Mexico: amnesty decree stirs human rights concerns

Mexico's government added an article to its Amnesty Law in a decree June 14, allowing the head of the Executive Branch to commute sentences and halt criminal proceedings in cases deemed "relevant to the Mexican State," regardless of the severity of the crime. The new Article 9 states the country's president has exclusive authority to grant amnesty directly, without following procedures establlished esewere in the law, in specific cases meeting two conditions. The first is that amnesty is granted to individuals providing verifiable information useful for uncovering the truth in cases relevant to the national nterest; the second is that criminal prosecution has already been initiated against the individual. Amnesties granted under this article extinguish any pending criminal charges.

Importantly, Article 9 specifies that in cases of presidential amnesties, the exceptions outlined in Article 2 of the original 2020 Amnesty Law do not apply. Article 2 prohibited amnesty for crimes against life or bodily integrity, kidnapping cases involving firearms, and other serious federal offenses.

The original 2020 Amnesty Law aimed to release prisoners processed for non-serious, non-repeat offenses like abortion, minor drug possession, or poverty-driven theft. However, in April, Mexico's Senate approved a bill allowing the head of the Federal Executive to directly grant amnesty, with 67 votes in favor and 32 against. The bill was then sent to the Chamber of Deputies, where it was approved by a vote of 258-205, with one abstention. According to Senate Justice Committee chair Olga Sánchez Cordero, the aim is ensuring truth and transparency, stating that "the Mexican nation has unhealed wounds, so extraordinary measures are needed to redress rights violations by the State in cases where justice has stalled." Ruling MORENA party leader Ricardo Monreal added that the reform seeks to clarify historical truths around collective killings like those of Ayotzinapa and Tlatlaya.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has stated that amendment to the Amnesty Law will contribute to uncovering the truth about such unresolved cases as the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students in September 2014. Resolving this case was a commitment López Obrador made to Mexican citizens both while running for president and after assuming office in December 2018.

However, the Amnesty Law reform has faced strong criticism. For instance, Mexico City's Human Rights Commission argues that it lacks clear limits on which crimes qualify, leaving a dangerously vague opening for amnesty in any case the president deems "relevant." Sen. Patricia Mercado of the opposition Citizen's Movement also rejected the notion that the decree will aid truth-seeking, pointing out that it lacks conditions such as disarmament, non-repetition, victim reparations, and education requirements found in amnesty efforts such as that in Colombia's Peace Accords.

From Jurist, June 16. Used with permission.

See our last posts of the Ayotzinapa and Tlatlaya massacres, and Mexico's human rights crisis.