Covering events from January - December 2004

Human rights violations persisted, particularly at state level where arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment and the misuse of the judicial system were common. The federal government maintained its commitment to protect and promote human rights nationally and internationally. Legislation was proposed to strengthen human rights protection in the Constitution and the federal criminal justice system. A National Human Rights Programme was drawn up.

Federal intervention to combat violence against women in Ciudad Juárez continued with limited success. Two prisoners of conscience were released after more than a year in custody. A number of human rights defenders were threatened and three journalists were murdered. Progress in the prosecution of those responsible for past human rights violations was limited. Political violence surrounded local elections in various states.


The federal government presented and supported human rights initiatives at the UN Commission on Human Rights and at the Organization of American States. The government cooperated openly with international human rights mechanisms, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, analyzing the domestic situation and promised to address 400 outstanding recommendations made by these mechanisms.

The Government Policy Commission on Human Rights and its subcommittees continued to develop a range of initiatives, including the harmonization of domestic legislation with international human rights standards. Training programmes took place on the prevention and documentation of torture. However, without a working majority in the legislature, advances in most areas were limited and there was increasing doubt over the government's capacity to deliver substantial improvements. The majority of state governments continued to resist significant reforms.

Congress lacked commitment to human rights reforms. Despite this, the long-delayed ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was brought a step closer with the approval of enabling legislation. The Senate selected the president of the National Human Rights Commission for a further five-year term. However, a lack of effective and transparent prior consultation with prominent human rights organizations undermined the Commission's credibility.

Crime, particularly kidnapping, increased public security concerns for many sectors of society.

In October demonstrations on both sides of the border with the USA marked the 10th year of Operation Gatekeeper, the US government initiative to restrict the flow of illegal migrants. The operation had reportedly led to an increased number of deaths as migrants tried to cross the border in remote and dangerous areas.

Human rights policy and legislation

In March and May the government proposed reforms to the Constitution and the criminal justice system, in part to strengthen human rights protection. While the proposals included many positive elements, they were not adequately consulted and fell short of recommendations by international human rights mechanisms, particularly those made by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in its 2003 diagnostic report. At the end of the year Congress had not made any progress in agreeing the reforms.

In December the government published its long awaited National Human Rights Programme, drawn up in discussion with sectors of civil society.

Human rights organizations in Guerrero campaigned for "disappearance" to be made a specific criminal offence in the state. At the end of 2004 the state congress had not voted on the proposal.

Violence against women in Chihuahua

The federal government continued to intervene to tackle the murder of women in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua State. Although the number of reported cases was lower than in previous years, there were still at least 18 murders of women in Ciudad Juárez, at least four of which involved sexual violence.

The Special Federal Prosecutor for Ciudad Juárez from the Federal Attorney General's Office reviewed more than 150 flawed investigations by the Chihuahua state authorities into the murders . At least seven more cases were taken over directly by the Prosecutor. Possible criminal or administrative negligence was identified in the conduct of at least 100 state officials involved in the original murder investigations. However, since the same state authorities had the task of investigating these offences, there was serious concern that those responsible would not be held accountable.

Representatives of the Federal Attorney General's Office continued to deny the pattern of violence against women in the state and did not take any action on cases in the city of Chihuahua. Long overdue reforms to the state criminal justice system to address deep flaws in investigative and judicial practices, including the use of torture to extract confessions from suspects, did not occur. The election of a new state governor raised some hopes that the situation might finally be addressed.

  • In October, Víctor Javier Garcia Uribe was sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment for the murder of eight women in 2001, despite compelling evidence that he had confessed under torture.
  • In November, 16-year-old Martha Lizbeth Hernández was raped and murdered near her home in Ciudad Juárez. Investigations were continuing at the end of the year.

Arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment

Arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment by police remained widespread, particularly at state level. The authorities failed to combat these practices effectively or to ensure judicial remedy to victims.

  • In May, during the European Union and Latin American and Caribbean Summit in Guadalajara, Jalisco State police used arbitrary detention and torture against scores of demonstrators. The state government refused to investigate the abuses despite compelling evidence and a recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission.
  • In January, an 18 year-old indigenous Tlapaneco man, Socrates Tolentino González Genaro, was detained and tortured by municipal police in Zapotitlan Tablas, Guerrero State. The following day his mother was informed that he had committed suicide and told to sign a form for the release of his body. His mother, who was unable to read, discovered later that she had unknowingly signed a statement accepting that her son had committed suicide. Through the combined efforts of the family and a local human rights organization, Socrates González's body was exhumed. An autopsy confirmed that he had been tortured and unlawfully killed. Four police officers were under investigation for his death at the end of 2004.

Misuse of the justice system

The justice system continued to be misused, particularly at state level. The lack of impartiality of the judiciary and the prosecution services resulted in malicious prosecutions and unfair judicial procedures.

  • In August, two lawyers, María del Carmen Grajales and Heriberto Gómez, acting in defence of a murder suspect in Chiapas, were detained by police and charged with fabricating evidence. The two were later released on bail. AI believed they were being prosecuted in reprisal for their efforts to prove that police had tortured their client and fabricated evidence.
  • National and international pressure led to charges against two indigenous environmental activists being dropped. Hermenegildo Rivas and Isidro Baldenegro had been arrested in their homes in Colorados de la Virgen, Chihuahua, in 2003.
  • In November, Felipe Arreaga, a long-standing peasant environmental activist in the mountains of Petetlan, Guerrero State, was detained and charged in connection with the murder of the son of a cacique (local political boss) in 1998. Despite presenting evidence to prove his innocence, he remained in custody as prosecution witnesses failed to appear before the court. AI believed Felipe Arreaga was being prosecuted in reprisal for his efforts to protect local forests from logging.

Human right defenders

Human rights defenders continued to suffer threats, intimidation and smear campaigns. State authorities failed to effectively prevent or investigate such incidents. In two states where the local Human Rights Commissions exposed human rights violations, the Commissions' presidents were harassed by local authorities and removed from office.

  • In September a man identifying himself as a member of the Federal Investigation Agency entered the office of the Fray Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada Human Rights Committee in Ocosingo, Chiapas State, intimidating staff and threatening to arrest them.
  • In September the Governor of Guerrero and a senior military commander made unsubstantiated allegations against human rights organizations in order to undermine the legitimacy of their work.
  • The family of human rights defender Digna Ochoa, who died in 2001, appealed against an investigation into her death which concluded that she had committed suicide. Two appeals were rejected by federal judges, despite grave shortcomings in the investigation.

Attacks on journalists and freedom of speech

At least three journalists were murdered, apparently in reprisal for investigating drug traffickers and links to local authorities and businesses.

  • In June, journalist Francisco Ortiz Franco was gunned down in Tijuana, Baja California, in front of his children. Five suspects were detained in connection with the killing, including a former police officer.

In Chiapas, the passing of excessively restrictive legislation on defamation undermined freedom of speech in the state.

Past human rights violations

There were limited advances in the prosecution of those accused of committing serious human rights violations during Mexico's "dirty war" between the 1960s and 1980s. The Special Prosecutor on past human rights violations, appointed in 2002, requested a number of indictments against senior members of former administrations. Eleven arrest warrants were granted but a number were rejected, including one requested for the former President, Luis Echeverría. These were rejected on the grounds that the crimes, which included murder and genocide, had expired under Mexico's statute of limitations. An appeal on this case was pending in the Supreme Court at the end of the year. There was serious concern that senior military and civilian officials would not be successfully prosecuted. The Minister of Defence and other senior military figures publicly called for amnesty legislation to protect those accused of abuses.

  • Two former officials were detained for the "disappearance" of Jesús Piedra Ibarra in 1975. An arrest warrant was also issued for the former director of the Federal Security Directorate, Luis de la Barreda.
  • A military tribunal closed the case against army General Arturo Acosta Chaparro, accused of the "disappearance" of 143 people in Guerrero in the 1970s, after deciding that evidence against him was no longer valid and accepting that senior official witnesses could no longer recall the facts. He remained in prison on unrelated criminal charges.
  • Military jurisdiction ensured that there was still no progress in securing justice for two indigenous women raped by members of the Mexican army in Guerrero in 2002. The two women's cases were before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

Indigenous peoples

Political violence surrounded local elections in Chiapas and Oaxaca, particularly in conflict-afflicted indigenous communities. The failure of the authorities to address underlying issues affecting many indigenous communities, such as marginalization and indigenous rights, frequently resulted in increased tensions and violence. Likewise, the tendency of the authorities to favour caciques often resulted in increased violence and impunity for abuses.

  • In September the mayoral candidate, Guadalupe Avila Salinas, in the community of San José Estancia Grande, Oaxaca State, was murdered. She was reportedly murdered by the municipal president of the governing party, who subsequently evaded arrest. Two days later in the municipality of Loxicha, Lino Antonio Almoraz was murdered the day before community elections in which he had been campaigning. He was a member of the organization Union of Communities against Repression and Militarization in the Loxicha Region. Members of this organization were among 40 victims of political killings in Loxicha since 1997 when large sections of the community were detained and tortured, accused of belonging to an armed opposition group.
  • In April a protest about access to water by hundreds of members of the community of Zinacantán, Chiapas, sympathetic to the Zapatista political movement was attacked by supporters of the governing party of the municipal council. Many members of the community were injured and many temporarily fled their homes fearing further attacks, only returning days later.

AI country visits

In June an AI delegation visited Mexico City and the states of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Guerrero.

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