Mexico flag Mexican military army soldiers bandera
© AP
Mexico's Senate approved a law on Friday to give the military legal justification to act as police, despite objections from human rights groups.
The army was has been made to do the job of local forces since 2006 when it was realised that cartels were far too strong. But since then, accusations of executions and torture have surfaced

Mexico's Congress has handed the military a legal framework that allows them to act as police, despite unanimous objections from human rights groups.

President Enrique Pena Nieto is expected to sign the bill into law after it was approved on Friday. The Senate made changes to the bill to try to calm fears that army troops could be used to crack down on protests or that local authorities would feel less pressure to improve their police forces.

The law lets the president issue a decree allowing military deployments for one year to certain states where there are "threats to national security" and police aren't able to cope with violence.

Comment: Who is to determine what constitutes a threat to national security?

But the president could also grant unlimited extensions, allowing the military to become a permanent presence, as they have become in the particularly violent border state of Tamaulipas for more than a decade.

Comment: Oh, it's the president who will decide for how long the soldiers will be on the streets! Nothing to worry about then! It's not like Mexican presidents have been historically known for being corrupt (some of them murderous too) and subservient to the wishes and commands of their 'partners' across the northern border - or is it?!

Rights groups in Mexico and abroad were quick to criticise the legislation, saying deployments could be endlessly renewed and local governments would have no need to train and recruit competent, honest law enforcement.

Mexico demonstrator Security Law skull mask
A masked demonstrator in Mexico City participates in a protest against the approval of Mexico’s Internal Security Law which allows the army to act as police.
Demonstration Mexico Security law
Protests erupted across Mexico City as Cogress voted on the approval of an Internal Security Law which would give the army policing powers.
They said the bill was rammed through Congress without discussion and does not provide sufficient guarantees that soldiers would respect human rights of suspects, detainees or the general public.

"I don't want my children to grow up in a militarised country," said actor Diego Luna during a protest outside the Senate earlier this week.

After the law was approved, Luna posted a video to his Twitter account in which he said of Pena Nieto: "We demand he act responsibly and veto the law."

"You can't ignore so many voices," Luna said. "Let's have a dialogue that is profound and robust, the dialogue that this country deserves."

While generally respected in Mexico, the army has been accused of executing and torturing suspects.

The army has maintained a policing role in parts of Mexico since 2006, when local forces were deemed too small, corrupt or out-gunned to fight cartels.

Even the Mexican military has acknowledged that it is not trained or designed to do police work.

Comment: And who is to say that the military is going to be immune to corruption? What will a general do when approached by a cartel member with suitcase full of money?

The bill however would allow soldiers to legally do what they have been doing ad hoc for at least a decade: conduct raids, man highway checkpoints, and pursue and detain suspects.

Comment: Except that now it will be entirely legal, so we can expect that the military's policing duties will be abused even further.

Mexico demonstration security law
Demonstrators shout in front of the Senate building in Mexico City as Congress voted on the Internal Security Law, giving the army police powers.
Mexico demonstration security law
© Reuters
The protester’s sign reads: “No more military abuse at the checkpoints”. Demonstrators oppose military rule in Mexico.
But even with the new law, the army cannot investigate crimes. It can only detain people caught in middle of illegal actions. That encourages troops to make up pretexts for searches or arrests, and doesn't help Mexico's woeful record on investigation and prosecution of crimes.

But since Mexican cartels use grenades and grenade launchers, machine guns and bullet-proof vehicles, they outgun most state and municipal police forces. Some police have been found working for drug cartels.

A group of United Nations human rights experts wrote in an open letter that the new law also broadly categorises information about the military operations as national security issues, meaning such information would be kept as state secrets.

Comment: So Mexicans can be expected to see soldiers machine-gunning people on the street and noboy would know why.

The group said the law does not provide adequate protection for human rights.

Comment: Of course it doesn't. There is a reason why modern civilized political systems separate the police from the military. Even the Romans knew that letting the army on the streets of Rome was a very bad idea.

A rights group known as Security Without War said the law could still be appealed to the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds. It expressed hope that opposition legislators will file such an appeal.

The law "does not contain controls and checks and balances to oversee the enormous military deployment it would encourage", according to the group. "It elevates to the status of a law, a public safety strategy that has been shown to have failed over the last decade."

Opposition members of the lower house later said they would file a Supreme Court appeal, claiming the law was unconstitutional.

Associated Press