MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican Senate committees on Wednesday approved a controversial security bill that human rights groups say risks granting excessive power to the armed forces in their already checkered role in combating organized crime in the country.
The bill, which enjoys some cross-party support between conservatives and centrists, will now pass to the floor of the upper house of Congress for discussion and possible approval late on Wednesday or on Thursday morning.
The Law of Internal Security aims to regulate the armed forces’ role in combating drug cartels, a conflict which has claimed well over 100,000 lives in the last decade.
Senate committees approved the bill on Wednesday, a senate spokesman said. Lawmakers who support the bill say it will set out clear rules that limit the use of soldiers to fight crime.
Rights groups have strongly attacked the bill, saying it prioritizes the military’s role in fighting the gangs over improving the police, and could open the door to greater abuses and impunity by the armed forces.
The military has already been embroiled in multiple human rights scandals including extrajudicial killings of gang members and the disappearance of 43 students near one of its bases in 2014.
The United Nations, Amnesty International and Mexican human rights organizations have all criticized the bill.
“This law should not be approved quickly, it puts liberties at risk by giving more power to the armed forces without designing controls and counterweights,” said Santiago Aguirre from the Miguel Agustin Pro Center for Human Rights.
Last week, President Enrique Pena Nieto asked lawmakers to include civil society’s views in their discussion of the bill, which sparked attempts by protesters to bar access to the upper house of Congress when it reached the Senate.
Writing by Christine MurrayEditing by Sandra Maler