On May 11, a presidential agreement was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation "by which the permanent Armed Forces are available to carry out public security tasks in an extraordinary, regulated, supervised, subordinate and complementary manner." Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this agreement consolidates the role of the Army practically until the end of the current government's mandate, reiterating the concern that since the creation of the National Guard has been expressed by civil society organizations in Mexico and in the world.
Several civil society organizations have spoken out against this decree. The collective #SeguridadSinGuerra (Security without war) issued a statement highlighting that the agreement empowers the Armed Forces to carry out tasks without external controls and without accountability mechanisms, which normalizes a practice that dates back to the government of Felipe Calderón: the militarization of public security without control and outside the constitutional mandate1.
Meanwhile, the Office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights ruled on this matter in a statement in which mentions that (...) although the intervention of the Armed Forces in public security tasks is foreseen –under certain circumstances–, (…) the published Agreement does not contain information or provisions that allow evaluating its conformity with the constitutional and international standards on the matter2. Similarly, the Office calls for a review of the decree, (...) with the aim of guaranteeing respect for human rights and the safety of the population, while strengthening civilian public security institutions in Mexico, as well as the design of an exit route that materializes the gradual, orderly, verifiable withdrawal and with defined deadlines of the Armed Forces, of tasks that are not their own”3.
In a recent article published by Nexos magazine, researchers point out at least 5 reasons why the decree does have effects for both the authorities and the general population4. Contrary to what some people have argued as a "mere formalism or procedure"5, analysts mention, among other points, that the agreement takes to the maximum possible limit the intervention of the Armed Forces in public security tasks, that a very wide catalog of functions that will be carried out by the navy and the military is established, and that who will oversee their own actions will be the internal control bodies of the Secretaries of National Defense and the Navy. In its analysis, it is concluded that "the issuance of the agreement has serious problems of constitutional and conventional regularity, because it does not fully motivate or comply with the principles of extraordinary, regulatory, fiscal, subordinate and complementary nature, established both in the Constitution and in the mandatory criteria of the Inter-American Human Rights Court”6.
Since the beginning of the “war on organized crime,” which started early on of Felipe Calderon’s administration in 2006, Mexico has faced a context of extreme violence and insecurity that has seriously affected the human rights panorama in the country. The public security policies implemented since then, have focused on fighting organized crime with a militarization strategy that has led to a drastic increase in human rights violations. This panorama has affected and put human rights defenders and the population in general at greater risk. In the words of Santiago Aguirre, Director of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juarez Center for Human Rights, “continuing to militarize security will not reduce persistent violence and will create risks for human rights”.7
Mexican civil society organizations have on many occasions made recommendations about structural reforms and practices that the Mexican government should implement to improve the situation, especially the impunity, violence and the security strategies that have been implemented. Their ideas have been reflected in the recommendations made by the human rights mechanisms within the United Nations and the Inter-American system throughout recent years.8
Faced with this current panorama, we express concern for the reasons stated by civil society regarding the presidential agreement. We reiterate that it is of utmost importance to consult and include human rights defenders in the elaboration and implementation of public policies to ensure a human rights perspective. Likewise, it is essential to provide human rights training, including training about the work and the importance of human rights defenders to civil and military authorities who are responsible for implementing public security policies and administering justice, as well as establishing efficient internal mechanisms to evaluate and sanction and follow up on these trainings.
PBI Mexico believes that if defenders do not have enough space and sufficient security guarantees to be able to promote social changes, the transition to the rule of law and full democracy will be strongly compromised.