In its commitment to foster public-service oriented leaders, the Leadership Programme encourages first-year WHT Scholars to undertake a pro-bono project of their choice. Scholars are permitted to do this in Oxford, their home country or elsewhere, with the only requirement being that it involves engagement in unpaid public service. Many of our scholars embark on dynamic public service projects across the globe. Ana Lucía Díaz Azcunaga (2019 Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening) and Ramón Narváez Terrón (2019 Oxford-Hoffmann) looked at transitional justice in Mexico and collaborated with an organisation that uses Law as a tool for social change. Read about other pro-bono projects here.
When Law and Public Policy Work Together – a WHT pro-bono project by Ana Lucía Díaz Azcunaga and Ramón Narváez Terrón
Summer arrived at Oxford with two exciting news. The sun finally showed up, and the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann leadership programme offered its scholars a new thrilling task: to conduct a pro-bono project on any topic that we preferred. We were able to put into practice all the training that we have received by the programme and the knowledge that we have acquired during our academic year. But some questions were hanging in the air: what topic should we choose; how can we create an impact with just a pro-bono project? In other words, planning to face the world with goodwill is one thing, and actually doing something to have a positive impact requires to define priorities, interests and a plan on how to help our societies.
By thinking about those questions, I ended up speaking with one of my dearest friends at Oxford, Ana, a passionate lawyer and amazing human being who is always kind and willing to fight to get justice and act righteously. Suddenly, things became a lot clearer. We shared a passion. We both wanted to help Mexico, our home country, to face at least one of its big problems.
Ana is an expert in law and I became an expert in evaluating public policies. Somehow, we needed to combine our expertise and abilities to try to offer solutions to our national problems. This is how we decided to tackle one of the biggest threats that Mexico is currently facing, violence and human rights violations.
For over a decade, Mexico has been submersed in high-scale violence mainly due to a conflict between the State and criminal organisations. This has led to a crisis of violence and impunity that reflects in more than 200,000 homicides and more than 40,000 missing people after 2007, as well as an increase in human rights violations in the urge of the State to capture alleged criminals and offer tangible results to society.
To make a relevant contribution, we decided to collaborate with one of the main Non-Governmental-Organisations working with drug policy and human rights violations. Elementa is an organisation that uses the Law as an instrument for social change to contribute to the construction and regional strengthening of human rights. It has offices in Mexico and Colombia. Among their services, they offer training on human rights, diagnostics and evaluation of public policies, and legal advice to public and private entities. Their work on analysing the Mexican drug policy, especially a new bill project presented at the Mexican Congress to legalise cannabis as a strategy to reduce violence, as well as their relevant experience and incidence on human rights internationally, made us immediately want to collaborate with them.
Adriana and Renata, executive director and national office coordinator for Elementa in Mexico respectively, were always very open to our proposals and were interested in collaborating with us regarding an analysis of the transitional justice proposal presented by the Federal Government. Due to the lack of results concerning violence, different voices in Mexico raised the possibility of appealing to figures that have been used in different countries with the objective of addressing large-scale legacies of violence. It is in this context that the Mexican President, Andres Manuel López Obrador presented the 2018-2024 National Peace and Security Plan –later ratified in the National Development Plan– as a peacebuilding proposal. This document includes mechanisms such as the possibility of granting amnesty or pardon and the creation of a Peacebuilding Council, among others. Thus, the mention of these figures has generated the expectation that the Federal Government intends to build a public policy platform that makes use of mechanisms of transitional justice.
This is how Ana and I started working on academic research regarding the transitional justice proposal of the Mexican Federal Government stated in the National Development Plan and the National Plan for Peace and Security 2018-2024. The objective was to contrast the Federal Government proposal with the available mechanisms of transitional justice and to assess the performance of the existing mechanisms in Mexico. We presented the results of the research at the Academic Colloquium “New insights on illegality, violence and human rights in Mexico” organized by Colegio de México, the National Human Rights Commission (Mexico) and the Latin American Centre of the University of Oxford.
Among the main findings, we identified that there are relevant institutions working in Mexico for some years now or of recent creation that can reduce the costs and offer relevant expertise for implementing a transitional justice proposal. However, we also identified several opportunity areas in such institutions and offered a collection of improvements that need to be implemented as well as some complementary institutions required to have a functional proposal. Some of the strategies that we proposed to strengthen the existing transitional justice mechanisms include the following:
- Continue strengthening the actions of the Victims Commission, expand the catalog of victims and strengthen its budget.
- Test access schemes to the truth based on evidence and through the use of experimental designs.
- Adapt Ayotzinapa’s investigation to a transitional justice scheme including a report of access to the truth.
- Generate clear criteria for acknowledgment of responsibility by the State and for offering public apologies.
- Update criteria and open data regarding missing persons, make public the information on the progress of the investigations, not only periodic reports.
To conclude, our pro-bono project gave us the opportunity to work together to offer policy recommendations to a proposal that has not been well planned or addressed by the Federal Government. The support we had from Elementa helped us to position our contribution in the academic debate, and hopefully, it will help the Government to improve the existing institutions and to strengthen a transitional justice initiative, in case they decide to implement one. The complete document will be available for consultation at elementa.co, once we coordinate the final details with Elementa.