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24 May 2024 | Commentary

Five Priorities for Mexico’s Next President

On June 2, Mexico will hold elections for around 20,000 posts, including the presidency, the entire federal Congress, nine governorships and thousands of state and municipal offices.

The incoming president will be tasked with addressing important rule of law and human rights challenges that, while not new, persist or have worsened during the six-year term of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The need to improve access to security and justice, in the face of high levels of impunity and criminality, means that these elections must be viewed as an opportunity, whether the ruling party faces change or continuity. Here are five human rights and rule of law priorities for the next president:

  1. Reversing militarization. The last three six-year presidential terms have been characterized by the deployment of the armed forces in policing tasks. Under López Obrador, Mexico has experienced a growing militarization of civilian tasks within and outside the security sphere. Today, the armed forces are not only in charge of policing tasks but have also taken on roles in migration enforcement, ports and customs, construction of tourism and infrastructure megaprojects, airport and business administration, among others.

Thus, the State has concentrated more and more power and funding in military institutions known for their opacity, lack of adequate civilian controls, and history of serious human rights violations. This distorts civil-military relations and is a risky path for human rights not only now but in the future. It is therefore essential to move towards demilitarization and prioritize the consolidation of civilian institutions.

  1. Reducing impunity and the power wielded by criminal groups. Organized crime groups use violence to exert control over territories, markets, and other activities, extorting various sectors of the population. 

Decades of militarization have not solved these problems, because the power wielded by criminal groups is due in large part to overwhelming levels of impunity and tolerance by —or collusion with— members of the State itself.

Significantly reducing violence and crime requires prioritizing the dismantling of collusion mechanisms between public and private actors. In addition, the country’s prosecutors’ offices must evolve to increase their effectiveness, since currently more than nine out of ten crimes committed against the population go unpunished and the vast majority of crimes investigated are not brought before judicial authorities.

  1. Changing immigration policy to prioritize human rights. Under pressure from the U.S. government, the López Obrador administration has increased the containment and detention of migrants. It has also reinforced the militarization of its borders, and has participated in border policies that place people in grave danger, such as Remain in Mexico, Title 42, limiting asylum seekers’ access to the U.S. border in connection with the CBP One appointment system, among others.

The next government must break this cycle and make people’s safety the cornerstone of its policies. This requires addressing the violence and extortion perpetrated against migrant families and individuals in Mexican territory and expanding access to protection and other legal pathways for migrants who choose to stay in Mexico. Likewise, migration policy and foreign policy must contribute to creating durable solutions for the large population of displaced people in the hemisphere, a reality that is not going to change in the short or medium term even as countries work to address the root causes of forced migration.

  1. Strengthening the search for and identification of the disappeared. Approximately 114,000 people are recognized as disappeared and missing in Mexico. Countless families and collectives, led mostly by women, have mobilized to search for their loved ones, often risking their lives in the process. After an initial phase of institutional advances in this area, the López Obrador administration has taken steps backwards by abandoning the National Human Identification Center (Centro Nacional de Identificación Humana, CNIH) and weakening the work of the National Search Commission (Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda, CNB). Additionally, the National Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) has yet to fully implement the National Forensic Data Bank (Banco Nacional de Datos Forenses, BNDF), a tool mandated by law. 

Fully reestablishing search and identification efforts should be a human rights priority. The new government should establish a dialogue with the country’s family search collectives to understand the reality they face and ensure their voices are heard in decision-making, and should ensure protection for those searching for their disappeared loved ones.

  1. Ending attacks on the separation of powers, human rights defenders, and the press. The last few years have been marked by continuous attacks on the judiciary by the federal executive branch. The president and other officials have exhibited, blamed, and announced criminal complaints against judges in response to adverse judicial rulings. The president is currently promoting constitutional reforms to weaken the judiciary and to eliminate or redesign various institutions created to serve as democratic checks on the executive branch.

The president has also publicly attacked the work of human rights organizations and journalists, sought to cast doubt on the agenda of the feminist movement, and denied military spying on activists despite clear evidence. This takes place in a country where dozens of human rights defenders and/or journalists are murdered every year, making Mexico one of the most dangerous countries to work in these fields.

Attacking the separation of powers and seeking to silence critical voices weakens the protection of the population’s rights. The incoming government should end these attacks in order to strengthen Mexico’s democracy. 

Solving these challenges requires that the authorities elected on June 2 overcome various failed policies of both the current and previous administrations. Instead of continuing with counterproductive models, authorities should base their policies on data, prioritize the consolidation of fully functional and accountable civilian institutions, and take into account the voices of victims and society in their legitimate demands for protection of their human rights, security, and access to justice.