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13 Dec 2017 | Commentary

International Human Rights Bodies, Civil Society Groups Share Concerns on Mexico’s Internal Security Law


On November 30, 2017, Mexico’s lower house of Congress passed a proposed Internal Security Law (Ley de Seguridad Interior) and sent it to the Senate for a vote. In response to public outcry from civil society, human rights and security experts, and national and international human rights bodies, on December 8, President Enrique Peña Nieto called on the Senate to engage in serious dialogue with opponents of the law and to consider their concerns before voting on the bill. Despite the president’s request, the Mexican Congress approved the Internal Security Law on Friday, December 15, and turned it over to President Peña Nieto to sign it into law. On December 22, the Interior Security Law came into effect.

Listed below are recent statements from national and international human rights bodies and civil society organizations expressing concern over the Internal Security Law:

International human rights bodies

In a joint statement, various United Nations experts warned that giving the armed forces a leading role in security matters could weaken the protection of human rights in Mexico:

“The increased role of the armed forces without proper control systems and accountability may create the conditions for the repetition of human rights violations such as those committed since the armed forces were assigned a leading role in the fight against crime…. It is very alarming that such a far-reaching legislative initiative with such a profound potential impact on human rights is being carried out in such a hasty manner and without the proper involvement of victims of human rights violations, civil society organizations, national human rights institutions and international organizations”. (Dec. 14, 2017)

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged Mexico not to pass the proposed Internal Security Law:

“Adopting a new legal framework to regulate the operations of the armed forces in internal security is not the answer. The current draft law risks weakening incentives for the civilian authorities to fully assume their law enforcement roles…. The draft law, as approved by the Chamber of Deputies, contains worrying elements, and would allow for civilian authorities to be under the command of the armed forces in some circumstances. The authorization of the engagement of the armed forces in law enforcement is not accompanied by adequate controls and oversight, and the legislation does not contain adequate assurances, in line with international human rights standards, against the unlawful, arbitrary or excessive use of force.” (Dec. 5, 2017)

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern about the Internal Security Law and the consequences of militarizing public security in Mexico:

“The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding draft legislation on internal security in Mexico, which includes provisions that are contrary to human rights standards…. In its visit to Mexico in 2015, the Commission confirmed with concern the involvement of the armed forces in citizen security activities and increased human rights violations as a result, including cases of extrajudicial executions, torture, and forced disappearances, as well as higher levels of impunity.” (Dec. 4, 2017)

Mexican civil society

The Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, Centro Prodh), warned that the Internal Security Law would exacerbate violence in Mexico:

“The evidence demonstrates that the large-scale militarization of public security over the past ten years has been counterproductive, exacerbating violence instead of reducing it. The rushed approval of the Internal Security Law would mean that Congress opts for a false escape from the nation’s problems: instead of addressing the root causes of the disease, this law would prolong indefinitely the ‘treatment’ that has done so much damage without offering a cure.” (Apr. 25, 2017)

International human rights organizations

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) issued a report about widespread impunity for human rights violations committed by soldiers in the context of Mexico’s militarized public security strategy:

[In many cases of human rights violations committed by soldiers], the implicated soldiers were carrying out public security tasks such as vigilance, counterinsurgency, and combating organized crime…. In other cases, like the Tlatlaya massacre, soldiers have used lethal force. Even with this evidence, Mexico could approve a Law on Internal Security that would essentially validate the continuation of military deployment in the streets.” (Nov. 7, 2017)

Additional information and analysis from WOLA about the Internal Security Law:

Joint Statement – In response to Internal Security Law, international organizations form new coalition to draw global attention to rampant impunity in Mexico (Dec. 19, 2017)

WOLA Statement – Mexico Congress Approves Law Empowering Military to Act as Police (Dec. 15, 2017)

Commentary – By Strengthening Military’s Role in Fighting Crime, Mexico’s Proposed Security Law Will Worsen Human Rights Abuses and Harm Transparency (Dec. 14, 2017)

Press Release – New WOLA Study Reveals Failure of Mexico Attorney General’s Office to Prosecute Soldiers’ Human Rights Violations (Nov. 7, 2017)

Joint Statement – Mexican Congress Should Reject Law that Would Normalize Role of Armed Forces in Public Security Tasks (Nov. 29, 2017)

Commentary – Mexico’s Law on Internal Security: Turning a Blind Eye to Military Abuses in Public Security Operations (Feb. 8, 2017)

Amnesty International directed an open letter to President Enrique Peña Nieto, calling on him to veto the Internal Security Law:

“The law contains no mechanisms for the effective supervision or control of the military, and in particular it fails to ensure that they will be subordinated to and under the command of civilian authorities. The law would allow the armed forces to conduct their own public security operations and even to coordinate police forces, representing a dangerous submission of civilian authorities to military command. .” (Dec. 18, 2017)

Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) presented a report in partnership with five Mexican civil society organizations about crimes against humanity in Mexico, the participation of the armed forces in many of these cases, and the Mexican government’s failure to investigate and prosecute cases of military abuse:

“Every government is responsible for the security of its people. Consistent with that responsibility, Mexico’s federal government has pursued a legitimate goal: subduing organized crime. But it has done so through a policy that deployed the military and federal police to use overwhelming extrajudicial force against civilian populations perceived to be associated with criminal cartels, without adequate regulations on the use of force, and with almost no accountability for any of the abuses that followed.” (June 7, 2016)

Human Rights Watch warned of the deficiencies in the Internal Security Law and called on Mexico to reject it:

“The proposed law does not include measures to strengthen civilian police institutions, nor an exit strategy for ending the use of the armed forces in law enforcement. The law also includes no measures to ensure independent civilian control and oversight of military operations, or to ensure that civilian authorities properly investigate and prosecute military abuses.” (Dec. 7, 2017)