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Congress at odds with president over Victims’ Law

July 24, 2012

Having effectively vetoed a bill to support victims of organized crime earlier this month, President Felipe Calderon is under renewed pressure from Congress to pass the act.

The proposed Victims’ Law would require the federal government to provide legal, medical and financial aid to victims of organized crime or human rights abuses committed by security forces.

A national registry would be created to record crimes such as kidnappings, while victims or their relatives would be entitled to claim up to 70,000 dollars to compensate injuries sustained, forced disappearances or murder.

Following approval in the Senate, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies passed the bill unanimously in April. Calderon received the bill in May, but he waited until 8.30 p.m. on July 1 (election day) to reject the legislation, returning it to Congress with a list of objections well after the June 9 deadline.

The Permanent Committee, which assumes legislative duties when Congress is in recess, argued last week that Calderon had missed the window to raise such observations, and voted to return the unmodified bill to the executive for it to be signed into law.

Members of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD), which has heavily backed the Victims’ Law, have accused Calderon of waiting until the polls closed so as not to harm the National Action Party (PAN) ahead of the election. The timing of Calderon’s decision also ensured the news was buried among the avalanche of election coverage.

Javier Sicilia, a chief proponent of the Victims’ Law and leader of the MPJD, accused Calderon of showing “disdain for the victims” of the drug war.

A former poet, Sicilia embarked upon a national peace campaign following the murder of his son in 2011. He has been a vocal critic of Calderon’s decision to send the army onto Mexico’s streets to combat the drug gangs – a policy that has resulted in over 50,000 deaths since December 2006.

Calderon’s main objections to the bill concern who would be responsible for providing compensation. He called for a constitutional change obliging state and municipal governments to compensate victims – not just the federal government.

Calderon also proposed that, when possible, compensation be paid by the criminals responsible, instead of the taxpayer. Should the criminal not have the money to compensate the victim, the government would then pay, but subsequently charge the criminal. However, the current difficulties of confiscating assets under Mexican law mean this may not be a realistic proposition and it could serve as a further roadblock to victims receiving compensation.

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