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Mexico: Further reforms and effective implementation are essential to prevent widespread arbitrary detention, say UN experts

02 October 2023

MEXICO CITY (2 October 2023) – Mexico has made significant progress in combatting arbitrary detention in recent years. Reforms in areas of human rights, including the transition to an accusatory criminal procedure, extension of amparo to international human rights, the Law on the Execution of Penalties, the introduction of a National Registry of Detentions, and an increasingly human-rights centred jurisprudence are achievements. “These steps should be consolidated for the benefit of all people living or transiting through Mexico,” said the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in a statement concluding a 12-day visit to Mexico.

“However, arbitrary detention remains a widespread practice in Mexico and is too often the catalyst for ill-treatment, torture, enforced disappearance and arbitrary executions,” they said.

They said that despite the jurisprudence of the Working Group and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the excessive use of pre-trial detention persists, and it remains mandatory under the Mexican Constitution for an extensive list of crimes. “Arraigo, although decreasing in use, also remains available under the Constitution. Mandatory pre-trial detention and arraigo must be abolished as soon as possible,” the experts said.

“We are aware of the huge challenges that Mexico is facing, especially in the context of organised crime and the efforts made by the authorities in this regard,” the experts noted.

The Working Group delegation said the Mexican Armed Forces, National Guard and State and municipal agencies were frequently implicated in arbitrary detentions. “They lack the civilian and independent controls necessary to ensure prevention and accountability,” the experts said.

The Working Group said excessive use of force, especially from the moment of apprehension until detainees are presented to a judicial authority, is frequent.

“In many cases, torture and other forms of ill-treatment are inflicted to extract confessions and incriminating statements,” the experts said. “Delays between the moment of apprehension and surrender of the person to the Public Prosecutor's Office and subsequent transfer to the judicial authority heighten the risk of serious human rights violations during this critical period.”

The Working Group further observed weaknesses, including the systems of recording detentions; overly expansive interpretations of flagrante delicto; insufficient access to effective legal assistance; excessively long periods of pre-trial detention; attacks on judicial independence and due process; an overly punitive approach to drug policy; and shortcomings in conditions of detention.

The Working Group noted that it was particularly concerned about the detention of persons in the context of mobility. “Mexico must ensure that the detention of migrants is a last resort, for the shortest possible time, following an individualised assessment, in dignified conditions and with access to legal assistance," the experts said.

The Working Group said that arbitrary detention affects a wide range of people in Mexico, with particular risks to vulnerable groups including indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, LGBTI+ persons, adolescents, older persons, and people living in poverty. In particular, the authorities must ensure special protection measures and gender-based approach. No-one should be subjected to arbitrary detention.

The Working Group delegation which included members Matthew Gillett, Ganna Yudkivska and Miriam Estrada-Castillo visited Mexico City, Nuevo León and Chiapas. They met with the authorities, judges, human rights commissions, civil society representatives and other stakeholders. The delegation visited 15 places of deprivation of liberty and interviewed numerous detainees. The Working Group thanks the Mexican authorities for their openness in facilitating the visit and willingness to cooperate with  international human rights mechanisms.

A final report on the visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2024.


For more information or press requests, contact: Ms. Tania García Galván ([email protected]/ +52 55 5438 1729).

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was established by the former Commission on Human Rights in 1991 to investigate instances of alleged arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Its mandate was clarified and extended by the Commission to cover the issue of administrative custody of asylum-seekers and immigrants. In September 2019, the Human Rights Council confirmed the scope of the Working Group's mandate and extended it for a further three-year period. The Working Group is comprised of five independent expert members from various regions of the world: Ms. Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur, Malaysia); Mr. Matthew Gillett (Vice Chair on Communications, New Zealand); Ms. Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up, Ukraine); Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Ecuador) and Mr. Mumba Malila (Zambia).

Database of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page — Mexico

For press inquiries related to the Working Group, please contact Ms. Lucie Viersma ([email protected]); Ms. Clara Angélica García Orozco ([email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contactMaya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.

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