The unceremonious closing of Mexico's high-level human rights office has sounded alarms with human rights and political groups who are taking the move as an sign that President Vincente Fox has begun to back off from his pledge pursue bold democratic reforms.
In a terse two-sentence statement last week, Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez announced that the government had closed the office of the under secretary for human rights and would fold the duties of the office within the ministry on Sept. 1.
The statement made no mention of the fate of Mariclaire Acosta, who had been appointed as under secretary for human rights by Mr. Fox and whose 30 years as an independent advocate had made her a symbol of the Mexican human rights movement. Her dismissal coincided with a global meeting in Mexico by more than 500 representatives of Amnesty International and the release of two critical reports by prominent international human rights organizations.
In an interview today, Ms. Acosta charged that Mr. Derbez was not interested in human rights issues, much less committed to the agenda that she had set. She said she had often found herself alone when demanding that the military reopen investigations into past abuses, or in support of inquiries by the United Nations or the Inter American Commission for Human Rights.
"I see this as a sign that the more progressive elements of the Fox government have been pushed aside," she said. "The failure of the human rights agenda is part of the failure of this government to live up to its promises for real reforms."
In a telephone interview today, Mr. Derbez dismissed any criticism, saying the government had restructured, not abandoned, its human rights agenda. He was appointed foreign minister in January, after the resignation of Jorge G. Castañeda. He stressed that human rights would remain a priority. But he said Ms. Acosta's duties could be handled capably by the under secretary for global affairs.
"What must be clear is that the president's commitment to human rights continues," Mr. Derbez said. "This would be a shallow government if our commitment to this important issue rested in the hands of one person. That is not the case."
Under Mr. Castañeda's direction, Ms. Acosta signed Mexico up to several international human rights treaties. The Fox government also invited the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to open a permanent office here.
Laurie Freeman of the Washington Office on Latin America called the closing of the human rights office a "serious step backward" for the Fox administration. She added: "President Fox had institutionalized the prioritization of human rights within the foreign ministry. In one day, it was swept away."
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