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I. Federal Law on Monuments and Archeological, Hitorical and Artistic Zones

Mexican experts on archeology have indicated that in Mexico, there is no law comparable to the US NAGPRA.[1] Instead, Mexico’s Federal Law on Monuments and Archeological, Historic and Artistic Zones (FLMAHAZ) provides that historic artifacts and human remains are to be managed exclusively by the Mexican State.[2]

Specifically, this Law states that human remains of individuals that belonged to civilizations that existed prior to the establishment of the Spanish civilization in national territory are the property of the Nation.[3]  Movable and immovable goods produced by those civilizations, as well as fossil remains of paleontological interest of native species, are subject to the same legal regime.[4] 

Movable archeological goods may not be transported or exhibited without authorization from Mexican authorities.[5] Civil authorities must be notified of findings of archeological goods.[6]

All projects aimed at discovering or researching archeological monuments must be either conducted directly by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) or by scientific institutions duly authorized by INAH.[7] Such authorizations determine the terms and conditions that apply to the aforementioned projects.[8]

INAH has the authority to suspend projects that do not have proper authorization and those in which archeological materials are taken.[9] In these instances, INAH may occupy the site where unauthorized operations have taken place and impose pertinent penalties.[10]

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II. Penalties

The FLMAHAZ provides that imprisonment from three to ten years and a fine may be imposed on those who undertake archeological projects (be they through excavation, removal, or by any other means) without proper authorization from INAH.[11] The same penalties may be imposed on those who transport or exhibit a movable archeological good without proper authorization,[12] as well as to those who damage, alter, or destroy such types of goods.[13]

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III. Public Policies

A source specifically addressing whether the FLMAHAZ advances policies supporting the interests of native people could not be located. However, according to Mexico’s anti-discrimination government agency CONAPRED (Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación), indigenous communities are affected by “structural discrimination,” as they have been historically relegated in a wide variety of aspects, including with regard to justice, education, health, and employment, despite public policies aimed at preventing precisely these issues.[14] CONAPRED has indicated that government agencies do not have enough resources to properly serve these communities and that decision makers occasionally ignore their interests.[15]

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Prepared by Gustavo Guerra
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
March 2019


[1] Elisa Villalpando, La Apertura para Visita Publica de Cerro de Trincheras, Sonora, reproduced in 48-II Anales de Antropología 111, 117 (July 2014), http://www.revistas.unam.mx/index.php/antropologia/ article/view/46455, archived at https://perma.cc/B39Z-YYGW. See also Lourdes Marquez et al., Colecciones esqueléticas humanas en México: excavación, catalogación y aspectos normativos 73-75 (2011).

[2] Id. See also Ley Federal Sobre Monumentos y Zonas Arqueológicos, Artísticos e Históricos [Federal Law on Monuments and Archeological, Historic and Artistic Zones], arts. 27, 28, Diario Oficial de la Federación [D.O.F], May 6, 1972, available as amended through 2018 on the website of Mexico’s House of Representatives, at http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/131_160218.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/WG72-U9XX.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. arts. 27, 28, 28 BIS.

[5] Id. art. 29.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. arts. 30, 31.

[8] Id. art. 31.

[9] Id. art. 32.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. art. 47.

[12] Id. art. 49.

[13] Id. art. 52.

[14] CONAPRED, Discriminación Pueblos y Comunidades Indígenas, https://www.conapred.org.mx/index. php?contenido=pagina&id=109&id_opcion=42&op=42 (last visited Feb. 25, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/9F9B-K942.

[15] Id.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020