President Vicente Fox Sends Congress Proposal to Protect Human Rights through Constitution

Article excerpt

President Vicente Fox has proposed a change to the Mexican Constitution that would strengthen the legal standing of human-rights protections in Mexico. Under the proposal, Fox has asked the Congress to modify Article 89 of the Constitution to include protections of individual rights. The proposal is based in part on recommendations by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR).

The proposal would empower the federal judicial and executive branches to intervene in state and local cases to protect human rights. The proposal would also expand opportunities for court injunctions and allow government human rights commissions to file court challenges on constitutional grounds. The commissions are now limited to making recommendations.

UN agency, federal human rights commission endorse proposal

Andres Kompass, the UNHCHR's representative in Mexico, said stronger laws would have allowed the federal government to intervene sooner in the cases involving the murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez over the past decade.

The Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR) had been reluctant to intervene in the investigations on the premise that these cases were the jurisdiction of authorities in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua state (see SourceMex, 2003-04-30 and 2003-07-30).

"(The proposal) means that in a case like Ciudad Juarez we shouldn't have to wait 10 years for federal institutions to take over," said Anders Kompass, the UNHCHR's representative in Mexico.

Earlier this year, Fox appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the murders, but this decision came only after strong pressure from domestic and international human-rights organizations (see SourceMex, 2004-02-04).

Kompass called the Fox proposal a step in the right direction. "It's exactly what we want, taking into account that the majority of human rights violations take place out in the states," he said.

The Fox plan also received the endorsement of the Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH), a semi-independent human rights agency that is affiliated with the federal government. "This is a precedent-setting document, which was put together with the consensus of diverse political and civil interests," said CNDH director Jose Luis Soberanes Fernandez.

The Congress has yet to take a vote on Fox's proposal, but the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) offered its guarded support to the document. "This is similar to a plan we put forth in the Chamber of Deputies in March," PRD spokespersons said.

But the center-left party also took the opportunity to criticize Fox for the lack of progress on human-rights protections during his administration. "Torture, disappearances and murders are continuing unabated," said the PRD. "The victims are women, union members, activists, campesinos, and human-rights advocates."

Non-governmental organizations criticize plan

Fox's proposal did not receive acclaim from nongovernmental human-rights organizations, who accused the administration of not consulting with them when drafting the document. "This is a lack of respect not to inform those of us that have sought such a plan for more than a year and a half," said Miguel Concha Malo of Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Francisco de Vitoria. "This authoritarian decision brings into question the federal government's intention to push true changes in the area of human rights."

Furthermore, said Concha, the proposal is weak because it lacks mechanisms to incorporate most recommendations from independent international human-rights groups.

The Asociacion de Familiares de Detenidos, Desaparecidos y Victimas de Violaciones a los Derechos Humanos (AFADEM) described Fox's proposal as cosmetic. …