In 2014, Mexico’s Constitution was reformed to create a new National Prosecutor’s Office, known as the Fiscalía General de la República. The new Fiscalía will replace the current federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), which has for decades been incapable of effectively investigating crimes and has earned the generalized distrust of citizens.
Unlike the PGR, the Fiscalía will be an independent and autonomous institution, separate from the executive branch. For more than four years, however, Mexican politicians have failed to pass the constitutional and legislative reforms needed to formally create the Fiscalía and to choose the country’s first national prosecutor (fiscal general). Meanwhile, the crisis within the PGR continues and it has even touched on Mexico’s presidential campaigns: there are accusations that the PGR has manipulated investigations into corruption cases in order to benefit or harm certain presidential candidates.
The debate around the Fiscalía in Mexico is important on a regional level: in Latin America and in the United States, there are recent, troubling examples of how the executive branch has misused its power to appoint or designate prosecutors (fiscales) and attorney generals (procuradores), and of how the appointment of officials who are not politically independent and do not have the right qualifications can negatively impact efforts to fight corruption and impunity in the region.
Washington, D.C.—A new report, published today by advocacy groups the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), details how the creation of a new, independent National Prosecutor’s Office will play a critical role in strengthening Mexico’s troubled criminal justice system. The new institution, known as the Fiscalía General de la República, will replace the current Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), which for decades has failed to address rising crime and violence, uphold the rule of law, and hold corrupt officials accountable for their actions, in part due to the PGR’s lack of independence from the executive branch. In the context of the upcoming Mexican presidential debate, the implementation of this new institution will be one of the most important issues that the next president of Mexico will need to address.
“If Mexican politicians are truly committed to addressing corruption and impunity, they must put a stop to political meddling in criminal investigations and establish a strong, autonomous National Prosecutor’s Office,” said Ximena Suárez, WOLA Assistant Director for Mexico, and lead author of the report. “For a decade now, Mexico has tried to address its security problems by sending in soldiers to police the streets, yet last year the country still registered record levels of violence. Instead of relying on use of force, Mexico needs comprehensive solutions that strengthen rule of law and bring justice, peace, and truth to its citizenry. The new, independent National Prosecutor’s Office is fundamental to this approach.”
The report released today, titled “A Fiscalía that Works in Mexico: The Path to Ending Pacts of Corruption and Impunity in the Country,” describes efforts to implement the new, autonomous National Prosecutor’s Office in Mexico, and outlines further measures that Mexican policymakers must take to formally establish this office and ensure that the bad practices that have come to characterize the PGR are not transferred over to the new institution. Human rights and anti-corruption groups heralded the 2014 constitutional amendment which established the National Prosecutor’s Office as a major step towards improving criminal investigations. However, further reforms are needed to ensure that the new office is effective and free from political influence and manipulation.
“The autonomy of national prosecutors’ offices is central to improving rule of law in Latin America. Because Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office currently has to answer to the executive branch, it has never been fully free from political interference in sensitive criminal investigations. That’s why getting a fully autonomous National Prosecutor’s Office up and running is crucial for Mexico’s fight against impunity,” said Úrsula Indacochea, Senior Program Officer for Judicial Independence at DPLF, and coauthor of the report.
The new report recommends several actions for ensuring that the National Prosecutor’s Office, once implemented, is truly independent. This includes barring the automatic transfer of PGR personnel over to the new office without first assessing their capacities and investigating their previous participation in illegal investigative practices, such as tampering with evidence, violating the rights of detainees, and obstructing justice in cases involving powerful political and economic elites. Mexico’s Congress must also establish a transparent and public procedure that allows civil society to participate in the selection process of the country’s first autonomous national prosecutor (fiscal general), who will head the new office and manage the investigation and prosecution of federal crimes.
“For far too long, powerful groups in Mexico have been able to manipulate investigations by the Attorney General’s Office in order to protect themselves and their allies,” said Suárez. “Mexico now finds itself at a crucial crossroads. A truly independent National Prosecutor’s Office would be better equipped to end the pacts of impunity that exist in the country, and to foster truth, justice, and accountability in a society frustrated by the Mexican criminal justice system’s persistent inability to effectively investigate crimes, including human rights violations and acts of corruption.”