Press Release

IACHR Reminds Mexico of Its International Human Rights Commitments Concerning Citizen Security

July 25, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reminds Mexico of its international commitments and highlights the inter-American standards developed by international human rights institutions concerning domestic law and order and citizen security. This reminder follows the adoption on May 11, 2020, of the Agreement enabling the permanent Armed Forces to conduct extraordinary, regulated, supervised, subordinate, and supplementary law and order tasks.

The Agreement says that, over a five-year period, the Armed Forces are to conduct law and order tasks alongside the National Guard, while this police corps improves its structure, capacity, and territorial presence. The Agreement also says that the Armed Forces will need to acknowledge and protect human rights “in their support for law and order tasks.” The Agreement further says that the Armed Forces are to be supervised by the internal oversight committees of the relevant institutions.

The State told the IACHR that the Agreement complied with several provisions held in the country’s Constitution, which grant the presidency the power to regulate the National Guard. The State further noted that, in the Agreement, the Armed Forces take on for a period of five years the obligation to conduct any operations necessary to assist civilian authorities—who remain in charge of law and order tasks, including the role of first responder—in an extraordinary, regulated, supervised, subordinate, and supplementary capacity. According to the State, the Armed Forces had constantly carried out these tasks in several past administrations, without legal backing. The State noted that, once this five-year period expires, they are set to return to their barracks.

Several national and international human rights organizations have publicly expressed their concern about the Agreement’s compatibility with the international human rights obligations that the Mexican State has voluntarily accepted concerning law and order. In this context, the IACHR deems it appropriate to stress the Mexican State’s international law commitments concerning law and order, as well as the standards and recommendations made in the inter-American system for the protection of human rights.

The IACHR noted in its  that the right of all persons to personal safety is upheld in the American Convention on Human Rights and includes an obligation to protect and safeguard this right without discrimination. These obligations refer not only to the direct actions of officers of the State in charge of preserving law and order—whether police officers or soldiers—but also to their omissions and expressions of acquiescence. The State must prevent crime and investigate, prosecute, and punish individuals who commit crimes. And it must provide reparations to people affected by crimes committed by third parties or by abuse committed by its own officers in security operations, in keeping with its own obligations, stemming from the American Convention. The State must seek to give victims and their families a central role in defending their own rights, their access to justice, and their fight against impunity. The Inter-American Court also says that, as a general rule, preserving domestic law and order and citizen security primarily corresponds to civilian police forces. However, the Armed Forces may exceptionally get involved in law and order tasks, as long as their involvement remains extraordinary, subordinate, and supplementary and is adequately regulated and supervised. All these categories are substantive, rather than simply nominal.

Civil society organizations have expressed concern that the Agreement fails to explain the exceptional nature of the involvement of the Armed Forces in law and order efforts, since the budget for their operations mentions a series of fragments of the National Guard Act that, together, cover all the public security tasks that are carried out in Mexico. Regulation of the actions of the Armed Forces is allegedly also not clear. The regulations that are said to provide a legal framework for their involvement are currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation because procedures concerning transparency, investigation, and accountability are being questioned.

Concerning oversight, the Agreement leaves supervision and control of the actions of the Armed Forces to the internal supervisory board of each branch of the Armed Forces, without setting up an independent, transparent, and impartial accountability mechanism. Further, the Agreement says that the Ministry of Security and Civilian Protection, the National Defense Ministry, and the Ministry for the Navy must “coordinate” their efforts to decide how the Armed Forces are to supplement the work of the National Guard. The Agreement does not explicitly mention the supplementary, subordinate nature of the Armed Forces to police forces, nor the institution and official in command of operations.

The State told the IACHR that, according to Mexico’s Constitution and also to the content of this Agreement, it is federal or local civilian authorities who must investigate any crimes committed by military officers against civilians, whether while on duty or in connection with events that happened while they were on duty.

In its 2016 report , the IACHR noted that, in the Americas and especially in Mexico, experience shows that the involvement of the Armed Forces in domestic security efforts usually entails violence and serious human rights violations, and that this problem is compounded by the impunity that tends to prevail in cases involving military officers. The IACHR recommended that Mexico develop a plan for the gradual withdrawal of the Armed Forces from public security tasks, strengthen police forces, adopt a general law regarding the use of force, and create an accountability mechanism that is activated whenever lethal force is deployed.

In its most recent , the IACHR found that, while the National Guard was normatively created as a civilian body with police functions, its transitory make-up including military personnel and a military-type structure casts doubt precisely on its civilian nature and on the demilitarization of public security. The IACHR further noted several challenges concerning the creation of an independent and impartial accountability system for the actions of its law enforcement officers—including those belonging to the Armed Forces—and the release of transparent information about operations where lethal force is used.

Concerning the use of lethal force, the Inter-American Court has detailed the criteria that all supervision mechanisms need to meet to ensure accountability and to monitor the use of force by domestic law enforcement officers. The Court has said that civil society must be allowed to get involved and that information needs to be released to allow for improvements and feedback, to enable an assessment of how effective existing supervision and oversight mechanisms are, and to ensure supervision of police raids before and after force is used, and also while force is being used.

The IACHR highlights the retroactive adoption of the five-year limit that is specified in the Agreement, as well as its impact on arrests and due process.

Concerning the Agreement’s assessment by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, the Commission reminds Mexico of the inter-American standards and international law standards mentioned above. These standards require that public policies regarding security and the fight against crime prioritize the use of an efficient institutional structure with a human rights approach. The Commission also encourages the State to implement in public security operations accountability measures that reflect international standards and the applicable IACHR recommendations.

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

No. 178/20