The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Mexico is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Mexico is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Mexico is a State Party to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. Article 15 governs the right of assembly:
The right of peaceful assembly, without arms, is recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals or the rights or freedom of others.
Mexico has accepted the competence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to hear complaints by individuals under the jurisdiction of the State that their rights under the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights have been violated.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 9 of the 1917 Constitution of the United Mexican States (as amended, most recently in August 2018) guarantees the right of peaceful assembly.
CIVICUS has reported in the past that municipalities and states within Mexico
apply their own regulations and administrative procedures, often including notification requirements. Local organisations have documented at least 10 legislative initiatives that aim to limit the right to peaceful assembly. As demonstrations in small local communities receive little media coverage, protests are typically taken to state capitals and Mexico City, where thousands of protest events take place every year. Some protests do become violent and are harshly repressed
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
The 2017 Interior Security Act provides that in the exercise of Homeland Security powers, the principles of "rationality, timeliness, proportionality, temporality, subsidiarity and graduality, as well as the obligations related to the legitimate use of force, shall be observed”.Art. 3, 2017 Homeland Security Act.A new federal law on police use of force was issued in May 2019. According to the law:
Article 27. In no case may weapons be used against those who participate in peaceful public demonstrations or gatherings for lawful purposes.
In such cases, police action should ensure the protection of protesters and the rights of third parties, as well as ensure peace and public order.
The intervention of the public security forces should be made by persons with specific experience and training for such situations and under protocols of action issued by the National Public Security System Council.
Article 28. When demonstrations or public meetings become violent, police officers shall act according to the different levels of force established in this Law.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Mexico does not have federal legislation governing police use of firearms that complies with international law. The 2019 law provides that firearms or lethal force may be used "to repel highly dangerous resistance" ("las resistencias de alta peligrosidad" in the original Spanish). Amnesty International has contested the constitutionality of the new law in an amicus curiae submission.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2019 Concluding Observations on Mexico, the Committee against Torture did not address the right of peaceful assembly. The issue of peaceful assembly was also not addressed in Mexico's 2018 Universal Periodic Review under the Human Rights Council.
Mexico has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years.
Women Victims of Sexual Torture in Atenco v. Mexico (2018)
In 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights addressed the right of peaceful assembly in Mexico. In May 2006, the police prevented a group of flower vendors from selling at a market in the municipality of Texcoco. The flower vendors along with some other people blocked the highway to Texcoco in protest. The authorities decided to crush the protests by force, which led to two deaths and many injured. Dozens of women were verbally, physically and sexually abused by the police. Mexican authorities later acknowledged that excessive police force was used against the protesters, but sought to blame individual officers for exceeding their powers. The authorities were found to have failed to exercise due diligence to prevent the violence, holding that the use of force against the protesters was excessive and indiscriminate.
One of the police tactics as to use sexual violence against female protesters, including rape and threats of rape, as well as a range of degrading acts and insults. The Court held that these acts amounted to torture.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2021 report on Mexico:
The constitution guarantees the right to peacefully assemble. Protests are frequent, though political and civic expression is restricted in some regions, and police frequently use excessive force and detain protesters arbitrarily. Human rights watchdogs expressed concern that the 2019 National Use of Force Law, which enabled the creation of the National Guard, would increase the abuse of protesters. As of the end of 2020, the Supreme Court had not ruled on challenges to the law.
Several instances of protest-related violence caused controversy in 2020. In March, tens of thousands of women protested against violence against women and other forms of gender discrimination in Mexico City and initiated a one-day strike. In November, police fired live ammunition at a feminist protest in Cancún, resulting in at least 10 injuries; the police chief and state security minister were subsequently forced out of their jobs.
In 2019, Amnesty International submitted an amicus curiae to the National Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico, claiming that recent legislation on police use of force was unconstitutional.