International Rights Groups Urge Mexico’s President to Veto Flawed Security Law

NEW YORK—Ten international human rights groups including the Open Society Justice Initiative are calling on Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto to veto a new security law that will enshrine the role of the country’s military in domestic law enforcement.

The new legislation regularizes the domestic role of the armed forces, which were first deployed in 2006 by President Felipe Calderón in an effort to combat organized criminal groups. It does nothing to increase the transparency of military operations or accountability for military personnel who commit abuses, fueling fears that it will leave ordinary Mexicans at the mercy of arbitrary acts of violence.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, said: “This proposed new security law will hand the Mexican military more responsibility with less accountability, and it undermines Mexico’s legal and democratic traditions. We urge President Peña Nieto to veto a bill that poses a grave threat to ordinary citizens, and to the country’s democracy.”

Between 2006 and 2016, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission received almost 10,000 complaints of abuse by the military—including more than 2,000 during the current administration. Rights groups have also documented numerous cases in which military personnel ostensibly involved in law enforcement activities were implicated in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and sexual violence.

Only a handful of these complaints have been properly investigated.

The Justice Initiative has argued that the widespread and systematic nature of the torture, killings, and disappearances by both federal and state forces in Mexico, as well as by the Zetas drug gang, rises to the level of crimes against humanity under international law. 

In a sign of their concern over the proposed new security law, the 10 international human rights groups have also announced the formation of a new coalition, the International Observatory for Mexico, whose mandate will be to observe and document the country’s human rights situation.

In addition to the Justice Initiative, the observatory’s inaugural members include: Amnesty International, the Center for Justice and International Law, the Due Process of Law Foundation, the German Network for Human Rights in Mexico, Latin America Working Group, Peace Brigades International, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Washington Office on Latin America, and the World Organisation Against Torture.

The observatory will also advocate with Mexican authorities to remind them of their international legal obligations, raise concerns with and seek the support of the international community, and seek to lend support to domestic civil society groups.

Since Mexico deployed the armed forces domestically in 2006, more than 100,000 people have been killed and more than 30,000 have gone missing. Homicide rates dropped in 2014 and 2015, but have climbed steadily since, with 2017 on track to be the deadliest year in Mexico in two decades.