Mexico Struggles With Rights Abuses : International watchdog agencies warn of problems despite the central government’s efforts

As long as human rights violations in Mexico go virtually unpunished, there will be little hope of reversing the alarming increase in these outrages. This is the frightening conclusion of recent reports on human rights in Mexico by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Economic, social and ethnic inequality continue to be at the root of the problem, and the nation’s underprivileged, indigenous peasants are the most widely abused people.

In some cases, the perpetrators remain free despite mountains of evidence against them that include positive identifications by eyewitnesses. One such case is the June massacre of 17 peasants in Guerrero by policemen allegedly under orders from the state’s political hierarchy. Even though Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission announced it had found evidence of official responsibility in the atrocity, almost five months have passed and neither those who ordered the massacre nor the killers have been brought to justice.

The indigenous people are far being from the only victims. In the last two years many powerful or prominent people have been shot to death, including a cardinal, two high-ranking politicians, a judge, journalists and a number of human rights advocates. All these cases linger in limbo. For the most part, the authorities in charge of the criminal investigations seem to be floundering.


The Amnesty International report expresses concern that the Public Ministry might have excessive power to make arrests without court orders. The ministry (whose U.S. equivalent is the district attorney’s office) is in charge of the initial stages of criminal proceedings, and the federal and state judicial police forces act as its investigative body. These two police branches are the entities most frequently cited in reports of human rights violations.

In recent years the Mexican government has adopted legal and administrative measures intended to protect the human rights of nationals. The 1993 reforms to the national constitution dictate that a criminal suspect can be brought in without a court order only if no judge is available and only in what is termed a case of urgency. According to the attorney general’s office, arrests without court orders have occurred only twice in the last 18 months.

Overall, the state of human rights in Mexico demands continuous vigilance by both the public and private sectors. While it is true that the recent reports are more a painful reminder of Mexico’s Third World system of justice than an indictment of the administration of Ernesto Zedillo, the buck must stop at the presidential desk. Only Zedillo has the stature to lead the country in a successful effort to eradicate human rights abuses.