What is the significance of the creation of the National Guard for Mexico?

On 28 February 2019, after a long debate between politicians, opinion leaders, civil society and other national and international actors, Congress approved reforms for the creation of a National Guard, as proposed in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Security Plan for Mexico in November 2018. 

What happens now? What is its significance in a country where the authorities constantly violate human rights? What are the key issues we need to monitor to make sure that Mexico does not keep repeating the same old story?

Key questions about the National Guard:

Have arrangements been completed for creating the National Guard?

Not yet. Amendments to the Constitution require approval by the majority of state congresses. Seven state congresses have already given their approval.  

How will the National Guard be formed and what will happen to the police?

The reform involves the creation of a National Guard, a new public, police and civil safety institution reporting to the Ministry for Security and Public Protection. However, the reform allows the Armed Forces to continue to have a role in public security for a maximum period of five years, either directly, or through the appointment of military personnel to posts in the National Guard.

The reform also requires:

  1. individual states and Mexico City to conduct an assessment and formulate a programme to strengthen their police forces;
  2. Congress to pass laws on the use of force and on the registration of detentions.

For several years now, Amnesty International has recommended the Mexican state pass laws on the use of force and on the registration of detentions.

Can the president appoint military officers to the National Guard?

No. The appointment of military personnel to operational command posts would contravene the provisions made by Congress and international human rights law.

In five years’ time, what will happen to the military personnel who are members of the National Guard?

Amnesty International believes that compliance with the civilian nature of the National Guard will require the Armed Forces to withdraw from public security tasks by the end of the maximum period of five years, or before if possible.

In order to continue being part of the National Guard, all military personnel will have two options:

  1. be discharged from the Armed Forces and register as a civilian in the National Guard, with the corresponding approved rank;
  2. or be reintegrated into the Armed Forces.

What are the remaining problems with this reform (what should we continue to monitor)?

The reform approved by the Senate is unclear about some essential issues. These will need clarification in the law that will make provision for regulating the National Guard.

  • The reform should clearly distinguish and separate the distinct functions of civilian and military personnel in the National Guard and permit the involvement of military personnel only in exceptional circumstances, evaluated on a case-by-case basis and subject to the restrictions imposed by international law.
  • The reform should not allow military members of the National Guard to participate in the investigation of crimes or to act as an ancillary body to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and to carry out arrests only in clearly exceptional circumstances and in accordance with the framework of human rights law.
  • The law on the National Guard should establish accountability mechanisms through competent, independent civilian bodies with the necessary technical expertise.

Does the National Guard present a threat to human rights?

To avoid the National Guard presenting a threat to human rights, Congress should approve as quickly as possible regulations of the body in accordance with international human rights standards, including a mechanism for accountability to an independent civilian body. Congress should also pass a law to adequately regulate the use of force. All National Guard operations must comply with these laws and any abuses must be immediately investigated and, if appropriate, punished.

What controls will exist over the National Guard’s use of force and firearms?

The reform orders Congress to legislate on the circumstances in which force may be used, along with associated procedures and restrictions. Amnesty International has repeatedly recommended the Mexican state to legislate on the use of force, and such a law must observe international human rights law and standards, especially the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms for Law Enforcement Officials.

According to the media, Mexicans see the creation of the National Guard as a positive step towards reducing violence in the country. However, we will need to carefully monitor the situation and speak out if the National Guard starts to represent a threat to human rights in Mexico.