U.N. Report Says Outdated Judicial, Political Systems Inhibit Mexico's Ability to Respond to Human Rights Violations

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, December 10, 2003 | Go to article overview

U.N. Report Says Outdated Judicial, Political Systems Inhibit Mexico's Ability to Respond to Human Rights Violations


In early December, a UN agency issued a stinging report on Mexico's human rights record, criticizing the longstanding structural shortcomings in Mexico's justice and political systems. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), with the assistance of 12 human rights organizations, produced the 224-page report at the request of President Vicente Fox's administration.

The UNHCHR report was released as the Fox government continues to wrestle with investigations of government- sponsored repression against leftists in the 1960s and 1970s and criticisms of the government's inaction on the murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez in the past 10 years (see SourceMex, 2003-10-22).

In addition, other recent reports cite evidence of the Fox's government's shortcomings in protecting human rights. Just days after the UNHCHR report was released, Amnesty International (AI) designated two Tarahumara environmental activists arrested in Chihuahua as "prisoners of conscience," claiming they were thrown in jail because of their work in defense of human rights.

An even more indicting report was published by Accion de Cristianos para la Abolicion de la Tortura (ACAT), which noted that reported cases of torture in Mexico have increased steadily during the first three years of the Fox government, rising from 12 in 2001 to 37 in 2002 and 62 this year.

The UNHCHR report is the most comprehensive investigation to date on the political and structural problems that have led to human rights violations in Mexico, ranging from child- protection laws to labor rights, police torture, and the role of the military and secret police in repression of dissidents.

"This is a combination of principles, hopes, and pragmatism," said longtime human rights advocate Sergio Aguayo, one of four Mexican academics who wrote the 192-page report in conjunction with UN officials. "There is an entrenched system of exploitation and abuse in Mexico, and this is a summary of all its dimensions."

Report presents 32 recommendations

The report offers 32 recommendations to the Fox administration to address the problems. A key recommendation is that the government move toward abandoning a judicial system rooted in 19th-century Napoleonic law, in which judges decide cases based on reading documentary evidence. Instead, the report proposes creating an adversarial system in which a judge would hear oral arguments by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Among other things, the report proposes rejecting confessions obtained by torture as evidence in criminal trials and overhauling a military justice system in which soldiers accused of human rights violations are tried in secret. Also prominent is a proposal for creating new mechanisms to reduce violence against women and curb discrimination against indigenous communities and individuals.

The UNHCHR also urges the government to establish a system of juvenile-justice laws and proposes modernizing labor laws to give workers more freedom from oppressive unions.

"The UN report opens a window of opportunity for progress on human rights in Mexico," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, of the Americas division of New-York based international organization Human Rights Watch (HRW/Americas). "It is crucial that the government use the report's recommendations to craft a national agenda to tackle the country's longstanding human rights problems."

Fox, who has been criticized for paying lip service to the defense of human rights but taking little action, immediately promised to address the concerns listed in the report, but he also defended his administration's efforts to give human rights a higher profile. "One cannot deny that the human rights situation today has improved from what it was only three years ago," said Fox.

As a first step, the president said he would develop a national human rights program to seek ways to implement the 32 recommendations. …

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