On November 6, 2009, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a hearing by the Citizens Commission of Human Rights of the Northwest (Comisión Ciudadana de Derechos Humanos del Noroeste or CCDHN) and the Mexican Commission of the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, A.C. or CMDPDH) concerning the prolonged period of violence in the state of Baja California Norte, where Tijuana is located. The organizations’ objective was to have the state analyze the current situation and identify strategies to end the crisis. They emphasized the role of organized crime in Baja California Norte’s high rate of kidnappings, homicides, and other violent crimes. The hearing underscored a longstanding tension between the need for state intervention to combat organized crime and the need to protect citizens’ rights from government abuses of power.

In an effort to quell rising crime rates, the government has replaced the local police with federal military troops. The organizations before the IACHR alleged, however, that this militarization has resulted in human rights violations, including arbitrary executions and arrests by the military and federal police. In particular, the organizations criticized the government’s use of arraigo, a judicial remedy that allows detention of persons for up to eighty days without judicial review in order to investigate a crime. The organizations allege that arraigos are being used arbitrarily and detainees are held incommunicado in private homes, hotels, and military facilities in violation of due process rights. The civil society groups brought family members of people who have been detained through arraigo, tortured by the military, forced to sign confessions, and threatened if they talked.

Under Article 13 of the Mexican Constitution, “military tribunals shall in no case have jurisdiction over persons who do not belong to the army;” therefore, the organizations argue that when a civilian is arbitrarily detained and questioned by the army, his or her Article 13 rights have been violated because he or she has been subjected to military jurisdiction. Furthermore, the NGO representatives allege that the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduria General de Justicia del Estado), the National Commission for Human Rights (Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos), and other competent organs decline to file reports of torture committed by the military or any government authority. Family members of torture victims testified that they were turned away by the Attorney General when they tried to file claims for missing persons with the excuse that the Attorney General lacked jurisdiction to take such complaints.

The government argued that human rights have been recognized as fundamental in the National Program for Public Security for 2008-2012 (Programa Nacional de Seguridad Pública 2008-2012). Within this plan, the state has increased training for government personnel, including an additional three-month preparation course that touches on human rights for all new police officers. The state pointed to statistics suggesting that under the plan collaboration between the municipal and state levels of police has increased substantially and reiterated that any person could file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office. Moreover, the state argued that 300 percent more weapons have been confiscated since the implementation of the Program for Public Security.

The IACHR did not seem convinced by the state’s arguments and asked the state for a report on the condition of prisons and detention centers. Moreover, Commissioners sought a detailed report on the arraigo process including how judges with jurisdiction over arraigo are selected and under what criteria arraigo can be granted. The IACHR also granted the petitioner organizations’ request for a visit to the prison and detention facilities in Baja California Norte.

Whether the civil society groups will accomplish their goal of banning arraigo altogether and reducing the level of insecurity in Tijuana is yet to be determined. In the meantime, Tijuana will become an international spotlight after the IACHR visit.