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A soldier walking in Almoloya de Juarez, on the outskirts of Mexico City, January 10, 2016.  © 2016 Reuters/Ginnette Riquelme

(Washington, D.C.) — The Mexican Senate should reject legislation that would enshrine the role of the Mexican armed forces in law enforcement activities, Human Rights Watch said today.

On November 30, 2017, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies approved the Law of Internal Security, which authorizes military involvement in domestic law enforcement activities. But the bill does nothing to increase the transparency of the military operations or accountability for military personnel who commit abuses. The Senate could vote on the bill as early as this week.

“Mexico has relied heavily on its armed forces to fight organized crime for more than a decade, and the results have been disastrous,” said Daniel Wilkinson, Americas managing director at Human Rights Watch. “The country desperately needs to improve its law enforcement capabilities, but turning the job over to a military with a terrible human rights record is not the answer.”

Between 2006 and 2016, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission received almost 10,000 complaints of abuse by the military—including more than 2,000 during the current administration. Human Rights Watch and other rights advocates have also documented numerous cases in which military personal ostensibly involved in law enforcement activities were implicated in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and sexual violence. Impunity remains the norm for these abuses. 

Since Mexico launched its “war on drugs” in 2006—with major deployments of the armed forces to fight organized crime—more than 100,000 people have been killed and more than 30,000 have gone missing. Homicide rates dropped in 2014 and 2015, but have climbed steadily since, with 2017 on track to be the deadliest year in Mexico in two decades.

The proposed law grants the Mexican military broad authority to engage in “internal security,” including in gathering intelligence “by any legal means possible.” The National Human Rights Commission has said that the law’s vague definitions and lack of objective criteria for what constitutes “internal security” mean that the law can apply to “any” situation. For example, the military would be authorized to engage in crime prevention and investigation. 

The proposed law does not include measures to strengthen civilian police institutions, nor an exit strategy for ending the use of the armed forces in law enforcement. The law also includes no measures to ensure independent civilian control and oversight of military operations, or to ensure that civilian authorities properly investigate and prosecute military abuses.

“There needs to be a much more serious debate about security issues in Mexico,” Wilkinson said.  “It’s remarkable that after more than 10 years of terrible and tragic results, the Mexican Congress wants to double down on a militarized law enforcement strategy that has proven to be such a costly failure.”

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