Resignation of Mexico’s Attorney General: an important yet insufficient step to ensure an independent and effective institution

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 14:38 -- dplf

Congress and the President must take this moment to seriously discuss reforms to end the dysfunctional nature of the current federal Attorney General’s Office and to ensure that the first autonomous National Prosecutor is appointed through a transparent, public mechanism in compliance with international legal standards .

Washington D.C., 17 de octubre de 2017.- Yesterday, Attorney General Raúl Cervantes Andrade presented his resignation after less than a year leading the federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) –the third attorney general to resign during Peña Nieto´s tenure. According to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) this constant rotation in leadership demonstrates the Mexican justice system´ profound lack of stability and confirms an urgent need to transform, from top to bottom, a key justice institution in a country where 98% of crimes go unpunished.

Currently, several legal reforms are being discussed in the Mexican Congress to meet the constitutional terms that mandate the creation of an independent National Prosecutor’s Office, autonomous from the Executive Branch. The establishment of a prosecutorial institution with these characteristics is essential to improve criminal investigations, ensure that future Prosecutors are appointed through public and transparent mechanisms based on their merits and capabilities, and to make the Prosecutor's Office less permeable to the president’s political influence.

This discussion should not be reduced to a political negotiation over which party will get to appoint the next federal Attorney General, under the current legal system, or the very first autonomous Prosecutor. Instead, Mexican authorities should focus on resolving the fact that for decades the PGR has been unable to tackle crime and prevent the crisis of violence from escalating in the country. They must also discard the idea that the resignations of public officials are somehow solutions to the situation of violence and impunity that prevails in the country. In fact, it´s just the opposite: the Mexican government has only reported six convictions at the federal level for enforced disappearances and most of these crimes occurred before 2007. Likewise, three years have passed since the 43 students disappeared in Guerrero and the PGR´s investigation has not shed any light on their whereabouts. Moreover, no serious investigation has been conducted to clarify the allegations of obstruction of justice by PGR officials involved in this case.

In this context, acknowledging the fundamental role of the current PGR and upcoming National Prosecutor’s Office in the fight against impunity, the undersigned organizations express our concern regarding a potential fast track approval of the legislation for the National Prosecutor’s Office, without a public, inclusive and thorough deliberation process. We are also troubled by the possible naming of a new Attorney General without taking into account the importance of this nomination for justice in the country and for the new Prosecutor.  Additionally, we urge that the citizens’ proposal, presented by the group #VamosPorUnaFiscalíaQueSirva, be considered as a contribution to this debate.

Finally, we urge President Peña Nieto to conduct a transparent appointment process for the new head of the PGR, based on the candidate´s merits and capabilities, stressing qualities such as independence and the absence of conflicts of interest, and we urge the Mexican Senate to serve as an effective counterbalance in the upcoming designation by conducting an objective assessment of the candidate´s qualifications.

Mexico must take advantage of this historic opportunity to build an autonomous, independent, and effective institution that can address the grave human rights crisis in the country.