Washington, DC—Today, Mexico’s lower house of Congress is expected to vote to create a new National Guard force, fulfilling one of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s primary security proposals. The constitutional reforms, which then need to pass the majority of the state legislatures to be enacted, had attracted significant criticism for furthering Mexico’s dependence on the use of the military in a policing role, even though this has failed to reduce violence in the country and has led to grave human rights violations. However, thanks to pressure from civil society groups, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, international organizations, and victims of human rights violations and their families, Mexico’s Senate did push through important changes to the proposed reforms last week, addressing many of these concerns.
The changes establish the National Guard as a civilian force under civilian rather than military control, while the transitory articles set a five-year limit on using the military in public security tasks until the National Guard becomes fully operational. However, as Mexico’s Congress now moves to draft a set of crucial laws that will determine how the National Guard functions—as well as other security regulations—it is essential that the government ensures these laws comply with international standards and recommendations, while also guaranteeing accountability for human rights abuses committed by soldiers and National Guard members, said the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
“Using the military to do police work has failed to make Mexico safer, more just, or more peaceful,” said WOLA Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights Maureen Meyer. “Preserving the civilian nature of the National Guard in Mexico’s Constitution is an important step towards recognizing that a new approach to public security is urgently needed. Mexican authorities must now commit to strengthening civilian police forces and show that relying on the military is indeed temporary,” said Meyer.
Mexico’s Congress will now have to pass three additional laws within a 60 to 120-day period: an “implementation law” that will define the National Guard’s internal hierarchy, discipline, training, and recruitment procedures, as well as how the new force will coordinate with other public security forces; a “use of force” law that will apply to all security bodies in the country; and a third law that will create a new national detention registry, intended to combat illegal and arbitrary detentions.
“The Mexican government has the opportunity to build a rights-respecting National Guard force, capable of fighting crime while earning the trust of the Mexican people,” said Meyer. “How Mexico’s Congress develops the laws around the National Guard, as well as how President López Obrador utilizes the armed forces in public security during his presidency, will determine if Mexico really is moving away from the militarization of public security.”
While the National Guard is meant to replace Mexico’s Federal Police, its members will initially be drawn from that force, along with the military police, the naval police and some members of the armed forces. Any National Guard members accused of committing a crime will be processed in civilian rather than military courts. However, as past experience shows, Mexico’s civilian justice system has a poor record of investigating and prosecuting human rights crimes involving security forces.
“Mexico’s security forces have committed crimes and human rights violations with almost complete impunity. As the government establishes the framework for the National Guard, it must commit to holding accountable soldiers and any members of the new force who order and commit human rights abuses,” said Meyer.