Mexico. Shelving a regressive bill to curb civil society groups

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A bill being considered by Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies would severely restrict the work of civil society groups in Mexico and violate Mexico’s international legal obligations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. Lawmakers should shelve the proposal.

The bill was introduced by a lawmaker from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s party, Morena, which holds a majority in both houses of Congress. It would prohibit nonprofits from trying to influence or change laws, either through lobbying or through strategic litigation, if they receive funds, directly or indirectly, from governments or corporations. foreign companies. The government would have the power to revoke the nonprofit status of organizations that violate the ban.

“This proposal could effectively prevent Mexican human rights defenders from engaging in public policy debates, challenging abusive laws in court, or discussing how to improve rights protections with legislators,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch. “It’s the kind of attempt to expand executive power at the expense of fundamental freedoms that we’ve seen from autocratic rulers in countries from Russia to Nicaragua to El Salvador.” bcc

“Civil society organizations and human rights defenders who denounce unjust laws and government practices, challenge leaders and demand justice are increasingly targeted in the region,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Director for Americas at Amnesty International. “For decades, civil society organizations have played a key role in promoting human rights in Mexico by lobbying Congress for legislative changes and challenging abusive laws in court. The proposed bill reflects the broader political trend that toxic narratives demonize NGOs with the intention of silencing critical views and preventing human rights defenders from controlling state institutions.

President López Obrador regularly attacks human rights, environmental and transparency groups. He often publicly singles out specific people and organizations during his morning press conferences, baselessly accusing them of being part of an opposition plot to overthrow his government. He also said international donors and aid agencies should stop funding Mexican civil society groups out of respect for “hands-off”.

This proposal could effectively prevent Mexican human rights defenders from participating in public policy debates, challenging abusive laws in court, or discussing how to improve rights protections with lawmakers.

Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Acting Director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch

Mexican groups have spoken out publicly against plans and proposals promoted by López Obrador and his party that raise human rights concerns. Notable examples include a bill that would have effectively legalized arbitrary detention and authorized the use of evidence obtained through torture, and a proposed railroad that opponents say would harm the environment and indigenous communities. In some cases, groups have taken legal action to stop or delay these initiatives.

The introduction to the new bill, which outlines its motivations, acknowledges that civil society groups have obstructed or blocked some government proposals and accuses those who have done so of “coup plotting”, “interventionism” and “violation”.[ing] our national sovereignty.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented how other governments have used similar laws to arbitrarily restrict the activity of civil society groups.

In Nicaragua, the government canceled the registration of dozens of human rights and aid organizations, such as Oxfam, using a law requiring any organization that received foreign funding to register in as a ‘foreign agent’ and then forbidding them to interfere in ‘domestic politics’. .”

In Ecuador, under President Rafael Correa, the government issued a decree giving it broad powers to regulate or dissolve civil society groups accused of “political interference”. He used those powers to kick out a number of international organizations and disband an Ecuadorian environmental group after some of its members protested oil drilling in the Amazon.

In Venezuela, the government has passed a series of laws restricting civil society activities and has criminally prosecuted groups that receive foreign funding, accusing them of “treason” and “crimes against national sovereignty”.

In Guatemala, a law came into force in June 2021 authorizing the government to arbitrarily shut down any civil society group it deems to have violated public order.

In El Salvador, the government proposed a “foreign agents” law in November 2021 that would have barred groups receiving international funding from “political activities.” After objections from human rights groups, the law did not move forward, but remains pending.

Outside of Latin America and the Caribbean, authorities in countries such as Russia, Egypt and China have passed draconian laws to restrict the work of human rights defenders and, in some cases, prosecuted and sentenced fines from human rights groups for participating in “political activities”. ”

Civil society organizations and human rights defenders who expose unjust laws and government practices, challenge leaders and demand justice are increasingly targeted in the region

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

Since taking office in 2018, President López Obrador has cut independent funding that supported the program to protect journalists and human rights defenders whose lives have been threatened. He also vilified and intimidated independent journalists, publicly accusing them of lying, calling them “criminals” and publicly sharing sensitive personal information about a journalist who criticized him.

He has tried to weaponize the judiciary against his opponents, pushing for reform to assert control of the courts, organizing a referendum on whether to bring former opposition party presidents to justice and demanding that a judge who had spoken out against him be investigated. And he has attempted to neutralize or proposed to eliminate independent institutions that check presidential power, such as the Independent Access to Information Agency.

Under international law, as part of their duty to protect and promote human rights, governments must ensure that human rights defenders are allowed to continue their work without reprisal, threat, intimidation, harassment, discrimination or unnecessary legal obstacles. The United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have both recognized that this involves allowing human rights organizations to solicit, receive and use funds from governmental organizations. foreign non-governmental organizations and benefit from tax exemptions available to other non-profit organizations. organizations.

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders recognizes that human rights defenders have the right to propose legal and policy changes, to provide legal representation in defense of human rights and to submit formal complaints to government bodies and have these complaints investigated.

For more information please contact:
In Mexico, Tyler Mattiace (English, Spanish): [email protected]. Twitter: @TMattiaceHRW

In Uruguay, Tamara Taraciuk Broner (English, Spanish, Portuguese): [email protected]. Twitter: @TamaraTaraciuk

In Mexico, Duncan Tucker (English, Spanish): [email protected]. Twitter: @DuncanTucker

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