The Mexican Senate is debating a new “internal security” law that has human rights advocates concerned that the measure could lead to the militarization of the country’s public security forces.
Already approved by Mexico’s lower house (the Chamber of Deputies), the Ley de Seguridad Interior creates a legal framework for the armed forces to operate in law enforcement matters.
The law would, in certain circumstances, allow civilian authorities to be placed under the command of the military.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the law is “not the answer” to the nation’s security problems. “(It) risks weakening incentives for the civilian authorities to fully assume their law enforcement roles,” he said.
President Enrique Peña Nieto and legislators from the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and conservative Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) believe the law is necessary to permit the armed forces to intervene in situations that local or federal police are ill-equipped to control.
As well as the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) and Mexico’s Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) have criticized the law, saying it could be easily abused, in particular to suppress legitimate civilian protests.
In a press bulletin, the CIDH stressed that the separation between “interior” security, which should be in the hands of the police, and “national” security tasks corresponding to the armed forces, should be “clear and precise.”
The armed forces have been deployed in anti-narcotics duties for more than a decade, ever since President Felipe Calderon declared war on Mexico’s powerful drug cartels. While their work is generally supported by the majority of the population, reports of extrajudicial executions, torture and forced disappearances have been brought to the attention of human rights organizations.
Rather than increasing the presence of soldiers on the streets of Mexico, human rights advocates and civilian organizations are demanding they are removed from duties that should be carried out by police forces.
Despite sweeping reforms to Mexico’s judicial system – including the introduction of court-based trials – crime has increased during Peña Nieto’s presidency. Homicides in particular have spiked dramatically – almost 21,000 nationwide through October.
The creation of professional, incorruptible and respected police forces has been a major goal of the Peña Nieto administration.