IACHR Calls on Mexico to Ensure that Any Changes to its Constitutional Law on the Office of the Attorney General Are Debated with Significant Citizen Participation and Reflect the Country's International Human Rights Commitments

February 22, 2021

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on the Mexican State to ensure that any changes made to its Constitutional Law on the Office of the Attorney General (LOFGR, by its Spanish acronym) are debated with significant citizen participation and with a human rights perspective and reflect the country's applicable international commitments.

On October 7, 2020, a bill was put to the Mexican Senate to seek approval for a new Act on the Office of the Attorney General, aimed at reforming several judicial dispositions that regulate its competence concerning human rights. The relevant legislative proceedings are set to be relaunched soon.

The IACHR notes that the current LOFGR -passed in December 2018- was the outcome of efforts made by a coalition of various organizations. These organizations asked the State to summon a national dialogue and workgroups to jointly design an independent, autonomous, and professional office of the attorney general that ensured access to justice and effectively complied with its investigative duties. It was precisely as a result of this collective construction that this constitutional law came to require that any reviews of the Office of the Attorney General and of crime policies had to be participatory and public. The State said that the proposed changes were based on the experience gained during the first year this law had been in force.

The Commission has been informed that, faced with a citizen request for an open parliament concerning this bill, the Senate opted to launch an online questionnaire active from December 21, 2020 until January 6, 2021. This questionnaire might be deemed to restrict citizen participation in violation of inter-American standards. Based on citizens' right to participate -held in the American Convention on Human Rights- the IACHR noted that active participation by individuals in public decision-making is a right that needs to be enforced, as well as a State obligation. For the IACHR, launching consultation and deliberation mechanisms is not enough to promote effective participation, which also requires the adoption of contributions made through these mechanisms. Inter-American standards have also addressed how important it is to include victims of human rights violations in efforts to design reparation programs. The IACHR notes that citizen participation enables the adoption of the experiences, perspectives, and views of the people and groups who hold the rights that specific measures seek to safeguard.

The Commission reminds the State that the principles of social participation and of the production of information and access to information are important to ensure transparency and accountability in the development of public policies with a human rights approach. A little over two years after the LOFGR was passed, the IACHR asks the State to ensure that any proposed changes are debated in broad, duly informed, and participatory talks. The State should activate in good faith institutional mechanisms for citizen participation, so any changes that are made reinforce respect for human rights and protect these rights and are the result of an open, deliberative, and widely participatory process.

Civil society organizations and international human rights organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross and several special mechanisms of the United Nations have expressed their concern about the impact of the proposed changes. These changes would affect victims' judicial guarantees, the involvement of the Office of the Attorney General in interinstitutional coordination bodies, and the search for missing persons, all of which imply a failure to comply with the Mexican State's international obligations concerning human rights.

Regarding judicial guarantees for victims and their families, based on the public information available, the proposed changes could excessively restrict or even eliminate victims' rights to be involved in planned investigations, to attend proceedings, to submit expert evidence, or to access a translator or an interpreter, among other rights they currently hold. The IACHR reminds the Mexican State that these expressions of the right to judicial guarantees and legal protection are enshrined in the American Convention. Ensuring individual merit and professional ability in the recruitment of justice officials is essential to promote access to justice. The State has stressed that the judicial guarantees of victims and their families are also upheld in other legal frameworks and are not being subjected to any changes or reforms.

The Commission stresses the relevant role played by the Office of the Attorney General in many mechanisms for interinstitutional coordination, concerning the protection of journalists and human rights defenders, efforts to prevent and punish human trafficking, the rights of women, and the search for missing persons. Public prosecution institutions play a crucial normative role to prevent, investigate, and punish rights violations. The Commission is therefore concerned about potential changes that exclude the Office of the Attorney General from these mechanisms. In this context, the State noted that there are no plans to remove the Office of the Attorney General from these mechanisms, and that the proposed reform only seeks to change the way the Office cooperates and coordinates its efforts as an autonomous institution. The Commission reminds the Mexican State that comprehensive compliance with its human rights obligations requires dialogue, cooperation, and joint efforts by various State institutions.

Finally, the IACHR is particularly concerned about statements issued by the National Committee to Search for Missing Persons and by the National System to Search for Missing Persons. Both have warned of the Office of the Attorney General's exit from the System, the repeal of federal competence criteria to investigate crimes involving forced disappearances and disappearances perpetrated by individuals, and the repeal of the express obligation of the Office of the Attorney General and of public prosecutors' offices in the states that make up Mexico to coordinate their efforts with committees to search for missing persons. The IACHR has stressed that search efforts, investigations, and interinstitutional coordination are interlinked and complement each other to ensure effective searches. The Commission further reminds the Mexican State that, from a human rights perspective, public policies concerning the search for missing persons need to be transparent and visible and must be developed and implemented at all times with the participation of victims and of civil society organizations. The State has a duty to ensure coordination among all institutions and mechanisms whose cooperation may be necessary for effective, comprehensive, and timely searches, as well as to remove any internal obstacles that preclude this interinstitutional coordination.

The Commission urges Mexico to widely debate reforms of the LOFGR framework, to ensure open, transparent legislative discussions, to consider citizen initiatives and concerns, and to enable an assessment of the impact of potential changes on the country's compliance with its international obligations concerning human rights. The IACHR is willing to provide the State with technical assistance, to ensure that the principle of social participation is integrated in public policies and to strengthen institutions in order to protect the rights to truth, justice, and victim reparation.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 037/21