The Mexican Human Rights Constitutional Amendment and Impunity: Victims in a Labyrinth

Ethel Nataly Castellanos-Morales and Camilo Ernesto Castillo-Sánchez - 26th July 2014

The human rights situation in Mexico has suffered a notorious deterioration in the past few years due to multiple factors (such as the weakness of the rule of law, the rise of organized crime, and high rates of petty crime). At the same time, Mexico has tried to modernize its constitutional system to protect human rights, in a similar way to other countries in Latin America. The most significant recent changes in Mexico are the Reforma constitucional en materia de derechos humanos (Human Rights Constitutional Amendment) and the new Amparo law (the writ of constitutional protection, and the most important procedure for protecting rights in the country).

These mechanisms have opened many possibilities for the protection of human rights but also entail many challenges, one of which is the fight against impunity with respect to serious violations of human rights. Individuals whose rights have been violated must confront a complex web of procedures and institutions which appear designed to favor impunity.

This is the case with forced disappearances. Maria Eugenia Padilla García [link in Spanish only], a Mexican woman, lost her son Christian – who was illegally arrested by the Policía intermunicipal (Inter Municipal Police) – in 2010. Maria began the search for her son immediately, knowing that his detention was groundless. Her son was never brought before a court, and Maria herself has had to surmount many obstacles.

The first obstacle was the attitude of local authorities. They tried to persuade her to abandon the search: in their words, she was risking both her and her son’s life as the people involved in the disappearance were more powerful than the Mexican Government. This persuasion, or arguably intimidation, increased Maria´s feelings of frustration and defenselessness. Additionally, the majority of government officials who did engage with Maria showed disrespect for her and her situation. In some cases they did not use the expression “forced disappearance”, preferring the expression “levantón” (a kidnapping associated with criminal activity). The use of this euphemism masks both the seriousness of the crime and the government´s accountability.

Maria has attempted to challenge the government’s inefficiency at various levels: before the local and the federal authorities; before the judiciary and the executive; before the Policía Municipal (municipal police) and even the President of Mexico´s office. Nevertheless, Maria has not found her son or justice for the perpetrators, even though some of them have been fully identified.

Maria is navigating a complex labyrinth; she has learned from bitter experience and has now suffered her son´s absence for four years. She has witnessed the authorities´ lack of interest, and their incompetence. Despite of these obstacles, Maria is still fighting to find Christian. This is her main goal; she still hopes to learn what happened, to find those responsible and to have the state judge and condemn them.

Have the Mexican Human Rights Constitutional Amendment and the new Amparo law brought changes in the human rights situation in this country? Maria´s case proves that to fulfill the Reforma and change the situation of human rights in Mexico, the government must consider that – like Maria – hundreds of people are trapped in this labyrinth, surrounded and attacked by an enormous and useless bureaucracy which only serves to turn the families of those who have disappeared into further victims. Could the Reforma and the new Amparo Law solve those problems? How? It is now the Mexican Government´s turn to speak.

This post is also available in: Spanish

Author profile

Ethel Nataly Castellanos-Morales is a Ph. D. Candidate at the Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas-UNAM, México.

Camilo Ernesto Castillo-Sánchez is a Ph. D. Candidate at the Universidad del Rosario, Bogotá-Colombia.


Ethel Nataly Castellanos-Morales and Camilo Ernesto Castillo-Sánchez, “The Mexican Human Rights Constitutional Amendment and Impunity: Victims in a Labyrinth,” (OxHRH Blog, 26 July 2014) <> [date of access].

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