IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about the adoption of a series of normative changes in Mexico that put the country's National Guard under the operational and administrative supervision of the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA). The IACHR urges the Mexican State to reconsider these changes in order to comply with its international human rights commitments, given the militarization of citizen security.
The IACHR has been monitoring the National Guard since the latter was created, and it has also reviewed the current normative changes for it to be subjected to SEDENA's operational and administrative control. On September 3, the lower house of Mexico's Congress passed a decree that the executive had sent to the legislature to enable changes in several provisos of the Constitutional Law on the Federal Public Administration; the National Guard Act; the Constitutional Law on the Mexican Army and Air Force; and the Act on Promotions and Rewards in the Army and Air Force, regarding the National Guard and public security. The Senate passed the decree on September 9, 2022.
The decree makes substantial changes to the relevant pieces of legislation. Among other aspects, it grants SEDENA the power to appoint the officials who exercise operational and administrative control of the National Guard, even though the Ministry of Citizen Security and Protection is to retain the right to design public security strategies. These changes seek to ensure that the head of SEDENA will be in charge of continuous training for all officers concerning the use of force, the chain of custody, and respect for human rights. The decree states an intention to "facilitate" cooperation between the National Guard and the regular Armed Forces concerning citizen security, as well as to establish common hierarchical structures, tactical training, and promotion policies, among other. The decree that has been adopted also says that military officers who engage in National Guard duties will remain under the jurisdiction of military courts, in case they violate military discipline.
All public policies concerning citizen security must involve institutions that are independent from military forces, with operational and professional civilian police structures in place to effectively enable crime prevention and civilian protection, while ensuring State respect for and protection of human rights. This is essentially different from the goals of the Armed Forces, which focus on defending national sovereignty and provide training aimed at defeating the enemy. The State noted that SEDENA supports civilian public security authorities to achieve a consolidation of the National Guard, but always does so in compliance with the Public Security Strategy issued by the Ministry of Citizen Security and Protection. The State also stressed that the National Guard will remain a civilian institution.
In keeping with inter-American standards, preserving public order and citizen security should be reserved for civilian police institutions. In the case Alvarado Espinoza and Others v. Mexico, the Inter-American Court established that the Armed Forces can only get involved in law enforcement tasks in extraordinary circumstances. In such cases, that involvement needs to be justified. It also needs to be exceptional, temporary, and restricted to strictly necessary actions in any given context, and subordinate and complementary to the work of civilian police forces, as well as regulated and supervised. The State said that all tasks conducted by the Armed Forces in the field of public security strictly respect human rights, the criteria of the Inter-American Court, the Mexican constitution, and all agreements regulating the involvement of the Armed Forces in public security duties.
The IACHR has seen that the constitution and its 2019 reforms consider the National Guard as a civilian institution with police duties, but later temporary National Guard regulations have consolidated its status as an institution with a military-like staff and structure rather than an eminently civilian security institution. This reform package therefore supports the observed, worrying trend to militarize citizen security in Mexico.
The Commission also denounced this trend with regard to the approval of rules that enabled the Armed Forces to 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. The decree not only reinforces this, but also hopes to "facilitate" this role exchange on an institutional level without clear time limits. The State said that the five-year period has not been changed.
Since an on-site visit to Mexico in 2015, the IACHR has assessed the militarization of public security tasks in the country and its role in both the escalation of violence and the high levels of impunity concerning serious human rights violations there. Following its visit, the IACHR recommended that Mexico develop a plan for the gradual withdrawal of the Armed Forces from public security tasks, strengthen police forces, adopt legislation regarding the use of force, and create an accountability mechanism that is activated whenever lethal force is deployed. However, the Commission has been informed that police institutions have instead been weakened at both the local and state levels.
In its 2021 Annual Report, where it reviewed Mexico's progress concerning compliance with the Commission's recommendations, the IACHR warned that demilitarization remained pending, as it had done previously over the period 2015–2020. The Commission therefore repeated its call on Mexico to pursue demilitarization by adopting effective citizen security policies that respect human rights. This implies reconsidering these changes, which would jeopardize Mexico's compliance with its international obligations. Inter-American standards say that, as a general rule, preserving domestic law and order and citizen security primarily corresponds to civilian police forces.
The IACHR acknowledges that the serious violence that has plagued Mexico for several years is a major challenge for the country. Approximately 100,000 people remain missing and there were 15,400 intentional homicides in the country during the first half of 2022, while 15 journalists have been murdered and there have also been more than 500 alleged femicides there so far this year, according to public reports. It is cause for concern that the justification for these changes should stresses that only a structure like SEDENA's, with wide territorial coverage, an operational structure, and military discipline, can address this violent context. This is not enough, given the risks that militarization poses for the defense and protection of human rights from a comprehensive human security perspective, even if the design of the public security strategy remains in the hands of the Ministry of Citizen Security and Protection.
Finally, concerning the accountability system and moves to ensure that military officers who disregard military hierarchies and authority while on National Guard duty will remain subject to military courts, the IACHR calls on the Mexican State to ensure that the competence of military courts remains exceptional. As noted by the Inter-American Court in various decisions and resolutions concerning Mexico, when an officer of the Armed Forces commits an offense that might amount to a human rights violation, their actions need to be judged by civilian courts.
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.