Reforms passed by the Mexican senate allowing the military to spy on and raid the homes of private citizens are a “serious step backwards for human rights,” according to Sinaloan human rights expert Oscar Loza Ochoa.
Lawmakers approved a controversial reform on Friday that will pave the way for the military to raid homes and offices and spy on civilians, raising concerns about the effect it will have on human rights and freedom of expression in a country.
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Speaking to teleSUR on Friday, the veteran activist Ochoa said the passing of the bill is a “huge step backwards”’ for Mexico and will “contravene several international conventions of human rights.”
“The reforms are going to generate serious human rights violations in a country that is already under the spotlight for how it treats its citizens," he said. "It proves President Peña Nieto has no interest in listening to human rights groups, who have voiced concerns over the situation in Mexico, and that he wants to make the country more threatening.”
“We are moving towards a totalitarian state,” added Ochoa, who has chaired numerous human rights groups in a career spanning over 30 years.
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After four hours of debate in the senate, the amendments passed with 78 votes in favor of the alterations and 20 against.
During the debate lawmakers from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and Labor Party (PT) raised concerns over the reforms.
Independent senator Alejandro Encinas spoke against giving military prosecutors the power to intervene in intelligence work and the ability to intercept civilian telephone communications.
"Do not pass this reform as it puts all Mexicans at risk. It is a dangerous decision,” he said.
On Thursday a senate committee greenlighted the reforms thanks to support from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN), which used the power of their majority to push through the approval after a whirlwind 15 minute debate, the Mexican daily La Jornada reported.
The reforms earlier passed with ease in the PRI and PAN-dominated lower house of Congress, where lawmakers approved the measure by a vote of 253 to 67, with two abstentions,
Opposition lawmakers allowing so little debate on such a major reform that could result in human rights violations is a transgression of Senate rules, with left-wing lawmakers from MORENA walking out of the parliamentary session as a sign of protest.
Among the most controversial provisions, the bill would allow military raids of private houses, as well as any offices belonging to the executive, legislative or judicial branches. The bill also allows the surveillance of private phone communications. Both measures will require the prior authorization of a judge.
Ochoa said the reforms, if implemented, will make Mexico an even worse place for the press.
“Mexico is already one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists and this bill will only exacerbate the situation,” he said. “The reforms will result in less freedom of expression as reporters will be even more fearful as the government can now spy on them and even raid their homes.”
The reform comes as the conservative government of President Enrique Peña Nieto is under fire for a deteriorating human rights situation in the country, resulting from over a decade of militarization in a bid to fight drug trafficking.
Federal military and police forces have both been involved in numerous cases of human rights abuses, including the high-profile disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa.