On June 9, 2011, Mexico rewrote history. The Mexican Congress approved revisions that expressly recognize human rights in the national constitution for the first time. The new language requires all authorities to adhere to international human rights treaties Mexico is a signatory to when those treaties are more expansive than the "individual guarantees" currently on the books.
As modified, Article 1 of the constitution now recognizes human rights in general and incorporates international law. This means groups such as AIDA and communities in Mexico will have better legal tools for defending the right to a healthy environment or clean drinking water. Or, for example, because indigenous communities’ right to free, prior, and informed consent is granted in international law, Mexico will now have to recognize this right.
Moreover, although the Mexican constitution already recognized some rights, enforcement has been difficult. The revision provides additional legal tools and thus raises hopes for enhanced protection of those rights.
These constitutional changes came after a four-year process initiated by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico, and involving academics, nongovernmental organization, and independent experts. AIDA contributed by evaluating existing legal tools for protecting human rights as well as international legal obligations. In 2008, the Mexican Congress started considering the human-rights-related constitutional revision, which was finally partially approved in June, 2011.
While the Mexican Congress and government should be applauded for its vision, the constitutional change’s effectiveness remains to be seen. Recognizing human rights is only the first step, and the new commitment will mean little without compliance. In coordination with our allies in the country, AIDA will monitor Mexican cases to ensure enforcement of this profound advancement and improved protection of the right to a healthy environment.