Mexico Wants to Formalize Use of Army to Fight Crime, Alarming Rights Groups

By Mark Browne | December 14, 2017 | 12:30am EST
A Mexican army graduation ceremony in August 2017. (Photo: Ministry of Defense)

Mexico City ( – A proposed law giving the government formal powers to send the military into the streets to fight crime in Mexico faces unified opposition from human rights groups and the United Nations.

The “internal security” law currently before Mexico’s Senate passed the lower house of Congress last month, pushed through by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) party.

In a statement opposing the proposed law, U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the Mexican government has been using the military to fight organized crime and drug cartels for the past decade, but without success.

“Violence has not abated and many human rights violations and abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances, continue to be committed by various state and non-state actors.”

“Adopting a new legal framework to regulate the operations of the armed forces in internal security is not the answer,” he said.

Zeid said the proposed law lacks adequate assurances against the unlawful, arbitrary or excessive use of force.”

Proponents say the law is necessary in a country roiled by violence, and where police forces are widely viewed as inefficient and corrupt.

Cesar Camacho, the PRI coordinator in the lower house of Congress, defended the law in a Twitter post, saying there was a need to create “a legal framework” to use the military to provide support to local police and law enforcement officials.

He insisted that the law would not be used to quell “peaceful” protests, and would only allow the military to be used to fight crime when the president proclaims an internal security emergency, or when local officials ask for the military’s support.

An expert at the Washington Office on Latin America said use of the military has brought an increase in human rights abuses.

“If you are looking at the record of the past 11 years of the military being deeply involved in combating organized crime, what we have seen is an increase in human rights violations,” said Maureen Meyer, director for Mexico and migrant rights at the think tank.

She said there has been a “real failure to have civilian institutions investigate soldiers involved in crime and human rights violations” and that formalizing the role of the military in crime fighting would only “weaken” efforts to improve civilian law and order institutions.

A website opposing the law created by a citizens’ group calling itself “Security Without War” argues that normalizing the use of the armed forces against crime carries big risks.

“If today state governors haven’t met their responsibility to construct effective policing units, they are even less likely to do so if they have a legal right to cover up their institutional failure with military intervention,” it says.

More than 130 organizations endorsed a statement on the website labeling the law an “attack” on Mexico’s Constitution and a violation of international treaties signed by the government.

Carlos Zazueta, an investigator for Amnesty International Mexico, noted that the Constitution says the government may not deploy military forces inside the country during times of peace.

He said the proposed law raises constitutional issues, and places military authorities above civilian authorities by saying that “all military operations inside the country would be under military control.”

The law also specifies that the government will not make public actions by the military to fight crime when military operations are classified as secret, Zazueta charged.


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