The role of the military in public security tasks such as patrolling the streets and conducting criminal intelligence work is one step closer to being formalized after an 11th-hour vote this morning.
The Senate approved the controversial Internal Security Law (LSI) at about 6:00am today, the last day of parliamentary sittings for the year, after a marathon debate that began yesterday afternoon at 2:30.
The bill now goes back to the lower house of Congress.
Despite opposition from the United Nations, rejection from academics and pressure from human rights groups, the amended bill passed the upper house by a wide margin.
The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) received support from Green Party (PVEM) and National Action Party (PAN) senators to reach a total of 71 votes in favor of the law.
Thirty-four lawmakers from the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and the Morena Party voted against the bill and there were three abstentions.
Lower-house PRI deputies will now seek to approve the amended bill as soon as possible in order to send it to President Enrique Peña Nieto for promulgation.
Shortly after the vote, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the Senate’s approval of the LSI “regrettable.”
“We don’t believe that it is a positive step,” said the high commissioner’s spokesperson, Elisabeth Throssell.
Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein previously called on lawmakers to reject the bill, describing the law as “deeply worrying,” while arguing that police rather than the military should have the primary responsibility for public security.
“The country should focus on strengthening the national police and not on turning the armed forces into a fundamental part of internal security,” Throssell reiterated.
Human rights groups have also been vocal in opposition to the law, arguing that it will lead to the militarization of the country and the proliferation of human rights abuses.
The army has been questioned for its role in the disappearance of 43 rural teaching students in Iguala, Guerrero, and a massacre that left 22 dead in Tlatlaya, México state.
On Friday last week, Peña Nieto asked senators to include civil society’s views in their discussion of the bill.
But amendments that were made to nine articles in the bill have been labeled as nothing more than cosmetic by both activist groups and experts.
Clauses were added to article 7 stating that human rights must be respected in accordance with the constitution and international treaties. A condition in the same article stipulating that rights could be suspended “in cases of serious disturbances to public peace” was removed.
However, fears remain that the new law could be used to break up social protests as article 8 leaves open the possibility that they could be designated as a risk to public safety.
Article 16 was also amended to add “in accordance with his powers” in reference to the president’s capacity to order an immediate deployment of the armed forces if fundamental governmental institutions are considered to be in serious danger.
Critics of the law have argued that it gives too much discretionary power to the president to deploy the armed forces where and when he sees fit and without disclosing information about the deployments.
Article 19 was also reworded to ensure that the role of the military in public security tasks would be constitutionally legal by empowering the Interior Secretariat to coordinate the deployment of the military in public security tasks.
“. . . The unconstitutionality of functions that correspond directly to civil authorities is avoided and in all cases the armed forces act as coadjutants of civil authority and under its coordination,” the amended article reads.
Critics from within the Senate argued that the law is unconstitutional, ambiguous and contrary to the protection of human rights with one PRD senator accusing members of the government of rushing the legislation through despite questions remaining about its constitutionality.