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6.03.2011

A Forthcoming Rights Revolution in Mexico?

Two important constitutional reforms have been just approved in Mexico. The first reform transforms the human rights regime in the country. Among other things, it recognizes as rights not only those explicitly included in the constitution but also all rights present in international treaties ratified by the country. The reform also gives new powers to the Ombudsman office. The second one is a reform to the amparo suit, the individual instrument of constitutional complaints that is the main tool for rights protection. This reform expands the accessibility, scope, and effectiveness of the amparo. Contrary to the old amparo that was accessible only for someone with a “juridical interest” in a case (someone directly affected by a public authority), the new amparo will be accessible for anyone with a “legitimate interest”. Contrary to the old amparo that was useful for challenging only governmental acts that allegedly violate one of the “constitutional guarantees” present in the first twenty nine articles of the constitution, the new amparo will be useful for challenging government acts that violate any human right recognized by the constitution or by international treaties. Last but not least, contrary to the old amparo that produced only inter partes effects, decisions in new amparo cases will be able to produce general or erga omnes effects.

It is commendable that Mexican authorities finally recognized that the amparo, once a novelty in the judicial landscape of the region, had fallen behind instruments in other countries that were initially created to emulate it but were also more successfully adapted to changing circumstances. It is also important that human rights become the constitutionally guiding principle of all activity of the Mexican government. However, whether these reforms actually produce a rights revolution in the country remains to be seen. It is true that at least in theoretical terms the reforms have this potential: Studies on Costa Rica and Colombia (e.g. Wilson and Rodríguez Cordero, 2006) argue that expanding access produces a rights revolution even in countries lacking a strong “support structure” (Epp 1998). It will thus be interesting to see how creatively and extensively litigants use the new amparo and how expansively judges interpret the “legitimate interest” standing in these suits. Of course, it will also be interesting to see how the government reacts to potential judicial decisions expanding rights.

JRF

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