(Washington, D.C.) – President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s plan to create a military-controlled National Guard is the wrong approach to Mexico’s public security crisis, Human Rights Watch said today. Deploying the military to contain criminal violence has produced widespread human rights violations – including executions, enforced disappearances, and torture – and underscores why the military should not be used for law enforcement.

On November 14, 2018, the president-elect proposed the creation of a National Guard as the government’s “primordial instrument” for promoting public security. The new body will, at least initially, be made up largely of military troops. It will be trained by the military and be under the command of the Defense Ministry.

Mexican Army special forces parade commemorating the 198th anniversary of Mexico’s independence at the Zócalo Square in Mexico City, September 16, 2008.

© 2008 AFP/Getty Images

“López Obrador is inheriting a human rights catastrophe that has been caused in large part by the militarization of public security in Mexico,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “By doubling down on that failed approach, he is making a colossal mistake that could undercut any serious hope of ending the atrocities that have caused so much suffering in Mexico in recent years.”

During the past two administrations, the use of the military in public security has had predictably disastrous results. The country’s armed forces are made for warfare, not law enforcement, and have a history of grave violations against civilians. They have also failed to reduce the violence in Mexico, and may in fact have been a key factor contributing to the dramatic increase in homicides over these years.

Until now, the deployment of the military in public security functions has been presented as an auxiliary role, to support civilian police. López Obrador’s plan dispenses with this limitation, which was even in the past more in theory than practice.

“We urge López Obrador to reconsider this ill-advised and potentially disastrous policy,” Vivanco said. “He should commit himself instead to improving the country’s civilian police forces, however difficult, which is essential to achieve a sustainable end to the violence and abuse that have flourished under his predecessors.”