The Mexican government has announced special protections for federal judges and their families after several justices reported having received death threats.
Many of the death threats have come from attorneys or imprisoned relatives of members of criminal organizations, said Judge Elvia Diaz de Leon, a spokesperson for the Consejo de la Judicatura Federal (CJF), an association that watches over the interests of judges. The imprisoned organized-crime members are accused of crimes ranging from drug trafficking and kidnapping to weapons violations.
Diaz de Leon said it was important not only to denounce the threats but also to take steps to prevent them from being carried out. "Fortunately, experience shows us that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, this kind of threat does not succeed," said Diaz de Leon. "The great majority [of judges] carry out their constitutional duties with excellence, professionalism, and impartiality."
President Vicente Fox's administration offered its full support to the CJF. "The federal government will collaborate with the judicial system at all times to guarantee the security of those who mete out justice so that they don't feel threatened," said presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar.
The Fox administration was not speaking with a united voice, however, with Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal Carranza expressing some doubt about the threats. "I don't know about these death threats. You have to be very careful with this kind of statement," Abascal told reporters. "Often these types of threats or supposed threats are not what they seem, because they create rumors and suggest images, just as we are confronting challenges."
The threats against the judges are not surprising, as organized-crime groups have not hesitated to attack anyone they see as an obstacle, including law-enforcement officers, journalists, and others (see SourceMex, 2005-04-20 and 2005-08-10).
The CJF's decision to openly discuss the threats was somewhat unexpected, and some critics saw the move as an attempt to influence the upcoming presidential and congressional elections in 2006. "We are 10 months away from an election, and insecurity and public safety are increasingly going to emerge as a campaign issue," Armand Peschard-Sverdrup of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, told the Los Angeles Times. "This is not to belittle or diminish the threats the judges are under. All I am saying is you have to keep the violence itself or comments about the violence in perspective, to what extent it's electorally driven."
Ernesto Lopez Portillo, a justice expert at the Instituto para la Seguridad y la Democracia (ISD), took a less cynical view, although he agreed that the CJF might be trying to bring attention to the lack of support for the judicial system. "This may be a cry of protest from the judges that they don't have the resources or training to do what is expected of them, especially in executing very specialized strategies in matters such as fighting money laundering or using protected witnesses," Lopez Portillo said.
Congress proposes system of faceless judges
The threats have prompted Congress and anti-crime groups to propose that Mexico adopt a system of "faceless judges," similar to ones employed in Peru and Colombia. Under those systems, judges, prosecutors, and witnesses had their faces concealed and their voices distorted during a trial. Colombia phased out the system in 1999, partly because of concerns that the principle of due process was being violated (see NotiSur, 1999-06-04). Peru abandoned the practice in 1997.
The concept has gained strong support in the Mexican Senate, where members of all parties have agreed to consider proposals to examine the feasibility of adopting some form of system to grant judges anonymity.
"If we want to strengthen the state we …