A report by the United Nations on human rights in Mexico is both unusual in its origins and unusual in the hope it offers for systematic improvement in the way the government treats the Mexican people. The hard part, of course, will be implementation, but President Vicente Fox has recommitted the government to creating a human-rights commission to implement the report’s 32 recommendations.
The report was released last month.
David Wilkinson, who covers Mexico for the New York office of Human Rights Watch, said what’s unusual is that President Fox requested this report from the United Nations, the only instance Wilkinson can think of where a country asked for an outside assessment of its human-rights record. Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, said this is “a window of opportunity for progress.”
The report covers most of the areas you would expect in a study of a country where official corruption and often arbitrary treatment of those accused of crime are deeply rooted parts of the culture. It recommends the government stop using the military to investigate crime, that police be more attentive to due process and operate in a more open and “transparent” manner, and that mechanisms be developed to punish government officials, including state-level officials, who violate human rights.
Unfortunately, like most reports from international institutions, this one doesn’t seem to view the right to own property and buy, sell and trade freely as a fundamental human right. So it doesn’t address the problem that businesspeople in Mexico often face such a daunting set of often arbitrary regulations and restrictions — let alone favoritism for politically connected businesspeople — that bribery can become the only way to get anything done.
Given that shortcoming, however, the existence of this report and President Fox’s apparent commitment to implementing it, is a hopeful sign. It won’t be easy.
In many ways President Fox’s first few years in office have been disappointing. His economic reform proposals have become more timid as bolder earlier policies have met resistance, and less has been accomplished than many had hoped. A thorough overhaul of human-rights policies, however, could give him a lasting positive legacy.