Participants: State of Mexico
Commissioners: Felipe González Morales; Dinah Shelton; Rodrigo Escobar Gil
Topics: Constitutional Reforms on Human Rights in the State of Mexico
On Monday, March 28, 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) convened a hearing to discuss the substance and status of constitutional reforms in the State of Mexico. In welcoming the distinguished panel of delegates, Commissioner Dinah Shelton noted with relief the positive nature of this hearing in comparison to the others, which are routinely about “deterioration of human rights, negative situations, [and] violations” rather than discernible improvements by a state to strengthen human rights protections enshrined in its constitution. The delegates then set forth several objectives intended by the reforms, among them improving the relationship between the Mexican government and the Inter-American system, bringing Mexico’s constitution into compliance with international human rights norms, and generally broadening the range of rights presently enjoyed by its people. Ultimately, the package will be submitted to an up-or-down vote of the thirty-one states that make up Mexico, meaning there will be no amendments permitted, and sixteen of these states must approve in order for the reforms to enter into force.
In evaluating the present relationship between Mexico and the Inter-American system, both the delegates and Commissioners reached agreement that the relationship should be more fluid and complementary. The Commissioners emphasized that the Inter-American system can provide guidance but remains a forum of last resort, and that reforms should have the effect of enabling both the federal and state governments of Mexico to resolve human rights issues itself. The delegates in response revealed that a proposed bill in Congress provides for better cooperation with the Commission and the Court. Furthermore, the reforms are designed in part to strengthen and better integrate Mexico’s institutions, in particular its judicial system and its national and state human rights commissions, to allow for more effective enforcement of human rights. The reforms also reflect a transformation within Mexico toward a more adversarial system, in which due process is better preserved through the use of oral hearings.
The delegates likewise discussed incorporating international human rights norms recognized by the Commission and Court into its constitution. The delegates conceded that international human rights law has far outpaced its own constitution, and that it is imperative for the nation to “overcome its hubris” and realize the need to be in touch with these developments. Revised Article 1 of the Mexican Constitution grants constitutional ranking to these norms and to the Court and Commission, and includes means of protection. The Senate and judiciary will need to keep closer watch on proposed legislation because of the requirement that they comply with Article 1.
Finally, the reforms are intended to broaden the range of rights enjoyed by the people of Mexico. The delegates emphasized that the reforms must provide constitutional guarantees of legitimate rights and interests, as opposed to just legal rights and interests, and added that new provisions will permit parties to bring suit when a legitimate right has been violated. Specifically, the delegates discussed strengthening the freedom of expression, which is intimately tied to increasing transparency at both the federal and state level and facilitating greater access to information. The reforms also address reparations for human rights violations and place limits on measures permitted during state of emergency. Finally, in what Commissioner Morales deemed an important precedent and model for other states, the reforms revise Article 33, which presently permits the government to summarily deport foreign immigrants without due process.
The atmosphere was therefore characterized by optimism for the future of human rights in Mexico, as the delegation was lauded for attempts by its nation to improve the well being of its people and strengthen its leadership in the international human rights community. The process of getting the requisite number of votes is undeniably a complex political one, the delegates noted, but they nonetheless expressed confidence that it could be achieved within the year.