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The Story of Amparo Laws in Mexico

We are happy to publish this reflection on amparo laws in Mexico, written by Rebecca Ellisfreelance journalist covering immigration, labor and business issues.

The sun may be rising on Mexico’s legal landscape, brightening this country’s prospects for human rights. This ray of hope shines as a beacon in the shadows of this last decade.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 28 journalists have been killed or disappeared since 2006. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has issued reports of nearly 90 cases since 2007 of army soldiers having committed serious human rights abuses. The United Nations report that over 80 percent of indigenous families live in poverty. But change is visible on the horizon.

The expansion of Mexico’s amparo laws and the options they provide for individuals and groups to file constitutional claims may help improve Mexico’s mottled human rights record. Recent proposed changes to the legal framework for constitutional injunctions in Mexico may help improve civil rights protections for all segments of society, from journalists to indigenous villagers and farmers.

“The reform has opened a lot of new possibilities in protecting and enforcing constitutional law,” said Mr. Alejandro Mora, a litigation lawyer from Calderón González y Carvajal, SC.

He noted that the expansion of amparo in Mexico will strengthen already-existing human rights protections, as well as put Mexico more in line with the international human rights treaties it has signed.

In the Mexican legal system, amparo laws are used by claimants to file injunctions based on constitutional rights. The laws seek to protect claimants from abuse of authority and to defend basic civil rights granted in the first 29 articles of the Mexican Constitution. The expansion of the amparo laws will also extend the terms of judicial proceedings as well as the effects of amparo rulings.

Mr. Edgar Cortez, Coordinator of Citizen Security and Justice for human rights non-profit Insituto Mexicano de Derechos Humanos, agrees that an amparo expansion provides a positive outlook for improving human rights protections in Mexico, indigenous communities and neighbors in filing environmental or claims in Mexican courts.

Aside from strengthening direct human rights protections, a second key element of the changes to the amparo laws will be the extension of the effects of amparo rulings. Now, constitutional judgments could affect norms that do not just apply to the claimants in a particular case, but to other parties not involved in the suit as well, and could ultimately lead to an eventual appeal or removal of the disputed laws from the legal system if they are deemed unconstitutional. For instance, amparo rulings could be applicable in the event of collective claims made by journalists, according to Mora.

“If a journalist files an amparo claim that his or her constitutional rights of access to information have been violated, a ruling in the journalist’s favor will now benefit all journalists,” he pointed out.

A third element of the amparo expansion relates to the actual claimants in amparo proceedings. “Collective or legitimate interest” has been added to “judicial or legal interest” in determining the legitimacy of a claimant in amparo suits. Previously, a claimant had to strictly prove “legal or judicial interest” in a matter before being able to participate in an amparo claim by obtaining an official government action (acto de autoridad). Now, any party with a legitimate interest (individual or collective) can join an amparo suit.

“Now it is sufficient to prove you have a group or collective interest in the matter,” Cortez explained. “It promotes diffuse and collective rights.”

Cortez also cited an example of how such amparo rulings could affect indigenous communities filing environmental claims based on collective constitutional rights.

“If an indigenous community wants to file a claim against authorities for putting a highway through their community, they can now claim that the whole community will be affected, not just those whose houses would be in the path of the slated construction,” he said.

Finally, the expansion of the amparo laws could lay the groundwork for establishing a previously uncommon legal concept in Mexico: the right to consultation. This could particularly be beneficial for collective or environmental claims filed by marginalized communities in Mexico, whose first language may not be Spanish, according to Cortez.

“Now, these communities wouldn’t just have to trust in the Spanish-speaking delegate they send to meet with government officials, but could have the time they need to deliberate the matter themselves beforehand,” Cortez explained.

Legislators are still in the process of enacting a new amparo law regulating articles 103 and 107 of the Mexican Constitution to coincide with a broader set of constitutional reforms begun in 2011. The amparo reform was signed into law on April 2, 2013.