Mexico City: Protest Arbitrary Arrests of Young Gay Men in Zona Rosa, Cuauhtemoc District


A group of seven young gay male students were arrested on July 20, 2004, in Zona Rosa, Cuauhtemoc District, Mexico City, and charged with engaging in sex work. Police had no evidence that they were sex workers, and they had not made any attempt to collect such evidence. Three of the men were required to pay fines in order to be released and four others spent 13 hours in custody. According to a policewoman, the police targeted the friends because two of men were holding hands. Similar incidents have occurred in recent months, in flagrant violation of the country’s very progressive Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination (that includes sexual preferences and their expression in public).

IGLHRC joins local activists in asking for letters to be addressed to the authorities of Cuauhtemoc District to protest arbitrary arrests of gay people in the area.


Please write to:

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
Federal District Head of Government (Jefe de Gobierno del Distrito Federal)
Fax +52 55 5521 0028
Virginia Jaramillo Flores
Cuauhtemoc District Head of Government (Jefa Delegacional – Cuauhtemoc)
Aldama y Mina s/n, Col. Buenavista. C.P. 06350
Distrito Federal, Mexico
Tel. +52 55 5535 0039 or 5535 0079
Emilio Alvarez Icaza
Chair of Mexico City Human Rights Commission (Presidente de la Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Distrito Federal)
Fax +52 55 5578 2578

And please send a copy to:

Agencia Notiese


Dear Ms. Jaramillo,

We write to you with deep concern about the reported harassment -including arbitrary arrests- of gay men by police officers in the Zona Rosa area. In the most recently reported incident, seven young gay men were arrested on July 20 and accused by the police of engaging in prostitution, without any evidence provided by police officers and without any record of neighbors having complained. Three of those arrested had to pay fines to be released and the other four spent 13 hours in custody.

Police officers involved in the incident told the men who were arrested that the police want to "clean up" Zona Rosa of its gay population, and also that what made the young men targets for arrest was the fact that two of the men in the group were holding hands.

Being gay, lesbian, transvestite or bisexual is not a crime in itself. Indeed, Mexico has a very progressive Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination that protects diverse sexual preferences and their public expression. Being with a group of friends and/or holding hands with one’s same-sex partner in Zona Rosa in no way can be taken as evidence of engaging in sex work. Thus, the police do not have license to arrest people based only on the assumption that they are engaging in sex work when there is no evidence to support this suspicion, especially when the suspicion is based on inaccurate and discriminatory assumptions. Definite proof of a contravention is required to justify an arrest by the police.

Arbitrary arrest of gay men, for no reason other than expressing affection in public, in a way that could hardly be considered offensive (simply holding hands) contravenes the freedoms and guarantees protected by the district and Federal Constitutions, as well as by international human rights instruments to which Mexico is party, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Interamerican Human Rights Convention.

As the highest authority in the Cuauhtemoc district, it is your duty to ensure that the police desist from these arbitrary arrests and to organize human rights trainings for police officers that address issues of diversity, in order to ensure that the police are qualified to undertake their appropriate work -- that is, to reduce the incidence of crime in the city, and not to punish people simply for being different from the majority.

In 1999, Mexico City was the first district in the country to make discrimination based on sexual orientation a legal offense, setting a precedent that was later followed by other states like Chiapas, Aguascalientes and Nuevo Leon. We encourage you to keep making progress, by agreeing to a dialogue with representatives from the affected communities and looking together for a solution that makes the wonderful promises contained in Mexican law a reality for gay people in the Cuauhtemoc district.


(Your name, organization and address)


On July 20, 2004, a group of young gay male students including Victor Enrique Lopez Diaz, Cesar Solis Sanchez, Hector Perez Perez, Antonio Daniel Sanchez Bonilla and three others who wish to remain anonymous, dined at a restaurant in Lenders street, in the downtown area known as "Zona Rosa" (Pink Zone) in Mexico City.

At about 9.30 pm they left the restaurant with the purpose of returning home. Five policemen –three of them in plain clothes- stopped the group and asked what they were doing, and if they were "de comadres" (a way to ask if they were gays). Unsuspecting, the men said "yes". The friends were pushed against a wall and searched. Antonio Sanchez Bonilla says that policemen were offensive in their questions and remarks. For instance, he was told, "We will search you, but don’t get excited".

None of the policemen produced any identification or showed a search warrant.

Antonio Sanchez Bonilla – in an interview with gay news service Notiese - adds: "We thought it was an operative to find weapons or drugs and that we would be released when they found nothing on us. But they forced us into the vehicles, using a lot of violence".

The seven men were forced to climb into police vehicles –identified with numbers 58028, 58040, 58044 and 58045- and taken to Civic Court Number 3. They kept asking the policemen why they were being arrested, but got no reply.

The seven young gay men spent more than one hour in the police vehicles, moving around the Pink Zone, and heard policemen saying, "We need to fill up the vehicles".

Once at the Civic Court, the young men finally learnt why they had been arrested. A doctor examined them, to check that they had not been beaten, and informed them that they had violated Article 8.11 of the Civic Justice Law in force in Mexico City. The article mentions "incitement to prostitution or the practice of it" as a contravention. The young men were also informed that they had to pay a fine equivalent to 11-20 days of minimum wages or 13-24 hours arrest.

The doctor also commented that their arrest was a consequence of police operatives in Zone Rose aimed at "cleaning it of homosexuals". He also announced that the friends will have the opportunity to make statements before a judge, who will establish the amount to be paid as a fine. He suggested that they mention their condition as students so the fine will be only of 45 Mexican Pesos (about 5 US$).

But the promises did not materialize. The young men were never allowed to talk to the judge. Three of them had to pay 678 Mexican Pesos (about 70 US$) as fine, in spite of having shown their student credentials. The other four remained more than 13 hours in custody.

They were not allowed to make any phone calls, in spite of the law allowing for it. Fortunately, they had cell phones and could use them to call their families.

Six times the young men asked to use the toilets, and they were not allowed, their homosexual condition being mentioned as the specific reason why.

Mr. Sanchez Bonilla says that when his parents came to pay the fine, they were told that their son had been caught offering himself for sex work along Praga Street.

Mr. Cesar Solis (22) says that one of the policemen looked at him and started to touch his own genitals, asking Mr. Solis if he liked the gesture or not.

A policewoman told Victor Lopez that the reason why they were stopped was because Mr. Lopez was holding hands with Mr. Solis, who is his partner.

The seven young men are being advised by Comision Ciudadana Contra Crimenes de Odio por Homofobia (Citizens Commission Against Hate Crimes) and have already submitted a complaint before the Mexico City Human Rights Commission as well as pressed criminal charges for the discriminatory treatment they received.

According to lawyer Rodolfo Millan Dena, from CCCCH, the procedural mistakes committed by local authorities in the case of the seven young men arrested include the following:

  • Failure to produce a written report including the operative, laws violated by those arrested and charges against them
  • If the judge refuses to provide information to those arrested, he/she must provide a written explanation of his/her refusal.
  • The seven young men arrested were not invited to provide witnesses or evidence to support their claims, nor were they asked to contact their lawyers.
  • Unemployed people and students are allowed to pay reduced amounts as fines. Even though the seven young men had informed the police that they were students, their condition was not taken into account at the time of imposing fines.
  • No receipts for the fines were supplied. And the amount imposed is above the maximum accepted by law (450 Mexican Pesos, about 50 US$)
  • Police had no evidence that the seven men arrested were engaged in sex work and no inquiries were conducted to that end.

Local activists report other cases of a similar nature that took place in the last months, also in Zona Rosa. Three of those cases happened between April 9 and 16. Jose (21) and Ross (22) had to pay fines for holding hands and kissing in the street. Alonso Hernandez and his partner Cutberto Hernandez were walking in the street when policemen arrested them "for looking suspicious". Mr. Hernandez, who is a gay activist, has submitted a complaint before the city Ombudsman.


International law

Right to liberty and security of person) is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its Article 3; by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Articles 6 and 9, and by the Interamerican Convention on Human Rights (IAHRC) in its Articles 4 and 7.

Right to equality before the law and to be free from discrimination are protected by the UDHR in its Articles 2 and 7, by the ICCPR in its Articles 2 and 26, and by the IACHR in its Articles 1 and 24.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee affirmed in its decision in Toonen v. Australia (1994) that existing protections against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR should be understood to include sexual orientation as a protected status.

Numerous other human rights mechanisms of the United Nations have subsequently condemned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Right to be free from arbitrary arrest or detention is protected by the ICCPR (Article 9.1) and by the ICHR (Article 7.3)

Right to freedom of expression is protected by the UDHR (Article 19), the ICCPR (Article 19) and the IACHR (Article 13).

Mexico has ratified the ICCPR in 1981 and the IAHRC in 1982. The UDHR is considered customary law for all Member States of the United Nations, including Mexico.

Federal law

Article 4 of the Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination (2003) defines discrimination as "every distinction, exclusion or restriction based on ethnic or national origin, sex, age, disability, social or economic status, health, pregnancy, language, religion, opinion, sexual preferences, civil status or any other, impedes recognition or enjoyment or rights and real equality in terms of opportunities for people".

Article 9 defines as "discriminatory behavior" -among others- "impeding access to public or private education … prohibiting free choice of employment, restricting access, permanency or promotion in employment… deny or restrict information on reproductive rights …deny or condition medical services …impede participation in civil, political or any other kind of organizations … to impede the exercise of property rights … to offend, ridicule or promote violence through messages and images displayed in communications media …to impede access to social security and its benefits … to impede access to any public service or private institution providing services to the public, as well as limiting access and freedom of movement in public spaces … to exploit or treat in an abusive or degrading way …to restrict participation in sports, recreation or cultural activities …incitement to hatred, violence, rejection, ridicule, defamation, slander, persecution or exclusion … promote or indulge in physical or psychological abuse based on physical appearance or dress, talk, mannerisms or for openly acknowledging one's sexual preference [emphasis added].

The Mexican Constitution protects the right to liberty and security of person, including freedom from arbitrary arrest (Article 16). Its Article 133 recognizes the prevalence of international instruments ratified by Mexico.

Local law

On September 2, 1999, the Mexico City Legislative Assembly passed an Amendment to Article 281 of the Federal District’s Penal Code that incorporated discrimination based on sexual orientation as an offense. It was the first Mexican law of an affirmative nature that recognized sexual orientation as a right.

On July 31, 2004, a new Civic Justice Act for the Federal District entered into force.

The concept of "moral offense" has been eliminated from the Mexico City legislation, as well as Article 8.1 that penalized those who "engage in expressions or isolated acts against the dignity of a particular person or persons".

Provisions against sex work remained. Article 24.7 states that "enticement to prostitution or the practice of it" are contraventions. According to the new law, those who hire the services of "a prostitute" will also be punished. Police are only allowed to act against "prostitutes" when "a neighbor or neighbors have complained".


The mission of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is to secure the full enjoyment of the human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation or expression, gender identity or expression, and/or HIV status. A US-based non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), IGLHRC effects this mission through advocacy, documentation, coalition building, public education, and technical assistance.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
c/o HRW
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
NY, NY 10118
t. 1-212-216-1278
f. 1-212-216-1876


To receive our action alerts via email (saving printing costs, postage, and trees), visit our website and select "Action Alerts."


Participation in the Emergency Response Network is free, but contributions are greatly appreciated and needed. Contributions are tax-deductible in the United States. Contributions can be made on your Visa or Mastercard (just include the amount, your account number, and expiration date). Alternatively, contributions can be sent by check via regular mail to the address above.