Yesterday, President Felipe Calderon presented a proposal to the Mexican Senate to reform the military code, an important step towards ending the historic impunity that the military has enjoyed for human rights violations, but it falls short of what was expected from Mexico, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
“This is an important step, especially since today the army is present in many cities in Mexico, and there are complaints of human rights violations every day,” said Maureen Meyer, Associate for Mexico and Central America at WOLA. “As of now, the majority of human rights violations committed by the military have not been punished because the cases are always tried in military courts.”
Although this limitation of the use of military jurisdiction is positive, it does not comply with what the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and public opinion demand from Mexico. The proposed reform only includes three types of human rights violations: torture, rape and forced disappearance. This means that other types of human rights violations, such as arbitrary arrest, which in general leads to other types of human rights violations, and extra-judicial executions, as have occurred in many cases where civilians who did not stop at a military checkpoint were killed by the soldiers, will remain excluded and will continue to be tried in military courts. The case against Mexico in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that ordered the reform to Article 57 of the military code does not mention the possibility of choosing which human rights violations will be investigated under civil jurisdiction. A reform that is truly progressive would require that all human rights violations committed against civilians be tried in civil courts, not in the military system.
“Victims of human rights violations by the military deserve a comprehensive reform to the military code so that their cases are tried in civil courts,” says Meyer. “We hope that the Mexican Congress includes these considerations in their debate about President Calderon’s proposal.”
This debate could not be more important. As evidenced by the report recently published WOLA and the Center Prodh “Abused and Afraid in Ciudad Juarez,” the deployment of the military in anti-drug operations has resulted in an alarming increase in human rights violations by the military against civilians. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has received over 4,000 complaints of abuses by the military since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006.
“The lack of punishment for these violations has encouraged further abuses and undermines citizen trust in the armed forces,” affirms Meyer.