U.N. Releases Controversial Study on Mexican Judicial System

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, April 17, 2002 | Go to article overview

U.N. Releases Controversial Study on Mexican Judicial System


In a study that attracted a storm of controversy in Mexico, a UN judicial specialist concluded that corruption remains widespread in the Mexican court system despite reforms approved in the early 1990s. The report, presented to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva in early April, was prepared by Param Cumaraswamy, a special UN investigator on the independence of judges and lawyers.

Cumaraswamy's report said corrupt practices affect "more than half" of the Mexican justice system, attorneys, and judges. Furthermore, the report noted, civil matters cannot be processed in some states without the payment of a bribe.

The UN legal expert said the system remains corrupt partly because the constitutional changes introduced eight years ago had not done enough to improve the system.

"The transformation process since 1994 has been slow, and impunity and corruption appear to have continued unabated, Cumaraswamy said. " Whatever the changes and reforms, they are not seen in reality."

Cumaraswamy said the corrupt judicial system is one of the reasons why Mexican citizens remain alienated from the government. "People have no confidence in the government, the justice system, so the government needs a kind of confidence-building exercise to win the hearts and the minds of the people," he told reporters.

Cumaraswamy cautiously endorsed President Vicente Fox's decision in November 2001 to investigate the "dirty war" against leftists during the 1970s and 1980s (see SourceMex, 2001-12-05). "The question is whether the special prosecutor will be able to deliver what is expected of him, because the impunity level is quite high in Mexico, as in many Latin American countries," said Cumaraswamy.

One of the major criticisms in the report was against the legal profession, which he said has no common entrance standard, little regulation, and no disciplinary procedures. "If the legal profession is not well-organized, you can imagine how the justice system is going to be organized, because judges and prosecutors come from the same kind of legal training," he said.

Surprisingly, the report was well-received by some members of the legal profession. "There is a level of dishonesty on the part of officials in the judicial system," the Asociacion Nacional de Abogados Democraticos said in a statement. " They hide behind their position so they do not have to be accountable to anyone."

Supreme Court's chief justice disputes report

Cumaraswamy's report received strong criticism from Genaro David Gongora Pimentel, the chief justice of Mexico's highest court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion, SCJN). Gongora said he presented many facts about the Mexican judicial system to Cumaraswamy when he was in Mexico to gather data, but they were not included in the report.

"[The report] is filled with confusions, errors, and omissions that unfortunately make it a document with little credibility," said Gongora, referring especially to Cumaraswamy's allegations that 50% to 70% of Mexican judges are corrupt.

In an article published in early April, the daily newspaper El Universal said the statistics in the UN report are either very inaccurate or the competent authorities simply ignore violations. …

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