Contributor(s)Liga Mexicana por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos | Prison Insider

Physical integrity

Mexico has not applied the death penalty since the early 1960s. It was formally removed from the Constitution and the Military Code in 2005.

Prison authorities, whether of the federal or state jurisdiction, do not report the statistics of deaths within penal institutions.

A confrontation between the rival gangs Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel in the Topo Chico prison (Monterrey) left 49 dead and 12 wounded on 11 February 2016. The mutiny started after one of the prison leaders was killed by the rival band. During the fight, which lasted about two hours, the inmates attacked each other with knives and set fire to a warehouse.

This incident is considered the most violent event to have occurred within a Mexican prison in the last 30 years. 1.

The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported 7,741 complaints of torture between 2010 and 2014. In 2014, there were more than 2,400 complaints, double the amount of the previous year. A report published by Amnesty International in October 2015 states that in 2014 there were 10,400 complaints of mistreatment or torture.

Most cases of torture or inhumane, cruel and degrading treatment occur during detention. To legitimize arbitrary detentions, the authorities produce unlawful evidence.

The Armed Forces are engaged in public security tasks. Policies designed to combat organized crime mimic the antiterrorist statutes developed by the US government in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks. The Organized Crime Act applies a de facto “state of emergency”.

The legal figure of arraigo — a form of preventive detention that allows authorities to detain a person suspected of belonging to organized crime without formal charges up to 80 days — and the mitigation of sentences for those who plead guilty are measures that incite security agents to commit acts of torture.

The Mexican State is working on new legislation related to torture: new rules issued by the federal judiciary, two new internal guidelines on torture issued by the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) and a general law against torture, which would be applied at federal and state level. However, concrete actions against impunity, like the prosecution of those responsible for acts of torture or the reparation for victims, are still on hold.

Federal centres tolerate mistreatment that targets and disciplines inmates. Acts of torture often occur when a new prisoner enters a prison or is transferred to another facility. The “welcome” is to beat the prisoners, blind them, drag them on the floor, threaten them, stomp on them, threaten them with death and force them to assume degrading or unnatural positions that cause pain.

The organization in “self-governments” (inmates who control life inside the prison) generates violence and mistreatment. About 65 % of prisons in Mexico are controlled by gangs, especially the social rehabilitation centres (Ceresos).

The CNDH recorded 1,737 violent incidents in prisons throughout the country in 2014, 82 % of which were fights between inmates.

The CNDH recorded 57,890 complaints of arbitrary detention between 2004 and 2014 1. The Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights (LIMEDDH) estimates that the “War Against Organized Crime” has led to an increase in this figure. In 2006, the CNDH received on average 350 complaints; it currently receives more than 1,000.

The arraigo - a legal figure in force in the Mexican Constitution since 2008 - can be assimilated to a form of arbitrary detention, applied to individuals suspected of belonging to organized crime. The person is detained without charge and taken to a holding house for up to 80 days. During this period, the person is prevented from contacting a lawyer or a family member. This situation creates a legal limbo that leads to acts of torture, coercion or induction with the aim of “advancing the investigation” 2.

Even if a person is not subjected to the holding, authorities can take hours or days to contact a detainee’s relatives. This situation creates a state of uncertainty and of defenselessness that the authorities uses to torture and obtain testimony. Detainees are not brought before a judge in the periods provided for in Article 16 of the Constitution.

In 2015, the Attorney General’s Office created the Detainee Registration System (Sistema de Registro de Detenidos [SIRED]), which allows relatives of a person detained for a crime corresponding to the federal jurisdiction to request reports about their whereabouts during the arrest, thereby preventing the authorities from producing evidence or staging events that did not occur. Although SIRED would be extremely useful in preventing arbitrary detentions, there is no evidence of its implementation.

The LIMEDDH considers that the Assistant Attorney General’s Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime (SEIDO) of the PGR is a clandestine prison. The SEIDO security houses have “blind” points out of the range of surveillance cameras, allowing detainees to be tortured with impunity.

Relatives can enter the SEIDO and be informed that the person is in detention. However, visits are only rarely allowed.

In most cases, private defenders are also prevented from interviewing detainees. Legal aid is granted only by state-appointed legal defenders, who never record irregularities or report mistreatment or torture 3.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued five recommendations for the release of human rights defenders to the Mexican government: Damian Gallardo (opinion 23/2014); Pedro Canche (opinion 18/2015) (released on 29 May 2015); Librado Banos (opinion 19/2015); Nestora Salgado (opinion 56/2015) and Enrique Guerrero (opinion 55/2015).

  1. “Report on Patterns of Human Rights Violations within the Framework of Public Security Policies and the Criminal Justice System in Mexico” (only in Spanish), Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Centre A.C. 

  2. Citizen Observatory of the Justice System, “Hold, Precautionary Measures and Criminal Execution” (only in Spanish). 

  3. “Mexico faces the worst human rights crisis in its history” by Adrian Ramirez Lopez (only in Spanish).