Congress Approves Constitutional Changes to Increase Independence for Human Rights Commission

Article excerpt

In early June, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate approved changes to Article 102 of the Mexican Constitution that would transform the Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH) into more of an independent agency. The initiative must be approved by the legislatures of Mexico's 31 states before becoming law.

Under the changes, the CNDH will no longer fall under the jurisdiction of the executive branch, but will answer primarily to Congress. The 10 members of the commission, including the chair, will be named by the Senate through a two-thirds majority vote. The CNDH chair will be required to deliver an annual report on the state of human rights in Mexico to both houses of Congress.

The legislation also gave the CNDH the authority to determine its own budget. However, the initiative failed to enhance the role of the commission, which will continue only to recommend action in cases of human rights abuses but will have no powers of enforcement. In addition, the legislation failed to expand the role of the commission to consider complaints of labor and electoral violations.

Some legislators call reforms insufficient The lack of comprehensive reforms to the commission caused some members of the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) to abstain from the vote in the Chamber of Deputies, while the entire eight-member delegation of the Partido del Trabajo (PT) in the lower house voted against the initiative.

In the Senate, the measure won by a narrow margin of only 104-92, with members of the PRD and other parties citing the need for more comprehensive reforms.

The commission has not been shy about criticizing police, prosecutors, the military, and government agencies, particularly under the leadership of current director Mireille Roccatti. Critics claim, however, the criticisms are merely window-dressing, since the CNDH lacks the power or independence to stop abuses and prosecute violators.

Many Mexican and international human rights organizations have documented cases of human rights abuses under President Ernesto Zedillo's administration and under previous governments. For example, a recent report by the Centro de Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL) accused the administration of failing to act on complaints filed before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) in 1998 regarding cases of torture, forced disappearance, summary executions, and freedom of speech. The CEJIL report, released in early June, made a special mention of the case of Gen. Jose Francisco Gallardo, who was taken into custody in 1993 after publishing an article highly critical of the army's human rights record.

"The attitude of the government toward CIDH recommendations in 1998 has been one of total intransigence," said the Cejil report. "The government has either claimed sovereignty, denied a connection with the cases, or totally ignored the recommendations. …