United Mexican States

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 102.0 million (39.8 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 192,770
Compulsory recruitment age: 18
Voluntary recruitment age: 16 (training only)
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 15 March 2002
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I, ILO 182

The government stated that the voluntary minimum recruitment age was 18, but 16 year olds could volunteer for early military service, with parental consent. Sixteen to 18 year olds were accepted for training purposes only. Militias and other irregular armed groups were active in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca, some allegedly backed by government forces. No information was available on the recruitment or use of under-18s by these groups.


The government withdrew troops from Chiapas state and released detained supporters of the armed opposition group, Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), Zapatista National Liberation Army, as part of its commitment to reach an early negotiated settlement to the conflict in the region. However, a bill on indigenous rights and culture, Ley sobre Derechos y Cultura Indígenas, modified and approved by Congress in April 2001, failed to meet agreed principles and dashed hopes of a swift end to the conflict. Indigenous and human rights organizations across the country condemned the bill as a violation of Mexico's international obligations on indigenous rights.1 At the time, the EZLN announced that it would not begin new peace negotiations with the government.2

In the states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca, armed conflict between pro-government groups and sympathizers of opposition armed groups continued.3 Indigenous communities suffered constant intimidation and attacks by paramilitary or "armed civilian" groups.4 Large numbers of people were forced to flee their homes.5 Army incursions affected dozens of indigenous communities, who were subjected to harassment, interrogations, patrols, air surveillance and roadblocks.6 All three states became increasingly militarized by the continuing conflicts over land ownership, political alliances and religion.7

The federal and state governments carried on affording impunity to their own or allied forces accused of serious human rights violations.


National recruitment legislation and practice

The constitution states that it is the duty of every Mexican "to enlist and serve in the National Guard, according to the respective organic law to secure and defend the country's independence, territory, honour, rights and interests, as well as domestic peace and order" (Article 31).8

The Military Service Law declares that all native and naturalized Mexicans must serve in the army or navy according to their capacity and aptitude (Article 1). All Mexicans between the ages of 18 and 40 are liable for military service (Article 5). Students and those wishing to leave the country at the time when they would be required by law to undertake military service may bring forward their enlistment, if they are over 16 at the time of their application (Article 25).9 The armed forces may admit volunteers until the quota fixed annually by the Ministry of National Defence has been reached. These volunteers must be Mexican nationals over 18 and under 30, or up to the age of 40 in the case of specialized army personnel. Those between the ages of 16 and 18 may be accepted into signals units for training as technicians for up to five years.10 All under-18s must have parental consent to join the armed forces.11

Young men must enrol for military service during the year in which they turn 18. A ballot every November determines who will be selected for the army, air force and navy, and who will not be enlisted but will remain eligible for service in the reserves. Women over 18 are encouraged to volunteer in community service activities, including teaching, physical education and other social work. Enlisted men must undertake military training every Saturday between February and September, and participate in social service programs in the fields of education, sport, cultural heritage, drug prevention or social work.12

On ratifying the Optional Protocol Mexico declared that "any responsibility deriving [from the Optional Protocol for] non-governmental armed groups for the recruitment of children under 18 years or their use in hostilities lies solely with such groups and shall not be applicable to the Mexican State as such. The latter shall have a duty to apply at all times the principles governing international humanitarian law."13

Military training and military schools

The constitution states that Mexicans are obliged "to be present on the days and hours designated by the municipality in which they reside, to receive civic and military instruction to equip them in the exercise of their rights as citizens, to gain skills in handling weapons and to acquaint them with military discipline" (Article 31).14

Under the Military Service Law, all educational institutions must provide military instruction, including for girls "according to activities appropriate to their sex and connected with military service", with the program to be determined by the Ministries of National Defence and Public Education (Article 2).15

There are numerous military schools run by the Army and Air Force University. The minimum age of entry is 15 in schools requiring applicants to have completed basic secondary education, and 16 in those requiring a baccalaureat (bachillerato) certificate.16

According to the Military Justice Code, under-18s in the armed forces and cadets in military education institutions are liable to half of the corporal punishment other members of the armed forces receive for the same infraction (Article 153). Cadets in military institutions are considered staff sergeants (sargentos primeros) (Article 156).17

Armed political groups

Monitoring the recruitment of under-18s by armed opposition groups and irregular units allegedly linked to the government remained difficult.18 It was not possible to confirm isolated reports of child soldier recruitment by these groups.

Armed groups set up in Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca during the armed conflict included the private armies of local landowners, militias (guardias blancas) armed by government forces to attack armed opposition and community groups, and groups defending specific political alliances or religious beliefs.19 The state and federal authorities have denied the presence of such groups and failed to prevent or investigate human rights violations by their members, even though Chiapas state has offered some compensation and support to their victims.20 Federal authorities have claimed that they are not able to intervene in cases of armed attacks because these are matters "between individuals".21

Several armed opposition groups have been formed since 1998, although there were no reports that they had carried out attacks in recent years.22 Some instances were reported of federal police and armed forces officers offering money and sweets to children in exchange for information on alleged Zapatista sympathizers.23

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 Amnesty International Report 2002, http://web. amnesty.org/library/engindex.

2 BBC Mundo, "EZLN rechaza ley de derechos indígenas", 30 April 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk.

3 BBC Mundo, "Instan a Zapatistas a dialogar", 17 April 2004.

4 Amnesty International Report 2002.

5 BBC Mundo, "Pro zapatistas desplazados regresan", 26 April 2004.

6 Global Exchange, Operativos Militares durante el periodo de 15 abril 01 al 31 enero 02, February 2002, at http://www.ciepac.org (Derechos humanos).

7 Rebelión, "Las organizaciones de derechos humanos advierten del riesgo de acciones paramilitares en Chiapas", 20 January 2003, http://www.rebelion.org/ddhh/chiapas200103. htm; BBC Mundo, "Chiapas: violento enfrentamiento", 23 January 2003; BBC Mundo, "Indígenas marchan por desarme", 4 February 2003.

8 Constitution, at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, http://info4.juridicas.unam.mx/ijure/fed/9 (Coalition translation).

9 Ley del Servicio Militar, 11 September 1940, at Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, http://www.sedena.gob.mx/index4.htm (Artículos de interés, Legislación militar); Declaration made by Mexico on ratification of the Optional Protocol, http://www.ohchr.org.

10 Declaration made by Mexico on ratification of the Optional Protocol, op. cit.

11 Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, http://www.sedena.gob.mx/index4.htm (Defensa nacional, Servicio militar nacional, Trámites, Anticipo de incorporación)

12 Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, op. cit. (Defensa nacional, Servicio militar nacional, Requerimientos, Alistamiento/Sorteo; Participación de la mujer; Programas, Antecedentes).

13 Declaration made by Mexico on ratification of the Optional Protocol, op. cit.

14 Constitution, op. cit. (Coalition translation).

15 Ley del Servicio Militar, op. cit. (Coalition translation).

16 Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, op. cit. (Educación militar, Universidad del Ejército y Fuerza Aérea, Admisión).

17 Código de Justicia Militar, at UNAM, Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, http://info4.juridicas. unam.mx/ijure/tcfed/3.htm?s; Gilda María García Sotelo, Razones y sinrazones sobre los niños soldados: Una reflexión jurídica, Law Degree Thesis, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico, 2000.

18 Comisión Civil Internacional de Observación por los Derechos Humanos en México, Informe de la tercera visita, 16 febrero a 3 marzo 2002, at http://www.ciepac.org (Derechos humanos).

19 Rebelión, "México: Montemayor prevé alianzas entre EZLN y otros grupos armados", 17 May 2001, http://www.rebelion.org/sociales/montemayor170501.htm; BBC Mundo, "Chiapas: violento enfrentamiento", 23 January 2003.

20 UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on indigenous people: Mexico, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2004/80/Add.2, 1 December 2003, http://www.ohchr.org; Jorge Lofredo, "México: el silencio armado", Rebelión, 6 October 2002; Amnesty International Report 2003; Miguel Angel de los Santos, Chiapas: Las acciones dicen mas que las palabras, December 2001, Centro de Investigaciones Económicas y Políticas de Acción Comunitaria (CIEPAC), http://www.ciepac.org (Derechos humanos).

21 National Human Rights Commission, cited in Comisión Civil Internacional de Observación por los Derechos Humanos en México, op. cit.

22 Le Monde Diplomatique, "Mexico's new guerrillas", 8 November 1998; Jorge Lofredo, "México: el silencio armado", op. cit.

23 Comisión Civil Internacional de Observación por los Derechos Humanos en México, op. cit.


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