Mexican Attorney General’s Resignation: An Important Yet Insufficient Step towards Ensuring an Independent and Effective Institution

Mexican Attorney General’s Resignation: An Important Yet Insufficient Step towards Ensuring an Independent and Effective Institution

The Mexican Congress and Executive must take this moment to engage in a serious discussion regarding the legislative reforms that put an end to the dysfunctionality of the federal Attorney General’s Office and to ensure that the first autonomous national prosecutor is appointed through a transparent, public mechanism in accordance with international standards of law. 

Yesterday, Mexican Attorney General Raúl Cervantes Andrade resigned from his post after less than a year leading the federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR). Cervantes is the third attorney general to resign since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office. According to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), this constant turnover in leadership demonstrates the Mexican justice system’s troubling lack of stability and confirms an urgent need to transform this critical institution in a country where 98% of crimes go unpunished.

The Mexican Congress is currently debating several legal reforms to meet the constitutional reform that mandates the creation of an independent National Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR), which will be autonomous from the executive branch. The effective implementation of the FGR will be essential to improving investigations, ensuring that future federal prosecutors are appointed based on merit and capabilities and through public and transparent meansand to making the National Prosecutor’s Office less vulnerable to the executive branch’s political influence.

Discussions about the FGR should not be reduced to a political negotiation over which party will get to appoint the next federal prosecutor. Instead, Mexican authorities should focus on resolving the fact that for decades the PGR has failed to tackle crime or to prevent violence from escalating in the country. They must also discard the idea that leadership resignations are somehow solutions to the violence and impunity that prevail in the country. In fact, it’s just the opposite: during Peña Nieto’s administration, the government has only reported six convictions at the federal level for enforced disappearances, with most of these cases referring to incidents that occurred before 2007. Three years have passed since the 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero were forcibly disappeared, and the PGR’s investigation has failed to determine their whereabouts. Moreover, no serious investigation has been conducted to clarify allegations that PGR officials obstructed justice in the Ayotzinapa case.

In this context, acknowledging the PGR’s and the incoming FGR’s fundamental role in the fight against impunity, the undersigned organizations express our concern regarding a potential fast track approval of the new FGR legislation, without observing a public, inclusive, and thorough deliberation process. We are also fretful of an appointment process for a new federal prosecutor that does not take into account the importance of his or her role in upholding the rule of law in the country or in ensuring the effective implementation of the new FGR. Therefore, we urge Mexican authorities to consider the citizens’ report presented by the group #VamosPorUnaFiscalíaQueSirva while debating this important issue.

Finally, we urge the Executive to carry out a transparent appointment process for the new head of the PGR based on candidates’ merits and capabilities, stressing qualities such as political independence and the absence of conflicts of interest. We also urge the Mexican Senate to act as an honest counterbalance by conducting an objective assessment of the chosen candidate’s qualifications.

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