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Statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on her visit to Mexico


Mexico City, 9 April 2019

Good afternoon everyone.

I thank you for your interest in my visit to Mexico. It has been five intense, interesting and rewarding working days. I have experienced many touching moments during my visit, as I hold Mexico close to my heart. I fervently hope that the critical situation facing the country is promptly resolved.

First of all, I want to emphasize how crucial this period is for Mexico. The new government represents new opportunities and transformation. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expressed his willingness to put human rights at the centre of his Government. I recognize his determination, and express my readiness and that of my Office in Mexico to support this important policy change.

I particularly acknowledge the fact that the Government invited me to visit the country before it had even taken up office, and that the visit has taken place at the beginning of the President’s mandate. This shows an openness to strengthen cooperation with international organizations in order to foster a just society that respects human rights.

The first steps in this direction are fundamental. The current Government has acknowledged the State’s responsibility for serious and widespread human rights violations, and has apologized for specific emblematic cases that have taken place in recent decades. More importantly, it has taken some steps to unveil the truth, provide justice, give reparations to victims and guarantee the non-repetition of these violations.

The creation of the Presidential Commission for Truth and Access to Justice for the Ayotzinapa case during the new Government’s first days in office is an example of this commitment.

When my predecessor visited Mexico in 2015, it was one year after the enforced disappearance of the 43 students of the Raul Isidro Burgos teachers’ school of Ayotzinapa and the killing of six other victims. This paradigmatic case had hit the headlines worldwide, as did the grave irregularities in the official investigation of the case subsequently identified by the Group of Experts of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.

In 2018, a report by my Office revealed that detainees had been victims of torture and other human rights violations during the official investigation in order to promote a hypothesis of the case that had already been dismissed by international experts. This report, entitled "Double Injustice," served to disprove the “historic truth” and it has helped the families of the victims in their quest for justice and truth. Mario Cesar Gonzalez, father of one of the disappeared students, told me "The report was a breath of  fresh air for our cause,"

The new Government has committed to shed light on the event, search for the disappeared and establish truth and justice for the families and victims. My Office in Mexico will collaborate in this new process. On Monday, together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marcelo Ebrard, I signed an agreement to provide guidance and technical assistance in the Ayotzinapa case.

My Office will be an ally that will not hesitate to assist in the investigations. We will acknowledge when authorities fulfil their commitments to the families of the victims, and we will also point out any lack of progress in the case.

Hilda Hernandez, mother of one of the disappeared students, told me: "Our demand is to know the whereabouts of the boys. We ask that the investigations move forward so there can be truth and justice."

The Ayotzinapa case placed a spotlight on a fundamental and wide-ranging problem in Mexico, where more than 40,000 persons have disappeared – a quarter of them women and girls – and 26,000 unidentified bodies have been officially registered with more than 850 clandestine graves. These figures are deeply disturbing.

It is also a matter of concern that disappearances continue to take place, as documented by the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearance in 2018. And in most cases, impunity is the rule.

In this context, I welcome the presentation of the Plan for the Implementation of the General Law on Disappearances, the re-establishment of the National Search System, and the announcement of plans to create a Single Information System and a National Institute for Forensic Identification.

I emphasize how important it is that the search for the disappeared has been established as a State responsibility. The coordination between authorities and families in the process of search and identification is fundamental. My Office in Mexico will continue to cooperate closely with the National Search Commission and the Ministry of the Interior. I acknowledge the commitment of President López Obrador and the Ministry of the Interior authorities who have made the search for the disappeared a priority.

Likewise, I agree with the insistence of the families and human rights organizations on the need for adequate mechanisms, which could include the creation of a truth commission, to guarantee the establishment of the truth for the victims and for society in general. As I have told senior government officials, you cannot move forward without addressing the shadows of the past. Making progress in this regard will show citizens that change is real and possible, and reduce the current sense of frustration.

In Mexico City, Monterrey and Saltillo, I met with families of the disappeared, including victims from Central America. I stood in solidarity with their struggle. Their strength, fortitude, commitment, determination, empowerment and solidarity with each other touched me and inspired me. I was surprised by their tireless determination, the clarity of their agenda and objectives, and capacity of organization.

I encourage the families of the disappeared to keep up their collective work, based on the respect for diversity, as it paves the way to achieve their legitimate goals. I support their demand for an effective search system for all the victims of disappearances, including migrants, and their insistence on justice. In the unfortunate cases where the victims of disappearance have died, their remains must be properly identified and returned to the families with dignity.

The government has to employ all available resources and explore different options to undertake this task, including the creation of an extraordinary mechanism for forensic identification. I welcome the Government's determination to seek international assistance to address the forensic challenges it faces. As I said to the families of the disappeared, “Your participation is fundamental in the search for your loved ones, sin ustedes, nada – nothing without you.

The search for truth is closely related to the search for justice. The wounds that are not clean will not heal. The open wounds of the past, and those that persist in the present, demand truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition. Healing will not come automatically; it will be the result of concrete actions and policies. Change and results are needed and possible.

I was pleased to learn that the Government shares this perspective and is willing to walk hand in hand with families, and is open to international assistance. This is why I encourage the Mexican State to accept the visit of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, which was requested in 2013, and to broaden international justice by recognizing the competence of the Committee to receive and consider individual communications. These are long-standing demands of the families. Attending to them will send a clear message that here is a break with past policies that hindered justice.  

Many victims distrust the country's justice system, particularly the prosecutorial one. Recovering the trust of victims and society through results, rather than just words, is key to the legitimacy of authorities. The strengthening of the adversarial criminal justice system is an essential means to that end. Chronic and generalized impunity can no longer be an option.

It is equally important that the State prevents new atrocities from occurring. The number of violent deaths in Mexico is equivalent to that of a country at war: 252,538 since 2006.

A country with such vast human and economic resources as Mexico should be able to reverse this situation without resorting to spurious shortcuts, which have been part of the depressing reality of recent decades. The security forces have not only not been able to reduce the alarming levels of criminality and abuses, they have themselves committed abuses that are inconceivable in a democracy. Six out of ten judgments of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights against Mexico have been on human rights violations committed by the Armed Forces.

As the President himself has stated an “eye for an eye” approach is not the solution: one cannot fight violence with more violence. And while socioeconomic and cultural development will contribute to the reduction of insecurity and violence in the long term, there is an immediate urgent need for the development of law enforcement organizations that respect human rights.

In meetings with Mexican authorities and civil society groups, I mentioned that the establishment of the National Guard could present an opportunity to create a new police force, civilian in nature, to address organized crime and major drug trafficking networks, while at the same time respecting human rights. The adoption, in the coming weeks, of a national law on the use of force, as well as a national law on a registry of detentions, both in line with international standards, will also be a positive development.

These are enormous, yet achievable, challenges, provided there is institutional commitment and political will. In meetings, senior government officials provided assurances that the National Guard will be efficient and respectful of human rights.

Besides the creation of a National Guard, the State must improve the performance of police forces with the full cooperation and commitment of authorities at all levels of government.

In another sign of its commitment to human rights, the Mexican State requested technical assistance from my Office to ensure the operation, transparency and accountability mechanism of the National Guard are aligned with international standards. This morning, we signed an agreement for that purpose.

The National Guard will have a difficult task. The level of violence remains high in the country: during the first three months of the government of President López Obrador at least 7,299 investigations into violent deaths (homicidios dolosos) have been opened, along with 240 into femicides. The current Government inherits a situation of extreme violence, but both the President and the authorities whom I met are committed to address this situation.

I am also concerned about overcrowding in prisons, and generalized torture in detention centers. At least 74 percent of inmates claim to have been subjected to ill-treatment while in detention.

I find the allegations of sexual torture suffered by women particularly concerning, with one in ten claiming to have been a victim of rape while in detention.

My Office is working with the authorities in the implementation of the General Law on Torture and to address cases were individuals have been convicted on the basis of evidence obtained through torture.

I had the privilege to meet six environmental campaigners from Tlanixco, in the State of Mexico, who had been unjustly jailed for between 12 and 15 years. Three of them were released the day before our meeting thanks to the efforts of those convinced of their innocence, as well as authorities who were determined to put an end to this miscarriage of justice. Maricela Molina González, wife of Pedro Sánchez Berriozabal, who spent 15 years in jail, conveyed to me her joy at her husband’s release, as well as the need for comprehensive reparations for his arbitrary false imprisonment. The release of the Tlanixco human rights defenders is just one example of many similar stories. I welcome the efforts of the authorities to review the cases of people who have been unjustly jailed

I was pleased to hear of initiatives aiming to revise the punitive approach to the use of certain drugs, and to address other causes of unjustified criminalization, including of women who have interrupted their pregnancies. However, in contrast to these positive developments, the recent expansion of the number of crimes subject to mandatory pre-trial detention, undermines the presumption of innocence and the right to freedom.

I have had the opportunity to listen to the voices of those who are, literally, putting their lives at risk to defend the freedoms of all people. The situation of human rights defenders and journalists continues to be alarming. So far this year, at least nine human rights defenders and four journalists have been killed. At least twelve journalists were murdered in 2018, and another twelve in 2017.

Freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to be informed, are essential for a just and balanced society, and the fact that corrupt caciques (local leaders), drug traffickers and public officials want to silence journalists shows just how vital their work is. A true democracy must have an independent and vibrant press to denounce bad practices and encourage the public debate, without exception.

I call on the authorities to strengthen the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. Representatives of defenders and journalists pointed out in meetings that the protection provided by the Mechanism is insufficient. Likewise, authorities must strengthen the early warning mechanisms. My Office will continue advising the Government on these issues and will present an assessment that will contribute to strengthen the Mechanism.

Many human rights defenders are courageous women, like the ones I met last Saturday, who denounced the fact that femicides have tripled in the last decade, and that, just since the beginning of this year, 568 women have been murdered – an average of approximately ten every day. Violence against women is a widespread scourge to which two-thirds of women in the country fall victim.  I hope the fact that, for the first time ever, Congress and the Executive have almost attained gender parity will open up a historic opportunity to implement far-reaching policies of gender equality.

I was happy to witness the empowerment of Mexican women, which has taken a new public dimension in recent weeks with a wave of denunciations of sexual violence. It is very important that so many groups of women have organized and are rethinking the best way to channel their claims, their demands for justice, and their fight against a lacerating impunity. Collective struggle is more rewarding, but above all, more effective. I hope your fight produces the outcomes you desire.

Women, especially indigenous women, suffer disproportionately from poverty, exclusion and discrimination. Overcoming this historical gap is essential to build an egalitarian society. Measures such as the recently announced program to ensure millions of domestic workers have access to social security are an important first step that can result in Mexico ratifying the ILO Convention 189 on this subject as soon as possible.

I have pointed out how impunity is a cross-cutting issue that tears the country apart. That is why I applaud the issuance of the Organic Law of the Attorney General’s Office. I hope that the first head of this office, Alejandro Gertz Manero, will enable it to become an autonomous institution, capable of investigating complex criminal phenomena and prioritizing the investigation of grave human rights violations. Among the outstanding issues for the new Prosecutor's Office are: the appointment of the head of the Specialized Prosecutor's Office for Human Rights, as well as the Special Prosecutor for the Ayotzinapa case. My office is willing to continue cooperating with the Prosecutor's Office in the Ayotzinapa case, and to continue cooperating within the framework of the Forensic Commission for the identification of migrant victims of massacres in San Fernando and Cadereyta.

I am aware of the challenges of socio-economic development in Mexico, including the fact that 43.6 per cent of the population lives in poverty, a percentage that increases to 85 per cent for indigenous people. Precisely for this reason, indigenous peoples and their rights should be taken into consideration and be at the centre of any policy to combat poverty. Likewise, in cases of projects affecting indigenous peoples and their territories, it is essential to seek a balance between the project, respect for the environment, and protection of territories and resources of indigenous peoples. In projects affecting indigenous peoples, consultation processes that are carried out in compliance with international standards – i.e. are prior, free, informed and culturally adequate –  can help prevent conflicts, and genuinely take into consideration the opinions and views of those who have been most excluded. Several representatives of indigenous peoples I met requested such a course of action.

It is important to insist that development policies are sustainable from an environmental, social and human rights perspective. The 2030 Agenda, and the human rights-based development approach, require that recipients of public programs are involved in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development projects that may affect them.

In order for public policies to be sustainable over time, they have to be legitimate. To that end, they must be made in agreement with stakeholders, so that they take ownership of them. In this regard, I recommend to the Mexican State to sign the Escazú Agreement.

At the same time, it should be noted that development and infrastructure projects open the door to social and labor integration for tens of thousands of unemployed Mexicans, migrants – particularly those in transit from Central America – and asylum seekers. The Government's decision to abandon a migration policy focused on the detention and mass deportation of migrants is a positive development. That strategy criminalized an already very vulnerable group, encouraged them to take clandestine routes and turned migrants and asylum-seekers into easier prey for organized crime. The policy of granting permits to migrants for humanitarian reasons is another improvement.

However, for change to be real in migration policy, these actions must be part of a comprehensive strategy which should include addressing migrants’ transit through Mexico, improving institutional capacities to screen cases for asylum applications and other needs for international protection, and reducing the impunity for crimes against migrants.

I had the opportunity to meet migrants and asylum seekers at the Casanicolás migrants’ shelter in Monterrey – Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, members of the LGBTI community and others persecuted in their countries of origin, or impelled to leave because of insecurity, inadequate living conditions and lack of prospects. Many of them have received humanitarian permits.

Mexico is becoming a country of destination, and is no longer just a transit country for migrants. So far this year, 17,000 people have obtained permits for humanitarian reasons, which will allow them to integrate into communities and access public services.

In Saltillo, I met the governor of Coahuila, Miguel Ángel Riquelme Solís, and some officials in his cabinet. I was able to discuss in depth the challenges that a federal state faces meeting international human rights commitments. But I also learned about local processes under development with the support of international organizations. I encourage all local authorities to comply with the human rights agenda.

I am pleased to discover that the head of the Federal Judiciary is aware of his role as an agent of change. The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation has issued important precedents at the international level. I encourage the judiciary to continue fostering the respect and protection of human rights. But, above all, I encourage lower instances of the judiciary, and especially those at state level, to embrace the dignity of human beings and abide by established national and international human rights guarantees

Finally, I want to reiterate the importance of organized civil society in the democratic life of a country. Civil society can fulfil several important roles, from activism to the support of vulnerable groups.

In my conversations with authorities I encouraged them, to the extent possible, to receive the UN Special Rapporteurs and human rights Working Groups that have requested to visit the country, in order to continue strengthening the ties of cooperation between the Mexican state and the United Nations system. I would like to congratulate the State for accepting virtually all the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review, demonstrating the will to change and the openness to do so with the international community. As with the rest of the international recommendations, it is now time to make their implementation a reality. My Office is ready to accompany you in this common goal. And it is precisely because I believe in the new Government’s commitment to strengthen its ties with international organizations for the protection of human rights that I suggest to end the inertia of recent years and ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure.

Organizations from northern, central and southern Mexico told me of the importance of our presence and support. Abel Barrera, director of the Center for Human Rights of the Mountain in Tlachinollan, defined us as "an anchor." I encourage the authorities to continue collaborating with the vibrant and committed Mexican civil society, an extraordinary example of integrity and solidarity that wants and needs to be involved in the country’s human rights strengthening processes.

Thank you very much.


For more information and media requests, please contact:

In México:
Gabriela Gorjón (+52 1 55 5438 1729 / ggorjon@ohchr.org)
Marta Hurtado (during the visit): (+41 79 752 0488 / mhurtado@ohchr.org)

In Geneva:
Rupert Colville (+ 41 22 917 9767   / rcolville@ohchr.org)
Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169  / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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