Those opposing this handover to military control are correctly pointing out that Mexico’s armed forces do have a long and dark history of human rights abuses. But the question of how best to defend and promote human rights ultimately comes down to a political commitment the top of every government must make, a commitment not to allow security forces, be they civilian or military, to perpetrate or tolerate abuse.
López Obrador does have an undoubtedly cozy relationship with the country’s armed forces. But this president also has a history of respecting human rights far different than his presidential predecessors. A prime example: AMLO’s handling of the disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher-training college in 2014.
Before his election, AMLO promised to establish a Truth Commission to ascertain what truly happened to the Ayotzinapa students, and he carried through on that promise. Last month, the Truth Commission López Obrador established published its first report. That publication has proved to be a watershed moment.
The Commission’s president, Alejandro Encinas, has labeled the disappearances a “state crime” that has involved local, state, and federal officials. His Commission has accused officials at the highest levels of former President Peña Nieto’s administration of orchestrating a cover-up, with the cooperation of the armed forces. A judge has issued nearly 100 arrest orders for the detention of a wide range of government personnel involved in the crime, including soldiers and police. Former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, a key figure in the alleged coverup, has already been arrested for his role, a move that parents of the missing students have welcomed.
The Truth Commission’s report represents a radical break from the so-called “Historical Truth” — the notion that only criminal gangs bore responsibility for the disappearances — that Murillo put forward. The AMLO government’s embrace of the report shows the president’s real commitment to both seeking justice and fully defending human rights.
The Truth Commission’s conclusions clearly lay out the links between organized crime and the state. These conclusions now represent a key opportunity to push the state to break those links. Ending impunity for human rights abuses, no matter how powerful those responsible for these abuses may be, would allow México to take concrete steps to finally address the root causes of the nation’s human rights abuses.
Amid the ongoing debate over the status of México’s National Guard, those of us concerned about the promotion of human rights should remember that defending these rights requires a government committed to these values and a mobilized population. The parents of the students of Ayotzinapa courageously raised their voices. We must keep raising ours.