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NEWS

Commentary: The Mexican Senate expands mandatory pre-trial detention amid the COVID-19 pandemic

FairTrialsAdmin - July 31, 2020 - COVID-19 Updates, prison conditions, Extended pre-trial detention

On 30 July, the Mexican Senate approved the extension of mandatory pre-trial detention to a new group of criminal offences, including electoral offences, illegal possession of weapons, enforced disappearance, use of imitation (toy) guns to commit crimes, among others.

This measure will have an enormous impact on an already saturated prison system. According to official numbers from the Diagnóstico Nacional de Supervisión Penitenciaria, 33.33% of monitored prisons were overcrowded in 2019. Most prisoners in Mexico live in conditions that are ill and inhumane.

The dreadful situation is worsened by the fact that in Mexico 40% of the prison population are pre-trial detainees. According to official records, 83.089 detainees are awaiting trial in prisons at the Federal and local levels while the total number of detainees in the country is 209,053. Moreover, 50% of the female prison population is held in pre-trial detention, meaning that this disproportionately impacts women.

Pre-trial detention should always be a measure of last resort, however, in Mexico and the Latin American region in general, its use is systematic. Pre-trial detention is implemented as if it were the rule, and not the exception, and little care is payed to the careful analysis of necessity, proportionality, and rationality on a case by case basis. This has a severe impact on vulnerable groups, such as, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and indigenous peoples.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic aggravates the situation of overcrowding and appalling prison conditions, only made worse by the number of individuals in mandatory pre-trial detention. This category of prisoners is also unfairly excluded from pre-releases and compassionate benefits.

Mandatory pre-trial detention violates the most basic international human rights agreements to which Mexico is a party, including, the American Convention, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Similarly, the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, the Interamerican Commission, the UNCAT, and the OHCHR, have all declared that mandatory pre-trial detention violates the aforementioned agreements, given that mandatory pre-trial detention for non-bailable offences deprives a detainee of his or her right to seek non-custodial alternatives to detention, and reverses the presumption of innocence.

At no time can states justify human rights violations under arguments of criminal persecution and national security, especially when imperative human rights norms are at stake, that is, norms that under no circumstances can be violated, such as the prohibition of torture and arbitrary arrests.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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