Blueprint for Rights in Mexico

Mexico long has needed to do something about its entrenched culture of violence and human rights abuses. Its president, Vicente Fox, deserves credit for requesting United Nations expertise with those problems just after he took office in 2000.

His was an extraordinary request, as no government has asked the UN for such help before. And now that the UN has issued a report addressing Mexico's issues, Mr. Fox's task will be to actually implement the UN's broad recommendations.

The eight-month study, whose authors included top Mexican human rights activists and academics, was released last week and recommends an overhaul of the Constitution - one that puts the value of human rights at its foundation.

Much of Mexico's problem in the human rights area lies with a Napoleonic criminal-justice system that assumes guilt before innocence, the experts say. The UN report recommends strategies for eliminating the official use of torture, and ways to ensure the basic rights of the accused, such as the concept of the presumption of innocence.

The report also says Mexico should keep its military out of its criminal-justice system, including drug investigations. And the report calls for a more open investigation into the killings of more than 300 women in Ciudad Juárez over the past 10 years.

The 1994 Zapatista rebellion in Mexico's Chiapas state was an uprising against Mexico's indifference to its indigenous peoples, and the report says recent reforms to help them aren't enough. The Mexican government still hasn't fully implemented a 1996 peace accord with the Mayan-descended peasants in that southern region, and that discussion needs to be re-opened.

Fox came into office in a historic election that ended the grip of the long-ruling and corrupt International Revolutionary Party, or the PRI. Among his campaign promises were improvements in human rights - including the rights of indigenous people - and Mexico's economy. He's been criticized lately for more talk than action on both counts.

The UN plan gives Fox a solid blueprint for delivering on those promises. If he carries out its recommendations, that should slowly but surely strengthen Mexico's democracy.

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