Police officers guard the prison after an internal fight between two gangs in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on August 22, 2018. 

© 2018 REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
(New York) – The Mexican Congress should reject a bill to modify the constitution that would expand the use of mandatory pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch said today. The modification would dramatically increase the number of people in Mexican jails who haven’t been convicted of a crime.

The bill was approved by the Senate on December 6, 2018 and is now being debated in the Chamber of Deputies. The proposal would require judges to order the detention of anyone under investigation for any one of a wide range of offenses, including corruption, weapons possession, child abuse, disappearances, and home burglary.

“Mexico should be working to eliminate automatic pretrial detention, not expand it,” said Daniel Wilkinson, managing Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Pretrial detention is justifiable only when truly necessary in the particular circumstances of any one case.”

The Mexican constitution already requires pretrial detention in cases of murder, rape, kidnapping, and several other crimes. This contravenes international human rights law, which requires that pretrial detention should not only be lawful and reasonable, but also the result of an individualized determination that it is necessary for purposes such as preventing flight, interference with evidence, or the recurrence of crime. Several international authorities, including the Office in Mexico of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, have called for the repeal of automatic pretrial detention measures.

According to government figures, 80,000 people are currently in pretrial detention in Mexico – 40 percent of the total prison population.

“The way to improve public security in Mexico is by strengthening the capacity of civilian authorities to investigate and prosecute crimes, not by locking up suspects without having a judge decide whether it is necessary,” Wilkinson said.