Mexican National Guard required to record arrests but not to notify the police, the Supreme Court rules

The National Guard of Mexico, the army group with national police functions, needs to register the arrests they make, but don’t need to notify the police about them the Supreme Court rules. Human rights defenders criticize the military opacity.

National Guard Mexico
National Guard of Mexico during the military parade on Mexican Independence Day in September 16, 2021 | © Guarda Nacional

The Supreme Court of Mexico on January 24 confirmed that the National Guard must record arrests of civilians they make in a registry. But they are not required to inform the police about it.

The National Law of the Detention Registry voted in 2019 sought to address the need to have a reliable and updated registry of detained alleged criminals. Public security institutions would record all detentions that occur in the country in order to improve transparency, ensure the integrity of the detained persons, and avoid enforced disappearances.

It resulted from the creation of the National Guard in 2019, the army group with national police functions and authority over civilians after that Congress disbanded the Federal Police. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador created it by decree as part of his strategy to combat organized crime. The federal police have been involved in a number of corruption cases. And local police officers sometimes even abandon their job for fear of criminal groups.

Mexico’s president has greatly increased the budget, power and autonomy of the armed forces. Tasks traditionally conducted by civilian authorities have been transferred to the military, such as law enforcement, customs enforcement, immigration controls. They run social programs, and administer public works projects. The military can also legally detain civilians, take charge of crime scenes, and preserve evidence. “Charging the military with these tasks has in the past contributed to human rights abuses,” Human Rights Watch warns.

Congress formally transferred police functions to the ministry of Defense in 2022.

But the law was challenged in court by the National Human Rights Commission, an autonomous public body in charge of investigating alleged violations of human rights often criticized for its high costs and inefficiency.

In the law, article 19 ruled that when authorities in charge of maintaining public security make an arrest, they must immediately inform the police so that they record it. The law applies to the National Guard but it doesn’t specify it needs to abide by article 19 as well.

In a nutshell, the Human Rights Commission considered the law lax as it could be thought that the military was not required to report the arrest of civilians in Mexico.

But the Supreme Court argues the law must be understood as the military must record arrests in the electronic registry. They are not required to inform the civil security authorities but they need to update the database themselves in that case. On the other hand, civil security forces, such as municipal or State police, may not be notified or in the loop of an arrest made by the National Guard, further sidelining them and strengthening the power of armed forces.

Independent senator Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria and former executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights denounced in a tweet that the decision of the Supreme Court leaves the obligation to record arrests “up to the military goodwill” and adds that “military opacity to violate human rights has now legal backing.”

Mexican human rights organizations reject the militarization of Mexico and criticize the military for the multiple irregularities during the arrests. Since 2018, the number of human rights commission complaints against the Army and National Guard, which include alleged murder, enforced disappearance and torture among others, has steadily increased. In 2021, the commission received 940 such complaints, the highest number in eight years. From 2018 to 2020, 10 to 15 civilians died for every dead military, “indicating an abuse of lethal force,” according to Lethal Force Monitor.

The Congress last October approved to extend public security duties of the National Guard until 2028.

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