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Mexican congress approves safeguards for new National Guard

May 24, 2019
FILE - In this April 29, 2019 file photo, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador attends a ceremony at the Military Airbase Number 1 in Santa Lucia, on the outskirts of Mexico City. Mexico's Congress approved a series of safeguards Thursday, May 23, intended to prevent abuses under the country’s new militarized police force known as the National Guard.(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s Congress approved a series of safeguards Thursday intended to prevent abuses under the country’s new militarized police force known as the National Guard.

Critics worry the National Guard may transfer military practices to the subtleties of police work including rules of procedure, evidence and engagement.

The four new laws approved in the lower house set out specific guidelines on the use of force and respect for human rights.

The laws also mandate the creation of a national registry of people arrested and detained, which will allow relatives or lawyers to find them more quickly. Mexico has long had a problem with people disappearing or being tortured after being taken into custody.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador created the force after taking office on Dec. 1. It combines military police units with existing federal police forces.

But the human rights group Amnesty International said the laws give the National Guard the power to determine which demonstrations have a “legitimate” purpose, and said the force was not sufficiently subject to outside oversight.

That concern was based on a passage in the law that says the guard “will under no circumstances use weapons against participants in demonstrations or peaceful public meetings that have a legitimate purpose.”

The rules of engagement say the guards can only fire at people who refuse to drop guns, point them at guard members or threaten people’s lives with knives.

“If Congress passes this legislation, the National Guard will become an all-powerful security force, without independent scrutiny and with dangerous powers, such as the authority to detain migrants and to use force against public demonstrations it does not deem to be legitimate,” Tania Reneaum, the executive director of Amnesty International Mexico, wrote prior to the vote.

The laws have already passed the Senate and will now go to López Obrador for his signature.

Mexico’s president allowed marginal civilian control over the force, but appointed an army general as its commander. He has said he values military discipline, values and loyalty as a bulwark against Mexico’s rising wave of killings and crimes.

Last year saw the highest number of murders in at least 20 years. The military is generally seen as less corrupt than the police in Mexico.

The laws were passed overwhelmingly, with only a handful of votes against them.

Congresswoman Rocío Barrera Badillo, of López Obrador’s Morena party, said the new laws “will give the nation a civilian, professional police force to combat the crime whose consequences we have been suffering ever more seriously for than a decade.”

René Juárez Cisneros, a congressman from the old ruling PRI party, said simply “the government wanted a National Guard and they got it. Now we Mexicans want results.”

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