Washington, DC—In a new commentary, research and advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) takes stock of Mexico’s human rights landscape during President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s first year in office. The commentary analyzes the administration’s approach to addressing the country’s key human rights concerns, as well as the potential impacts of the government’s security and migration enforcement policies.
“López Obrador came to power promising to finally bring answers to the tens of thousands of families of disappeared persons in Mexico, to put an end to human rights abuses committed by security forces, and to treat migrants with dignity,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights. “However, while early actions to address disappearances are promising, so far these efforts haven’t been paired with significant actions to strengthen Mexico’s criminal justice system in order to address the widespread impunity that prevails for the majority of human rights violations in Mexico.”
The López Obrador administration has taken significant steps to strengthen Mexico’s framework to search for disappeared persons and identify remains exhumed from clandestine graves. However, with more than 40,000 registered cases of disappearances and 37,000 unidentified bodies sitting in government facilities, there is still a long way to go, and the government will need to allocate significant resources to address this emergency.
While López Obrador came to power promising to shift the country’s public security strategy away from militarization, he has created a new military-led force—the National Guard—to assume federal policing functions. He has also legalized the use of the armed forces in public security tasks until 2024. This has raised serious human rights concerns given the military’s long history of committing human rights violations with near total impunity.
In fact, the majority of grave human rights violations committed under previous administrations remain uninvestigated and unsanctioned. Moreover, the use of torture among security forces and investigation agents remains widespread, and human rights defenders and journalists continue to be killed at an alarming rate. The Mexican government’s crackdown on migrants in transit, coupled with its acquiescence to allow the Trump administration to return over 55,000 asylum seekers back to Mexican border towns while they wait for their U.S. immigration hearings through the “Remain in Mexico” program, has exposed this vulnerable population to additional crime and abuse.
“López Obrador cannot put an end to human rights violations by decree,” said Meyer. “To truly transform Mexico’s human rights situation, the government must commit to building strong institutions capable of protecting human rights defenders and journalists, eradicating torture, treating migrants and asylum seekers with dignity, and holding security forces and migration agents accountable for human rights abuses.”