December 12, 2017

Climbing up the stairs

By H.E. Mr Edgar Elias Azar, Ambassador of Mexico to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

In 1969, being recently appointed as a judge, one morning climbing the staircase of the Mexico City Court where he served, Edgar Elias Azar promised to himself that one day he would become its President. Since that moment, he prepared academically and professionally in order to achieve his goal, which was to change the Court of one of the largest cities of the world so to assure a better administration of justice for its nearly half a million users.

He was born in Acapulco, Guerrero, on 1946, and an obtained his Law degree at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1970. Those were difficult times; times of social struggle all around the world, including Mexico. During those years, Elias Azar became very aware that Mexico needed a change; a change that had to be sufficiently big as to modify the bases of government and politics and to become closer to the people; it had to become more democratic, open and efficient.

During the years in between his first judicial appointment and his presidency, Elias Azar served his country in many different offices: as a judge, as a politician and as a public administrator. In 1987, he was appointed Minister of Finance at his own home State where he served for 5 years and then went back to the judiciary.

Nearly 35 years had passed between his first appointment as a judge and the achievement of his dream. In November 2007, he was elected, by a great majority of his peers, President of Mexico´s City Supreme Court of Justice.

In 2013, he also became the President of the Local Supreme Courts National Assembly, where he actively promoted political and legal reforms, which helped to modernize the judicial procedures in the country, broadening the protection of women rights, as well as the fundamental rights of all individuals.

Since the very beginning of his career he has been a convinced liberal. The defense of rights, democracy and freedom constructed an ideological and political tendency that has lasted all his life. This same ideological framework was the one that later would become the flag of justice; the one that served as a base in Mexico redesign the judicial system and assure its transparency through the development of a robust system of indicators approved by the designed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Office.

During his presidency at the Court, Elias Azar improved all judicial procedures, proposed more than 50 substantial legislative amendments to secondary law and to the Constitution concerne with making justice closer to people as well as more efficient and effective.

His administration was guided by three main principles: a robust defense of judicial autonomy, the preservation of the judicial independence and the democratization of justice.

To protect and secure the autonomy of all judges was a hard task. Protecting them from any external influence – political, media or economical – so they can really decide according to the law and to their conscience.

Under this perspective, Elias Azar changed the whole procedural system, making it more democratic, respectful of human rights and transparent. He implemented oral procedures in all the judicial areas.

The independence of the judicial power was assured in two ways: by achieving to maintain other Powers away from the judicial decisions and by assuring that the judicial budget was not subject of political decisions.

Regarding the democratization of the judiciary, Elias Azar focused on tackling three issues: Assuring that judges view people take them as humans and not as files; promoting legal culture among citizens and combatting “procedural violence”: difficult procedures, legal procedures which are hard to understand, and the lack of resources to pay for a legal representation, are some of the difficulties that people face when they want access to justice.

The Mexican judicial situation started changing in the 2008, when the Constitution received several amendments. Most of them were directed to change the essence, the structure and the perspective of justice in Mexico. For instance, the Constitution explicitly binds the judiciary with the protection of human rights. Definitely, this does not mean that before judges were not obliged to protect and respect them, but this obligation is now strongly stressed in our Constitution and judges are not only obliged to protect all the rights stipulated in our constitutional text, but they are also obliged to protect all the human rights contained in the various international treaties and conventions.

These amendments, no doubt, change the role of the judges as those who are in charge of taking care of the validity of legal norms and the protection of democracy. The adjudication of the law was improved drastically, and the Country keeps on seeing the benefits of these legal modifications.

In 2017, the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, named Elias Azar as Ambassador of Mexico to the Netherlands and as permanent representative to the OPCW. With this new assignment, Elias Azar has the opportunity to spread out his vision about the law, about human rights and democracy in an international level.

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Photography by Rene Gonzalez de la Vega.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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