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Events of 2023

Activists participate in a march in Mexico City on December 2, 2023, to commemorate the International Day for People with Disabilities. In April, Mexico's Congress unanimously approved a new code of civil procedure that ends abusive guardianship arrangements and recognizes the legal standing of all adults, regardless of their disability status.

© 2023 Martha García, Movimiento de Personas con Discapacidad

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office in 2018, has made little progress in addressing Mexico’s serious human rights challenges, including extreme criminal violence, abuses against migrants, gender-based violence, attacks on independent journalists and human rights defenders, torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings.

The poverty rate has fallen under López Obrador’s presidency, from 41.9 percent in 2018 to 36.3 percent in 2022, according to the official poverty analysis agency. However, extreme poverty has remained unchanged and the number of people without access to health care has more than doubled. Analysts have pointed to a major increase in the minimum wage and a near-doubling of remittances from Mexicans abroad as possible contributors to the drop in poverty.

Security and Access to Justice

Rates of violent crime have skyrocketed in Mexico since the beginning of the “war” on organized crime in 2006. The homicide rate fell from 28 homicides per 100,000 people in 2021 to 25.9 in 2022 but remains among the highest in the world. Two-thirds of homicides in 2022 were committed with firearms. Authorities estimate that about 70 percent of firearms used in crimes are smuggled into Mexico from the United States.

The justice system regularly fails to provide accountability for violent crimes and human rights violations. About 90 percent of crimes are never reported, one-third of reported crimes are never investigated, and just under 16 percent of investigations are resolved (either in court, through mediation, or through some form of compensation), meaning authorities resolved just over 1 percent of all crimes committed in 2022.


Torture is widely practiced by police, prosecutors, and soldiers to obtain confessions and extract information. In the most recent survey of incarcerated people conducted by Mexico’s national statistics office in July 2021, nearly half of respondents said that police or soldiers had subjected them to physical abuse after they were detained. Among those who had confessed to a crime, 38 percent said they did so only because authorities had beaten or threatened them.

Authorities received at least 15,904 criminal complaints of torture between January 1, 2018, and March 31, 2023, according to a national registry created by the Attorney General’s Office.

Arbitrary Detention

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Mexico in September and expressed concern that “arbitrary detention remains a widespread practice in Mexico and is too often the catalyst for ill-treatment, torture, enforced disappearance and arbitrary executions.”

Judges are legally required to order pretrial detention for those accused of many offenses, without evaluating the circumstances of the case, violating international human rights standards. More than 40 percent of imprisoned people in 2021 had not been convicted of any crime. Prosecutors continue to use arraigo detention, a mechanism allowing them to obtain judicial authorization to detain anyone for up to 40 days without charge.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in November 2022 and January 2023 that Mexico’s use of mandatory pretrial detention and arraigo detention violates human rights standards and ordered it to reform its laws and constitution. In July, a regional federal appeals court ruled that, following the Inter-American Court’s decision, judges may hear appeals from people placed in mandatory pretrial detention and may order their conditional release pending trial. The ruling applies in 18 states in central and northern Mexico.

Law enforcement agencies are legally required to record detentions they conduct in the National Detention Registry, created in 2019. Both the army and the navy continue to detain civilians without reporting these detentions in the registry.

Military Abuses

Like his predecessors, President López Obrador has relied heavily on the military for public security. Congress, controlled by López Obrador’s party, disbanded the Federal Police in 2019 and replaced it with the National Guard, a military force. As of August 2023, there were more than 266,000 soldiers, marines, and national guard members deployed domestically.

From 2007 through July 2023, the army killed 5,488 civilians, according to government data. These killings are rarely independently investigated. In 2022, the National Human Rights Commission received 1,005 complaints against the army and National Guard, the highest number in nine years.

There is strong evidence that the military has used the spyware Pegasus during the López Obrador administration to illegally spy on human rights defenders, journalists, opposition party politicians, and senior government officials.

The military has obstructed the investigation and prosecution of past human rights abuses. In July, the group of independent international experts investigating the 2014 Ayotzinapa mass kidnapping and disappearance closed their investigation and left the country, saying military obstruction and lies prevented them from determining the truth. Leaked emails suggest senior military officials had pressured the government to drop charges against soldiers implicated in the case. In August, the truth commission investigating military abuses against leftist activists during the Cold War said the military and intelligence services had refused to give them access to key documents.


Thousands of people go missing every year in Mexico. Authorities regularly fail to take basic steps to search for missing people.

Lack of forensic capacity contributes to disappearances and hinders their resolution. Authorities failed to identify roughly 10,000 human remains in 2021, which is about 12 percent of those processed by morgues that year. Most unidentified remains were placed in storage or buried in municipal graves. Many other missing people were likely killed and buried in hidden graves by criminal groups, the military, or the police. From 2006 to 2023, authorities and activists found more than 5,600 such graves across the country.

In September, Mexican officials appeared before the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) in Geneva following the CED’s 2021 visit to Mexico. CED members expressed concerns about continuing “near-total impunity” for disappearances and the growing number of threats, attacks, and killings of those searching for disappeared relatives. In May, the CED issued its first decision on an individual complaint from Mexico, finding that the state had violated its international legal obligations to conduct a prompt, exhaustive, and impartial investigation of the enforced disappearance of a young man who was removed from his home by armed men in police uniforms in 2013.

President López Obrador has claimed the official number of missing people, which surpassed 110,000 in 2023, has been deliberately inflated to hurt him politically. In June, he announced a new “search program” in which officials contact the families of those reported missing to ask if they have returned home on their own. In August, the head of the National Search Commission, which manages the missing persons registry, resigned after the government reportedly asked her to manipulate the data to “reduce” the number of people reported missing. In October, the government named an official from the Education Ministry as the new search commission head. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico and many victims’ collectives expressed concern about the lack of transparency in the nomination process. In December, the government announced it had reviewed the missing person’s registry and claimed only around 12,000 people on it were “confirmed disappeared.”

Privacy and Access to Information

President López Obrador has transferred hundreds of government tasks to the military, limiting access to public information because the military often refuses to comply with transparency requests. In May, the Supreme Court overturned an executive order that had exempted the government from complying with transparency requests regarding infrastructure projects. Hours after—and despite—the ruling, the president issued a similar executive order.

In March and April, López Obrador and legislators from his party blocked nominations to fill vacant seats on the board of the transparency and data protection agency, leaving it without enough members legally required to review cases or issue decisions. In August, the Supreme Court ruled the remaining board members could resume reviewing cases until the Senate fills the vacant seats.

Attacks on Journalists and Human Rights Defenders

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. From January to September 2023, eight journalists were killed. In the first half of 2023, Article 19 recorded 272 threats, attacks, or other forms of aggression against journalists. Many journalists self-censor.

Authorities routinely fail to adequately investigate crimes against journalists. From its creation in 2010 through July 2023, the federal special prosecutor’s office to investigate crimes against journalists had opened 1,654 investigations and obtained 35 convictions, including 7 for homicide, and 120 settlements. The vast majority of convictions have been obtained since the current special prosecutor was appointed in 2017.

Mexico is also one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders. Twenty-two human rights defenders were killed in 2022, according to the human rights group Comité Cerezo.

A federal government program provides bodyguards and panic buttons to at-risk journalists and human rights defenders. The mechanism lacks sufficient staff and funding and struggles to coordinate with state and local officials. Eight journalists and two human rights defenders have been killed while under the program’s protection.

Women’s and Girls’ Rights

A wave of states legalized abortion in recent years. As of September, 12 states allowed abortion for any reason up to at least 12 weeks of pregnancy. All states allow abortion in cases of rape. Despite legalization, women, girls, and other pregnant people continue to face many barriers when trying to access abortion.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that the absolute criminalization of abortion is unconstitutional and that people should not be criminally prosecuted for undergoing the procedure. It also established that state governments do not have the authority to legislate that life begins at conception and that medical personnel’s right to conscientiously object to performing abortions is subject to limits.

In 2022, the government reported about 3,757 killings of women, one-quarter of which were considered femicides, killings of women because of their gender. Women’s rights groups say femicide is likely under-reported.

Mexico officially ratified the International Labour Organization Violence and Harassment Convention (C190) in July 2022. The treaty obligates Mexico to provide comprehensive protections to ensure a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence.

Migrants and Asylum Seekers

Criminals and government officials often prey upon people migrating through Mexico. Crimes against migrants are rarely reported, investigated, or punished.

President López Obrador has intensified efforts to prevent migrants from traveling through Mexico to reach the US, including by deploying more than 31,000 soldiers for immigration enforcement. Authorities detained 444,000 migrants in 2022, the highest number ever.

Immigration detention centers are notoriously overcrowded, unsanitary, and dangerous. In April, 40 people died in a fire at an immigration detention center in Ciudad Juárez after staff did not release them from their shared cell.

Soldiers and immigration agents operate immigration checkpoints throughout the country. In May 2022, the Supreme Court ruled these checkpoints unconstitutional, saying they disproportionately affect Indigenous and Afro-Mexican people. However, the checkpoints continue to operate.

Since 2019, Mexico has allowed the US to expel certain non-Mexican migrants and asylum seekers to Mexico, where they are routinely targeted for serious abuses, including sexual assault, armed robbery, kidnapping, and extortion.

The government has greatly expanded the capacity of the asylum system, with significant assistance from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which provides the majority of funding for staff and other operating expenses. However, the system remains severely overstretched. From January through August 2023, nearly 100,000 people applied for refugee status in Mexico, but the government resolved just over 18,000 cases; in 71 percent of those, the government granted refugee status or complementary protection.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Same-sex marriage is available in all 32 states. Twenty-one states allow transgender people to change their names and gender markers on birth certificates through a simple administrative process. In 2019, the Mexican Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling with clear guidelines on legal gender recognition, holding that it must be an administrative process that “meets the standards of privacy, simplicity, expeditiousness, and adequate protection of gender identity” set by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In March 2022, the court expanded the right to legal gender recognition to include adolescents and other children.

Disability Rights

People with disabilities lack access to justice, education, legal standing, and other fundamental rights. In 2019, Human Rights Watch documented cases of state-run hospitals and private individuals who shackled people with disabilities. Women with disabilities suffer disproportionate violence.

In many states, people with disabilities have no choice but to depend on their families for assistance or to live in institutions, which is inconsistent with their right to live independently and be included in the community under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

In May and June, Congress approved reforms requiring domestic violence shelters to be accessible for women with disabilities and establishing that everyone over 18 has full legal capacity and the right to supported decision-making.

In 2022, Congress prohibited forced psychiatric treatment and restraints, including shackling. The reform mandates community-based services and the conversion of psychiatric hospitals to general hospitals.

Older People’s Rights

In March, Mexico ratified the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons.

Climate Policy and Impacts

As one of the world’s top 15 emitters of greenhouse gases, Mexico is contributing to the climate crisis that is taking a growing toll on human rights around the globe. In 2021, a judge annulled the López Obrador administration’s climate action plan because it did not increase emissions reduction targets in violation of Mexican law. In November 2022, the government updated its plan but still allowed higher emissions than what it had pledged. This contravenes its obligation under the Paris Agreement to establish progressively ambitious targets. The new climate action plan also fails to commit to a net-zero target.

The Climate Action Tracker, which provides independent scientific analysis, rated Mexico’s 2022 climate action plan as “critically insufficient” to meet the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The López Obrador administration has pursued a policy of investment in fossil fuels, acquiring an oil refinery in the US and fast-tracking the construction of another in Dos Bocas, Tabasco state. President López Obrador has bet on the oil industry as a pathway to energy self-sufficiency.

Key International Actors

As a member of the UN Human Rights Council in 2023, Mexico supported a number of important initiatives to ensure scrutiny and advance accountability on several pressing human rights crises, including on Belarus, Burundi, Eritrea, Israel and Palestine, Nicaragua, Sudan, and South Sudan. They did not, however, support continued scrutiny of Russia’s human rights abuses. Mexico continued to lead on important thematic resolutions on a range of important issues, including on the rights of migrants, the death penalty, and the rights of people with disabilities.