injury. The Attorney General's Office has not determined whether the incident was an accident or an assassination attempt.

The PRD claims that, in the past 6 years, 275 party activists or members were the victims of political violence which, in some cases, resulted in death. By mutual agreement with the PRD, the CNDH dismissed 135 claims as unsubstantiated and proceeded to investigate 140 claims. These included 90 involving the murder of 115 persons, and 17 involving serious injury. The CNDH investigation found violations of human rights by Government authorities in 67, or 47.8 percent, of the 140 cases. The CNDH findings included recommendations on redressing abuses. At year's end, the authorities had fully implemented 18 recommendations and partially implemented the remaining 49.

Police and vigilantes acting on behalf of local landowners continued to commit extrajudicial killings while dislodging peasant squatters from rural lands in several states. The Government's response to squatter issues, including these killings, has varied from state to state. To expand communal land holdings, peasants for decades have invaded private lands and petitioned for government recognition of the seizures. With recent constitutional agrarian reforms, the Government ceased distributing new lands to "ejidos" (government-owned communes); the invasions continue nonetheless.

Police and vigilantes raided the Plan del Encinal community in Ixhuatlan de Madero, Veracruz state, on September 8, forcibly evicting residents and taking two community leaders into custody. The mutilated bodies of the two were found in a nearby river bearing numerous close-range gunshot wounds to the head and chest. The Veracruz state human rights commission and the Attorney General's office are investigating the case. Veracruz state officials blocked an attempt by a team of forensic experts and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) to conduct autopsies on the victims. The NGO's have appealed to federal authorities for assistance. In January while searching for a suspect involved in another incident, the police allegedly shot and killed two farmers in Jalisco state. The authorities arrested the six police officers involved, pending further investigation.

Proceedings continued against a local police officer accused of beating U.S. citizen Mario Amado to death in a Baja California jail in 1992.

The Mexican military has not yet made public the resolution of charges against 16 soldiers in the June 1993 killing of 5 suspected narcotics traffickers in Chihuahua.

Mexico is one of the countries cited by Amnesty International where gays and lesbians are most likely to be victims of abuse and violence. At least 12 homosexuals and 9 male prostitutes have been killed in Tuxtla Gutierrez since 1991. Gay rights advocates charged that police made little effort to solve these murders. An independent prosecutor was appointed in April, but authorities have not provided the prosecutor with adequate resources to carry out full investigations.

b. Disappearance

There were no confirmed reports of politically motivated disappearances in 1994.

The CNDH's annual report contained 461 cases of missing persons in the Chiapas conflict alone, of whom 432 had been located by May. As of year's end, the CNDH believed no more than 10 persons were still missing, but due to large movements of people caused by the conflict, it was difficult to locate the remaining persons.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Torture continues to be a serious human rights problem, although the CNDH reported a 40-percent decline in torture complaints over the previous year. The CNDH has noted that 8 out of 32 jurisdictions (31 states and the Federal District) still do not have specific laws to prevent or punish torture. Poorly trained and equipped to investigate crimes, police officers continued to attempt to solve crimes by rounding up likely suspects and then exacting confession from them. Photographs of detainees with black-eyed, swollen faces still appear in the local press. Even high-profile suspect Mario Aburto, the accused gunman in presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio's assassination, claimed that police beat him; press photos and reports shortly after his arrest lend credence to his claims. CNDH representatives were present during his subsequent interrogations.

The authorities punish few officials for torture, which continues to occur mainly because confessions are the primary evidence in many criminal convictions. The CNDH reported that in the period from May 1993 to April 1994, the authorities brought 53 cases against officials for the crime of torture; in 13 cases they declined to execute the arrest warrant, and judges denied or canceled the arrest order in another 25 cases. By law the defendant must prove that a confession was forced; but even a forced confession is not automatically excluded from evidence. Many victims do not report, or do not follow through on, their complaints against the police for fear of reprisals.

Three young indigenous women charged that 10 soldiers beat and raped them at a military checkpoint in Chiapas on June 4. The military immediately denied the accusation, but brought seven soldiers before a military court that is investigating the matter. The law does not require civil trial of soldiers involved in civil crimes, and the military continues to handle the case. The CNDH and some human rights advocates agree that the law gives the military jurisdiction over this case.

On November 16, various peasant organizations comprised of Ch'ol and Tzeltal Indians organized a demonstration in the main square of Palenque, Chiapas, in connection with a local land dispute. An armed group that reportedly included ranchers, local businessmen, and the Palenque municipal police forced the peasants from the square. The police and vigilantes fired tear gas at the demonstrators, burned their possessions, and transported some of them out of town in trucks. State government officials arrived later the same day and attempted to establish a dialog between the two sides. CNDH investigators arrived on November 18. Although the CNDH received no complaints or reports of any missing persons, Amnesty International reported that approximately 70 persons disappeared. The captors released all the detainees after holding them for a month and after beating all of them severely.

On November 20, demonstrations and violence in Comitan, Chiapas, resulted in police tear-gassing demonstrators and the kidnaping of a municipal police officer by protesters. Again, the CNDH did not receive any missing person complaints, but Amnesty International reported that unidentified forces abducted 10 persons and held them approximately a month as well, and then released them after being them. In both of these incidents in Chiapas, no authorities brought any charges of wrongdoing against either side, nor did any officials other than CNDH initiate any investigation. The CNDH continued to investigate these matters.

In 1989 an elite group of antinarcotics police was responsible for the kidnaping and rape of at least 19 women in Mexico City. Courts had sentenced only four of the dozen accused officers to prison at the end of 1993. The authorities released the remaining 8 officers after victims could not identify them.

In some cases police officers whom one state dismissed find law enforcement employment in another. The CNDH discovered that even when the authorities censured some officers in one law enforcement job, they moved on to other positions and were subsequently charged again with human rights abuses. In an effort to remedy this situation, the CNDH publishes lists of censured public servants in its annual report and monthly newsletters.

Many prisons are staffed by undertrained and corrupt guards, lack adequate facilities for prisoners and are overcrowded, despite an early release program endorsed by the CNDH and legal reforms reducing the number of crimes that carry mandatory prison sentences. Prisoners complain that they must purchase food, medicine, and other necessities from guards or bribe guards to allow the goods to be brought in from outside. Drug and alcohol use is rampant in prisons. Frequently, prisoners exercise authority within the prison, displacing prison officials. Conflicts between rival prison groups, often involved in drug trafficking, continued to spark lethal violence. While the authorities prosecuted a few prison officials for abusing prisoners, it was more common to dismiss them or to charge them with only minor offenses. In response to these problems, the CNDH launched a nationwide campaign to improve prison conditions. Federal and state governments have begun to provide funding for the construction of modern installations and to improve existing facilities.

Some prisons, contrary to law, do not separate male and female populations. In at least one prison, the authorities allowed male trusties access to women's cells, also a violation of the law. At this prison, officials sometimes encouraged women to form sexual liaisons with male prisoners and guards, as such relationships, according to a state prison official, enhanced the facility's peace and safety. In some cases, officials coerced women into sexual relationships. The CNDH has 20 investigators dedicated to women's issues and has a program to inspect prisons (it has visited 502 jails) and investigate prisoner complaints.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arbitrary arrest and detention continued to be among the most common human rights abuses. The authorities arbitrarily imprisoned 21 persons at the Cerro Hueco prison in March. Only when the prisoners began a hunger strike to call attention to their plight did the CNDH intervene. In the third week of the strike, the authorities acknowledged that they had no grounds for continuing the imprisonment, and released them.

A study by the National Indigenous Institute (INI) found that courts had not yet sentenced 70 percent of indigenous prisoners, half of whom the authorities held in pretrial detention for longer than allowed by law. Over the past 5 years, the INI was able to have 8,000 indigenous prisoners released from jails, but with new entrants the current indigenous prison population stands at 5,400. The INI has succeeded in convincing federal prosecutors to drop charges against first-time offenders accused of drug cultivation, arguing that indigenous defendants are often forced by drug traffickers to grow the crops and do not understand the legal significance of their actions. Many detainees report that officials ask them to pay bribes for release before formal arraignment; many of those arrested report that they are able to bribe officials to have them drop charges before they go before a judge. Corruption is rampant throughout the system. Some wealthy drug traffickers have avoided arrests or jail sentences by paying off police officers and judges. In July police officers detained a U.S. citizen and his son and drove them around Mexico City for several hours. The officers released them after they handed over their cash and valuables, warning them not to report the incident as the officers knew where the two lived.

The Constitution provides that the authorities must present anyone detained before a judge within 72 hours and must try the person within 4 months if the alleged crime carries a sentence of less than 2 years, or within 1 year if the crime carries a longer sentence. The law requires prisoners awaiting trial to be housed separately from those convicted. In practice, these time limits are frequently ignored. According to the CNDH and NGO's, the authorities often held criminal defendants with convicted prisoners, and for longer than allowed by law before going to trial.

To address these problems, the Government established the CNDH in 1990. The overall number of complaints filed with the CNDH increased by 16 percent in 1994, with 6,574 complaints filed from January to August. Its recommendations have resulted in the sanctioning of 1,484 public servants, the vast majority members of public security forces. During the 12-month period from May 1993 to May 1994, CNDH efforts resulted in sanctions against 539 public servants, as follows: 119 penal actions; 54 dismissals; 35 declared incompetent for public service; 86 suspensions; 56 reprimands or warnings; 1 arrest; 1 fine; and 190 investigations pending. The CNDH publishes the names of all sanctioned public servants. In some cases, authorities applied multiple sanctions, but CNDH statistics list cases under the most severe sanction applied. In Chiapas, the Attorney General's office announced the dismissal of 60 percent of all state police officers (510 of 850 agents) for crimes while in uniform or when working as police without proper registration.

The law does not permit exile, and it is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Trial in the Mexican judicial system, which is based on the Napoleonic Code, is a series of fact-gathering hearings at which the court receives documentary evidence or testimony. In addition officials may add notarized documents to the official case file without authentication. While these hearings must by law be open to the public, in practice the courts do not admit the public. Journalists covering a judicial proceeding rely on the statements of attorneys outside the courtroom as to what occurred inside. A judge alone in chambers reviews the case file and makes a final written ruling based thereon. The record of the proceeding is not available to the public; only the parties and, by special motion, the victim, may have access to the official file.

In his first month in office, President Zedillo moved a package of judicial reforms aimed at improving the performance of the Mexican Supreme Court through the Congress and the 20 state legislatures needed to amend the Constitution. These reforms included Senate confirmation of Supreme Court justices and relieving the Court of administrative duties.

While there is a constitutional right to an attorney at all stages of criminal proceedings, in practice many poor defendants are not adequately represented. Attorneys are not always available during the questioning of defendants; in some instances a defense attorney will attempt to represent several clients simultaneously by entering different rooms to certify that he was present although he did not actually attend the full proceedings. In the case of indigenous defendants, many of whom do not speak Spanish, the situation is often worse. The courts do not routinely furnish translators for them at all stages of criminal proceedings, and thus defendants may be unaware of the status of their case.

Some human rights groups claim that activists arrested in connection with land disputes and other civil disobedience activities are in fact political prisoners. The Government asserts that those charged in the sometimes violent land invasions are fairly prosecuted for common crimes, such as homicide and damage to property.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution protects the rights to privacy, family, home, and correspondence. The law requires search warrants, but there were credible claims that unlawful searches without warrants are common. There were no known claims of forced political membership and no substantiated claims of surveillance or interference with correspondence.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

The Chiapas uprising prompted many claims of human rights abuses. The CNDH issued an interim report in May finding that there was reason to believe that the military had injured or killed civilians in aerial attacks, and that there were summary executions, illegal detentions, and torture. The military denied any responsibility, and no military personnel or government officials have been sanctioned. The CNDH has not yet issued its final report on Chiapas.

On January 4, army fixed-wing aircraft fired rockets and machine guns into villages around San Cristobal de las Casas, killing and injuring several noncombatant residents. Army personnel on the ground, untrained in managing close air support, made inaccurate target identification and contributed to the civilian casualties. The aircraft also fired on clearly identified journalists in the area who were displaying a white flag.

One of the first photographs to come out of the conflict was a picture of five men apparently bound at the wrists and shot point blank in the head. The five were lying in a bloody pool on the floor of the market in the town of Ocosingo, some wearing what appeared to be EZLN uniforms--green pants and brown shirts. The federal Attorney General's Office determined in April that someone had indeed executed the five, but it exonerated the army, finding that the army was not in the market at the time of death. National and international human rights organizations widely criticized the PGR report, which disregarded evidence that the investigators could not have accurately fixed the time of death and that army elements indeed were in the market on the day the five died. Also in Ocosingo, the authorities later determined that 11 bodies found in paupers' graves after the fighting ended included noncombatant hospital patients and visitors; some witnesses said the army gunned them down. Again, the military denied any involvement; the PGR investigated the case but has yet to charge anyone. In Morelia residents reported that the military entered a communal farm of 100 families on January 7, forcing the men to lie face down in the village square while they led some away for questioning and beatings. Witnesses said they saw a military ambulance take away the bodies of three men, two of them in their sixties. Residents discovered the remains of the three on the outskirts of the community on February 10. The army denied any responsibility, claiming that the remains were not human and that no military troops were in Morelia on January 7. The army admitted, however, that troops were there on January 6. U.S. pathologists confirmed the identity of the remains, but the Government did not file charges and closed the case.

There were also complaints that the EZLN committed human rights abuses. The CNDH declined to investigate the charges, since the EZLN is not a government entity. The EZLN kidnaped and held for 2 months a former governor of Chiapas, releasing him after a "people's tribunal" found him guilty of crimes against the people. At times the EZLN collected "war taxes" at road blocks in the areas it controlled and confiscated the private property and livestock of ranchers. The EZLN announced in October that it would welcome an investigation by NGO's into allegations that it had committed human rights abuses against civilians. The EZLN also said it was opening an office to train its soldiers and to receive complaints of human rights abuses. Some large landowners in Chiapas established private militias to defend their property from peasant land invasions. Local authorities have not impeded establishment of these militias, which often employ police and military personnel.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. Since 1990, reforms and internal changes have made the media more professional, freer of the Government and more competitive. The Government relinquished its control over newsprint, banned the practice of overtly paying for favorable news coverage, and ceased to pay for journalists' travel expenses during trips.

There remained significant restrictions on these freedoms. The Government used its control of a significant advertising budget, and its ability to reward favored journalists by providing them access to officials, to discourage unfavorable reports. There continued to be some self-censorship by the media. The Government controls broadcast license renewals, and some have charged that the Government delayed renewing licenses for stations that are critical of the Government or the PRI. On at least four occasions, radio station owners preempted any possible problems with license renewals by firing employees who had broadcast critical stories. Journalists are also reluctant to undermine their access to government officials by criticizing them too freely. Many media outlets depend heavily on government advertising and do not wish to prejudice such income.

The media have also changed internally. Some new daily newspapers and magazines are demanding higher education levels from their reporters and paying them accordingly. Some print media are also implementing strict accounting procedures, making the acceptance of bribes more difficult. The electronic media are lagging behind their print competitors in the emphasis on training.

To a surprising degree, both print and electronic media provided full coverage of the Chiapas uprising. For example, a cable television network broadcast a lengthy interview of EZLN leader Subcomandante Marcos. A provincial radio station broadcast the peace talks between the EZLN and the government team live, despite government admonitions that it not do so. The EZLN also sought to control coverage of the talks, and barred two television networks--one Mexican and one American--from its press conferences, claiming the networks were biased in favor of the Government.

The August election gave journalists an opportunity to demonstrate independence. Although only approximately 10 percent of the population regularly reads a newspaper (or perhaps because of this) the move away from the traditional pro-PRI party line was more notable in the print media. Several independent studies found that the two primary opposition candidates for president received substantially more coverage during the 1994 campaign than during any other previous election. Still, the amount of coverage of the ruling party candidate greatly exceeded that of the opposition, and its tone was more favorable. Studies of radio and television election coverage, which was justly criticized in the past as inequitable, found that electronic media coverage of the opposition also increased this year, although less dramatically than that of the print media. The coverage afforded the ruling party candidate was generally favorable; coverage of the opposition was far more negative.

On election day, the main cable television company (controlled by Televisa, the country's largest broadcaster and consistently accused of progovernment bias) blacked out foreign programming until all polling places were closed. The electronic media made some efforts to balance coverage. For example, Televisa gave equal amounts of free air and production time to all the presidential candidates near the end of the campaign period.

Violence against journalists continued. Assailants killed three reporters in the state of Morelos; all were severe critics of the departing state administration at the time of their deaths. Government authorities are investigating these cases, and the CNDH is also pursuing one. In 1990 the CNDH initiated a limited program to investigate complaints of human rights abuses by government officials against journalists; in 1994 the CNDH made it permanent. The program, consisting of three phases to date, involved a total of 100 cases through September 28. The complaints involved abuses that ranged from unlawful termination of employment to murder. The CNDH concluded all but four cases in the three phases of the program (many on administrative grounds). It resolved 9 cases to the satisfaction of the affected journalist; 21 others resulted in punishment of government officials for illegal acts, and the CNDH recommended that the Government take further action against the accused official in 16 cases. The CNDH discontinued 25 cases because victims did not pursue their allegations. There continued to be incidents of outright intimidation. For example, armed intruders invaded and ransacked the offices of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Ciudad Juarez in August. Because they took only a small amount of cash but left other valuables, it did not appear that the motive was robbery. The event followed a meeting at which the Bishop had pressured the Attorney General to pursue the case of murdered Archbishop Posadas more rigorously.

In late January, the curator of a Matamoros museum gave organizers of a photographic display portraying the conflict in Chiapas 1 hour's notice to remove the display after the commander of the Plaza Guard in Matamoros, Brig. Gen. Gonzalez Garcia Silva, intimated his displeasure at the exhibit. The curator claimed that the expulsion was necessary in order to conduct a previously scheduled fumigation, but the short notice and the coincidence with the General's visit indicate otherwise.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Citizens have a constitutional right to assembly and association which they freely and frequently exercise. The only requirement for holding demonstrations is that groups wishing to meet in public areas must inform local police authorities.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for the right to practice the religion of one's choice, and the authorities generally respected this right. (However, see Section 5 concerning religious discrimination.) Mexican law bars clergy from holding public office and from advocating partisan political positions.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government does not generally restrict movement into, out of, or within the country. However, military checkpoints remained in place throughout the year in areas around EZLN strongholds (see Section 1.g.). At the beginning of the year, the military at these checkpoints sometimes harassed volunteers with relief caravans carrying food and medicine to EZLN-held territory; the situation later improved somewhat. Similarly, the military delayed several U.S. citizens working with human rights groups at the checkpoints.

The Government admitted 45,000 Guatemalan refugees fleeing from the civil war in that country and, as the Guatemalan conflict subsides, is steadily repatriating them. In 1994 Mexico agreed to accept Cuban refugees for the first time; only Cubans who have relatives in Mexico able to support them, however, are eligible. The Cubans would not be issued work permits. The authorities generally do not inform asylum seekers at the borders of their right to apply for asylum; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that the authorities expel about 100,000 aliens annually for illegally entering the country.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Under the Constitution, citizens have the right to change their government through periodic elections. The PRI dominates Mexican politics and has controlled the Government since the party was founded in 1929. It has won every presidential election since then and has maintained power, in part, by relying on public patronage, use of government and party organizational resources, and, in the past, electoral fraud.

Mexico held nationwide federal elections on August 21, as well as state and local contests in seven states. Voters elected the PRI candidate, Ernesto Zedillo, with approximately 50 percent of the vote. Diego Fernandez de Cevallo, the candidate of the right-of-center National Action Party, came in second with almost 26 percent of the vote, while Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution obtained 16 percent. The PRI holds 95 of a total of 128 Senate seats and 300 seats in the 500-member Chamber of Deputies. Opposition parties increased their seats from 3 to 33 in the Senate and from 180 to 198 in the Chamber of Deputies. Two seats remained unfilled due to legal challenges to election results.

The elections were generally peaceful and orderly. The Government spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding the operations of the quasi-independent Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), whose governing council was placed under the control of nonpartisan, civilian directors. The IFE oversaw the compilation of a new voter registration list and distribution of more than 40 million new voter identification cards. The IFE trained hundreds of thousands of polling officials, all chosen by lottery, and, working with the election assistance unit of the United Nations, helped prepare the more than 80,000 independent election observers, most of them affiliated with NGO's and civic and labor organizations.

Some domestic observer groups, Mexican media outlets, and major political parties conducted "quick count" operations which confirmed the official results. Some international observers, including the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, praised the Government and the IFE for the handling of the elections, but also pointed out numerous irregularities. They criticized the progovernment bias in the media and the use of government resources in support of the ruling party. The PRD and some NGO's claimed that the Government and the PRI perpetrated widespread fraud, including stuffing ballot boxes and multiple votes. These groups, however, have yet to substantiate their claims. Election courts overturned results in a handful of congressional and mayoral races because of irregularities or fraud. In cases where electoral courts determine fraud, they void the results of the voting stations in question and determine the outcome according to the returns from other stations in the district.

A severe failure in the electoral process was the lack of any meaningful prosecution of those accused of electoral crimes. The Government appointed a special prosecutor for electoral crimes, but the prosecutor was slow in dealing with some 400 complaints, including dozens accusing state governors and other officials of using government resources to support candidates. The special prosecutor brought charges only against a grammar school principal and one candidate for requiring parents to attend the candidate's campaign rally in order to retrieve children's report cards. Even in this case, a local judge canceled the arrest warrants, and the principal and the candidate face no criminal proceedings.

On the other hand, newly appointed Attorney General Lozano has asked the Chamber of Deputies to strip congressional immunity from two PRI Federal Deputies so that the special prosecutor for electoral crimes may prosecute them for electoral offenses. This is the first time an Attorney General has made such a request in connection with electoral crimes.

One of the continuing major obstacles to election reform is the deeply entrenched antidemocratic tradition of unchecked power exercised by local bosses ("caciques") over peasants in rural areas. These bosses often exercise control over virtually every aspect of peasants' lives, including how they vote. One NGO that studied the results of the August 21 elections in a remote district found that there were 30 percent more votes for the PRI in polling places where no independent observers were present.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Although the CNDH is the official human rights ombudsman of the Government, it is nominally independent of government control. It has been very vocal and active in many cases, but ineffectual in others, most notably the problems in Chiapas. NGO representatives charge that in addition to the obvious problem of lack of any enforcement authority, the CNDH lacks autonomy and has become too large and bureaucratic. They also criticize the state commissions for being ineffectual. In the Chiatas conflict, NGO's contended that PGR and CNDH activities were frequently inadequate and even negligent, and that the PGR in particular was more interested in protecting the army's reputation than in conducting independent and thorough investigations of alleged military abuses. In the wake of the Chiapas uprising, numerous international NGO's visited Mexico to investigate allegations of human rights violations. While some of these organizations complained about government limits placed on access to conflict areas, the situation steadily improved. In April one Mexican NGO complained that the military Attorney General's office had asked it to answer questions regarding the factual basis for the group's assertions regarding a human rights case against the army. It also asked for details on the group's activities in Chiapas and when the organization intended to leave the state.

Upon publication of the CNDH annual report in June, the Commission's president highlighted the problems of government inaction on more than half the Commission's recommendations, of state governors not supporting state commissions, and "severe financial problems." In particular, the CNDH cited 103 recommendations which authorities had been "negligent" in implementing. Then President Salinas publicly called for implementation. By the end of July, the CNDH reported that enough progress had been made in 70 of the 103 recommendations (20 by full implementation) that it no longer considered the authorities as negligent.

In July military authorities prevented 20 members of an international human rights delegation from traveling to the Chiapas community of Morelia. An immigration official at the scene stated that his superiors had declared the community off-limits to foreigners.

The National Network of Civil Organizations for Human Rights reported 86 incidents of harassment of human rights advocates from April to July, including 10 detentions and 20 cases of illegal search. Military forces conducted searches beyond their authority, and police conducted searches without warrants. The report specifically implicated authorities in many, but not all, of the 86 cases. Many NGO's working on campaign reform issues reported receiving death threats.

Defense Minister Antonio Riviello imprisoned Gen. Jose Francisco Gallardo Rodriguez in November 1993 on a range of charges, including embezzlement and dishonoring the military. The embezzlement charges, which Gallardo claims were abandoned for lack of evidence, date back 5 years. Gallardo maintains that military authorities are persecuting him because of an academic dissertation calling for the establishment of a military human rights ombudsman's office. The authorities continued to hold Gallardo under extraordinary security.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution states that men and women are equal before the law. It also provides that education should sustain the ideals of "fraternity and equal rights of all mankind, avoiding privileges of race, sects, groups, sexes, or individuals."

Women

Although the Constitution provides for equality between the sexes, neither the authorities nor society in general respect this in practice. The most serious violation of women's rights involves domestic and sexual violence, which is believed to be widespread and underreported. Domestic assault is a crime, but in 10 states the "right to correct" wife and children is not a crime unless this abuse involves cruelty or unnecessary frequency. Women are reluctant to report abuse or file charges, and even when notified, the police are reluctant to intervene in what is considered a domestic matter.

The Attorney General's Office operates rape crisis centers located in the Federal District and the states of Mexico, Queretaro, and Baja California. Few women, however, avail themselves of the centers' services. In 1993 only 3,400 approached the Mexico City center; the city has a female population of at least 10 million.

The legal treatment of women's rights is uneven. Women have the right to own property in their own names, and to file for separation and divorce. However, in some states a woman may not bring suit to establish paternity and thereby obtain child support, unless the child was a product of rape or cohabitation, the child resides with the father, or there is written proof of paternity.

The Labor Code provides that women shall have the same rights and the same obligations as men, and that "equal pay shall be given for equal work performed in equal posts, hours of work and conditions of efficiency." According to a 1994 CNDH study, employers frequently required women to certify that they were not pregnant at the time of hiring.

The CNDH study also found that the largest number of complaints received involved negligence or abuse during childbirth by medical personnel and charges of forced sterilizations. The study noted that most sterilizations occurred in public hospitals when the patients were poor, illiterate, and not informed of the consequences of the medical procedure. The CNDH recommended that medical administrators train their staff to be more aware when dealing with such patients.

Children

There is no societal pattern of abuse against children, but children's advocates report many cases of such abuse. Children under the age of 18 make up 40 percent of the population. An estimated 12,000 live on the streets, many having left or been driven from their homes by alcoholic or drug-addicted parents. The children themselves often become involved with alcohol, drugs, prostitution, and petty thievery. While the Government and NGO's conduct a number of programs for street children, the problem is exacerbated by corrupt police who pressure street children to commit petty crimes and extort the profits from them. The CNDH has a program for protection of children's rights which includes educating children on their rights and reviewing legislation to ensure compliance with international conventions on children's rights.

Indigenous People

The indigenous population has long been the object of discriminatory treatment, which contributed to the social inequities in Chiapas that led to the January rebellion. That uprising focused unprecedented interest on the demands of Indians in that state for increased economic and social rights. As peace talks developed, it was clear that the EZLN's basic demands included that the Government enact measures to protect indigenous cultures, establish self-governing autonomous regions in indigenous areas, and provide more opportunity for employment in indigenous areas. Although the peace talks stalled, the Government appeared willing to consider these demands, not only for the Indians of Chiapas but for all of Mexico's indigenous groups. In December the Zedillo administration initiated a program to implement land reform laws in Chiapas and targeted tens of thousands of hectares for distribution to peasants.

The Government, through the INI and the CNDH, operates programs to educate indigenous groups, many of members of which do not speak Spanish, about their political and human rights, and it generally professes respect for their desire to retain elements of their traditional lifestyle. The CNDH received 137 complaints from indigenous people. At year's end, it had resolved 73 complaints and 64 were pending.

Some 131 NGO's in Mexico are dedicated to the promotion and protection of indigenous rights. Indigenous people do not live on independently governed reservations, although some indigenous communities exercise considerable local control over economic and social issues. These communities apply traditional law to resolve a variety of disputes, including allegations of crimes. However, these groups remain largely outside the country's political and economic mainstream, a result of longstanding patterns of economic and social development, and in many cases their ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultural traditions, and the allocation of natural resources is negligible.

The 1992 reforms in agrarian law were expected to promote economic development in the countryside, but indigenous groups generally perceived the reforms as intended to break up indigenous communal landholdings and prevent the groups from obtaining title to new lands. As noted earlier, despite the 1991 amendment to the Federal law which requires an interpreter to be present at every stage of criminal proceedings, the courts continued to try and sentence indigenous people without the benefit of interpreters. Knowledge of the Spanish language is essential to work outside indigenous areas, and non-Spanish speakers are frequently taken advantage of in commercial transactions involving bilingual middlemen.

Although the law provides some protections for the indigenous, and the Government provides Indian communities support through social and economic assistance programs, the legal guarantees and social welfare programs are not sufficient to provide the Indians the basic support and standards they expect.

Religious Minorities

In the wake of the Chiapas conflict, several Catholic leaders and groups accused of inciting the EZLN armed uprising received death threats. San Cristobal city officials reportedly orchestrated an effort in concert with other prominent figures to have the Bishop, considered by many observers as sympathetic to the EZLN, removed from office and expelled. In the Chiapas town of Altamirano, town leaders and other citizens accused Catholic nuns operating a clinic of being EZLN supporters and subjected them to intimidation designed to make them leave the community. Military and civil police authorities allegedly allowed the intimidation to proceed. The CNDH is investigating both cases.

The Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) complained that the Government selectively leaked documents alleging Jesuit ties to the Chiapas uprising and other armed movements. For example, a Mexico City daily published what it said was information from Mexican intelligence authorities claiming that EZLN leader Subcomandante Marcos was a Jesuit priest. The story was quickly proven untrue, but the Attorney General's Office declined to prosecute the newspaper for libel. The Government also rejected the Jesuits' request that it issue statements correcting this and other media stories linking the order to the EZLN. The Jesuits also complained about unauthorized raids on Jesuit facilities in Veracruz, Chiapas, and Guererro. In the Guererro case, 6 heavily armed intruders allegedly broke into a retreat house and held priests, lay workers, and 20 novices hostage while they cut phone lines, ransacked the premises, and took away documents. The local police refused to investigate unless the Jesuits could identify the individuals who took part in the raids. The Jesuits also received numerous bomb and death threats; in one instance the caller ominously alluded to the 1991 mass murder of Jesuits in El Salvador.

In the highlands of Chiapas and other indigenous areas, elected officials sometimes acquiesced in or actually ordered the expulsions of Protestants belonging primarily to evangelical groups. In many cases the expulsions involved the burning of homes and crops, beatings, and, occasionally, killings. The most significant example of religious expulsions occurred in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, where authorities expelled an estimated 15,000 evangelicals over the past 20 years.

In August state authorities and the CNDH worked out an agreement for about 500 evangelicals to return to San Juan Chamula. An earlier attempt to return to the community at the beginning of the year was unsuccessful, as the residents beat the returnees and drove them out of town. The evangelicals later retaliated by holding the town mayor hostage; one person was killed when the mayor was rescued. In October a mob murdered three evangelical returnees. The authorities immediately arrested four suspects but later released them. Both sides are armed, and state officials and human rights groups continued to monitor the situation at year's end.

People with Disabilities

The law requires access for handicapped persons to public facilities in Mexico City, but not elsewhere in Mexico. In practice, however, most public buildings and facilities do not comply with the law. Special education programs for people with disabilities are not widely available.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and Federal Labor Law (FLL) provide workers the right to form and join trade unions of their choice. About 30 percent of the total work force is organized, which implies an effective unionization rate nearly twice that high, since only about half the work force is employed in the formal private or public sector, accessible to union organization.

No prior approval is needed to form unions, but they must register with federal or state labor authorities to obtain legal status to function effectively. Registration requirements are not onerous. There are credible allegations, however, that federal or state labor authorities occasionally withhold or delay registration of unions hostile to government policies, employers, or established unions, or register extortionists or labor racketeers falsely claiming to represent workers. To remedy this latter problem, Labor Secretariat (STPS) officials require evidence that unions are genuine and representative before registering them.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts (COE) found that certain restrictions in federal employee labor law, a separate section of the Constitution and FLL, violate freedom of association. At the request of federal employee unions, the law allows only one union per jurisdiction and forbids reelection of union officials--provisions acceptable in union statutes but not in law. The COE welcomed the fact that privatization of most banks ended these legal restrictions on their unions.

Mexican unions form federations and confederations freely without government approval. Most belong to such bodies. They, too, must register to get legal status. Questionable delays occur occasionally, but none were reported in 1994.

The largest trade union central is the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), organizationally part of the ruling PRI. CTM's major rival centrals and nearly all the 34 smaller confederations, federations, and unions in the Labor Congress (CT) are also allied with the ruling PRI. However, the teachers' union, a large CT affiliate, severed its ties to the PRI to free its factions to cooperate openly with other parties. Rivalries within and between PRI-allied centrals are strong. There also are a few small labor federations and independent unions outside the CT which are not allied to the PRI.

Unions are free to affiliate with, and are often active in, trade union internationals.

Union officers help select, run as, and campaign for, PRI candidates in federal and state elections, and support PRI government policies at crucial moments. This gives the unions considerable influence on government policies, but limits their freedom of action to defend member interests in other ways, particularly when this might threaten the Government or the PRI. After the 1991 federal elections, the proportion of CT Senators and deputies fell to under 10 percent, but in 1994 the CT, and especially the CTM, regained some lost congressional nominations, and nearly all labor candidates won handily.

The Constitution and FLL provide for the right to strike. The law requires 6 to 10 days' advance strike notice, followed by brief government mediation. If federal or state authorities rule a strike "nonexistent" or "illicit," employees must remain at work, return to work within 24 hours, or face dismissal. If they rule the strike legal, the company or unit must shut down totally, management officials may not enter the premises until the strike is over, and the company may not hire striker replacements. The law permits public sector strikes, but they are rare. Provisions for maintaining essential services are not onerous.

Most strike notices precede successful collective bargaining and are never implemented. During 1993, 7,200 strike notices were filed with federal labor boards, and 148 legal strikes occurred. The authorities ruled only two nonexistent and none illicit; two were withdrawn, they transferred 309 to state boards (not federal jurisdiction), and put 702 on file awaiting further information.

There were credible allegations that federal or state labor authorities occasionally stretch legal requirements to rule strikes nonexistent or illicit, or use delays to prevent damaging strikes and force settlements, but there was not a consistent pattern. The Constitution and FLL protect labor organizations from government interference in their internal affairs, including strike decisions, which can also protect undemocratic or corrupt union leaders. The law permits closed shop and exclusion clauses, allowing union leaders to vet and veto new hires and force dismissal of anyone the union expels. Such clauses are common in collective bargaining agreements. Employer organizations have pushed for labor law reform which would limit union leaders' powers, but unions have successfully resisted. However, the Government has induced de facto reform through tripartite national pacts (see below) and collective bargaining at the enterprise level.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution and FLL strongly uphold the right to organize and bargain collectively. Interest by a few employees, or a union strike notice, compels an employer to recognize a union and negotiate, or ask the federal or state labor board to hold a union recognition election. FLL pro-union provisions lead some employers to seek out independent, "white," or company unions as an alternative to mainstream national or local unions. Representation elections are traditionally open, not secret. Management and union officials are present with the presiding labor board official when each worker openly declares his or her vote. Such open "recounts" are prevailing practice, but not required by law or regulation. Secret ballots are held when all parties agree. Annual national pacts negotiated by the Government and major trade union, employer, and rural organizations have voluntarily limited free collective bargaining for the past decade. These pacts were intended to stop inflation and to support the Government's free market economic reforms and structural adjustment policies. The mainstream labor organizations reluctantly accepted drastic reductions in members' real incomes in the late 1980's, although these regained some lost ground over the last 5 years.

The record in internal union democracy and transparency is mixed. Some unions are democratic, but corruption or authoritarian and strong-arm tactics are common in others. In 1994 dissidents protested, alleging such practices in four of Mexico's strongest unions. For example, they alleged fraud when the railroad union, an independent CT member, elected officers in October by secret ballot, although these allegations appeared unsubstantiated. Three of the strongest national CTM unions--petroleum, electric, and sugar workers--have dissident movements which accused leaders of undemocratic or strong-arm tactics. Electric union dissidents succeeded in pressuring the leadership into giving them several regional leadership posts.

The public sector is almost totally organized. Industrial areas are heavily organized, but states with little industry often have few unions. The law protects workers from antiunion discrimination, but enforcement is uneven, especially in states with low unionization.

Unionization and wage levels in the in-bond export sector vary by area, but, especially in the west, are lower than in most other industries. Some observers allege poor working conditions, inadequate wages, and employer and government efforts to suppress unionization. There is no evidence the Federal Government opposes unionization of these plants, which tend to be under state jurisdiction, but some state and local governments, as well as some employers, are known to discourage unions.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced labor. There have been no credible reports of forced labor for many years.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law bans child labor and sets the minimum legal work age at 14. Although the activities of those aged 14 and 15 are so restricted as to be uneconomic (no night or hazardous work, limited hours), the ILO reported that 18 percent of children aged 12 to 14 work, often for parents or relatives. Enforcement is reasonably good at large and medium-sized companies, especially in export industries and those under federal jurisdiction. Enforcement is inadequate at the many small companies and in agriculture. It is nearly absent in the informal sector, despite government efforts. Most child labor is in the informal sector (including myriad underage street vendors), agriculture, and in rural areas. The Government increased obligatory school years from 6 to 9 in 1992 and made parents legally liable for their children's attendance, as part of a reform to upgrade Mexican labor force skills and long-term efforts to continue increasing educational opportunities for youth.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Constitution and the FLL provide for a daily minimum wage. The tripartite national minimum wage commission (government, labor, employers), sets minimum wage rates each December, effective January 1. On January 2, 1995, after the year-end exchange rate crisis and peso float, the 1995 minimum daily wage in Mexico City and nearby industrial areas, Acapulco, southeast Veracruz state's refining and petrochemical zone and most border areas, was $3.27 (16.34 new pesos). Minimum wage earners are actually paid $3.70 (18.48 new pesos) by their employers due to a supplemental 14 percent fiscal subsidy (negative income tax or tax credit), which employers then subtract from their own taxes. These income supplements to the minimum wage, agreed in the annual tripartite pacts, are for all income less than four times the minimum wage, decreasing as wages and benefits rise. In Guadalajara, Monterrey, and other advanced industrialized areas, the 1995 minimum daily wage (before the fiscal subsidy) was $3.04 (15.18 new pesos). In other areas, it was $2.76 (13.79 new pesos).

There are higher minimums for some occupations, such as building trades. Few workers (12 percent, including most waiters and hotel workers, who depend on tips) earn only the minimum wage. Industrial workers average three to four times the minimum wage, earning more at bigger, more advanced, and prosperous enterprises. The 1995 minimum daily wage in pesos was increased by 7 percent (4 percent for projected inflation and 3 percent for productivity), plus a 3-percent increase in the fiscal subsidy--a 10-percent total increase. The 1995 minimum daily wage is for the whole year, but inflation projections have been revised upward and any of the three parties can ask that the board reconvene during the year to consider a changed situation, although labor and employers agreed not to do so during the first months of 1995. On January 3, 1995, labor, employers, and the Government agreed to establish a committee to study further tax changes.

The law and contract arrangements provide workers extensive additional benefits. Legally required benefits include individual retirement accounts, social security (IMSS) coverage, individual worker housing accounts, substantial Christmas bonuses, paid vacations, and profit-sharing. Employer costs for these benefits run from about 27 percent of payroll at marginal enterprises to over 100 percent at major firms with generous union contracts.

The FLL sets 48 hours as the legal workweek. Workers asked to exceed 3 hours of overtime per day or work overtime on 3 consecutive days must be paid triple the normal wage. For most industrial workers, especially under union contract, the true workweek is 42 hours, although they are paid for 6 full days. This is why unions jealously defend the legal ban on hourly wages.

The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations issued jointly by STPS and IMSS, and pay contributions which vary according to their workplace safety and health experience ratings. FLL-mandated joint (management and labor) committees set standards and are responsible for workplace enforcement in plants and offices. These meet at least monthly to consider workplace needs and file copies of their minutes with federal labor inspectors, who assumed jurisdiction for all such inspections in 1987, supplanting state inspectors and strengthening inspection considerably. The inspectors schedule visits largely in response to these workplace committees.

Individual employees or unions may also complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. Workers may remove themselves from hazardous situations without jeopardizing their employment. Plaintiffs may bring complaints before the Federal Labor Board at no cost to themselves.

STPS and IMSS officials report compliance is reasonably good at most large companies. Federal inspectors are stretched too thinly for effective enforcement if companies do not comply voluntarily and fulfill their legal obligation to train workers in occupational health and safety matters. There are special problems in construction, where unskilled, untrained, poorly-educated, transient labor is common, especially at many small sites and companies. Many unions, particularly in construction, are not organized effectively to provide training and to encourage members to work safely and healthily, to participate in the joint committees, and to insist on their rights.

 

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