With high rates of corruption and impunity, Mexico is undergoing a transformation of its criminal justice system to address these ongoing issues. The biannual national victimization survey indicates that between 90 and 92 percent of crimes are never reported, and only two percent of crimes reported go all the way through the legal process. This puts Mexico’s impunity rate at 98 percent.
In 2008, Mexico adopted a constitutional reform to transform its justice system, however it did not address the issue of the political appointment of the Attorney General. In 2014, political reforms were passed, one of which establishes an independent prosecutor’s office, the Fiscalía General de la República (FGR), to replace the current Attorney General’s office, the Procuraduría General de la República (PGR).
On October 13, the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, along with the Washington Office for Latin American (WOLA) and the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), hosted a panel of experts from civil society, the private sector, government and others. The panelists discussed the status of this transition, proposals from civil society, and the challenges ahead.
Ana Lorena Delgadillo, the executive director of Fundación para la Justicia y el Estado Democrático de Derecho, spoke about the history of impunity in Mexico. She referred to the case of the 43 missing students in 2014, claiming that even with such large, internationally known cases, there were little to no results. She goes on to note that political manipulation along with a lack of adequate resources allow such crimes to continue without any results even if an investigation is launched. Delgadillo calls on international organizations for an integrated, comprehensive plan to fight impunity and tackle the structural problems in Mexico.
In 2015, constitution reforms resulted in independence for the role of Attorney General. However, according to Delgadillo, the Attorney General role now has no effective oversight. To address this issue, civil society organizations have banded together to demand a fiscalía que sirva, a prosecutor’s office that works. Their movement, supported online by the hashtag #VamosPorMas, calls for career public servants to serve in the new prosecutor’s office, the participation of civil society, and the enforcement of the law.
Gustavo de Hoyos Walther, the national president at the Confederación Patronal de la República Mexicana (COPARMEX), spoke about the effect of corruption on the Mexican private sector. He noted that at least eight percent of GDP is lost to corruption each year. Another five percent of annual business sales is lost to corruption, along with 14 percent of household incomes. According to a 2016 evaluation by the World Justice Project, Mexico currently ranks 88 out of 113 in the rule of law. If the rule of law is not upheld in Mexico, Mexican businesses cannot compete in the global market. For the effectiveness of the justice system, the country is at 108 on the list. Mexico also ranks 131 out of 137 for the cost of crime and violence. According to the 2017-2018 global competitiveness report, the three most problematic factors for doing business in Mexico have to do with crime and corruption. Because of this, the transformation of the rule of law and combatting corruption has become the highest priority of businesses in Mexico.
María Novoa, the director of the justice program at Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo AC (CIDAC), called for a conversation at the national and international level to address the corruption problem in Mexico. She calls for the creation of a center for development research as well as a national anti-corruption office to ensure autonomy in development. Novoa says to strengthen the institutions, they need to have greater capabilities and a new institutional design and legal framework. Speaking on the strategies of transition, she agrees with Delgadillo in bringing in career civil servants with the necessary training and resources.
Novoa also spoke about the perception of corruption in the current prosecutor’s office. She said that more than 60 percent of citizens believe the PGR is corrupt due to the high levels of crime and lack of investigations. She states that 99 percent of prosecutions are caught in the act. If a criminal is caught in the act, there is no doubt of guilt and no investigation. Other crimes not caught in the act are much less likely to lead to prosecutions.
To fight against these issues, Novoa suggests implementing controls and checks and balances in a new institutional design to include: autonomy and independence of criminal investigations, a criminal investigation policy, career civil servants, and agile and efficient operation and permanent evaluation.
Roberto Ochoa Romero, the Coordinator for Planning, Development and Innovation at the Attorney General’s Office, the PGR, gave a government perspective on the issues addressed by the panel. He spoke about the difficulty the PGR faces with resources and organization. Currently, each Mexican state has its own criminal code, which means there are 33 criminal codes in total, which 32 from each state and one federal code. He calls for a single criminal code and federal prosecution plan. He calls for enhanced capabilities of federal and local authorities through ongoing training, strategic planning, and career servants.
Watch the recap of the event here.