On April 24, the Mexican Senate passed significant reforms to Mexico’s Military Code of Justice. If passed without modifications by the Chamber of Deputies and signed by President Enrique Peña Nieto, these reforms would ensure that all human rights violations committed by soldiers against civilians would be prosecuted in civilian, not military, courts, and that the investigations of these human rights abuses would be carried out by civilian investigators rather than by the military itself.
These reforms would help overcome a significant obstacle to justice for victims of human rights violations committed by soldiers. Because the military has historically investigated and prosecuted these cases, acting as both defendant and judge, obtaining justice has been nearly impossible for victims. Out of nearly 5,000 cases of alleged human rights violations opened by the Military Attorney General’s Office between 2007 and 2012, only four resulted in convictions. In addition to denying justice to victims of human rights violations and their families, this practice has allowed abuses to persist. It has sent a message to soldiers that they could commit human rights violations with little fear of punishment. Indeed, complaints of human rights violations by Mexico’s Army and Navy have increased significantly in recent years. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH), received three times more complaints of human rights violations by soldiers in 2013 (1,196) than in 2007 (398). In this same period, Mexican soldiers have been involved in documented cases of torture, unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, and enforced disappearances.
The final approval of these reforms to the Military Code of Justice will send a strong message to the members of Mexico’s armed forces that they are not immune to prosecution, and it will bring victims and their families one step closer to justice. It will also bring Mexico into compliance with rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and with important decisions by Mexico’s Supreme Court.
The reforms are an important victory for Mexican and international human rights organizations that for years have called for modifications to the Military Code of Justice. They are also an important victory for courageous victims and for the organizations that litigated their cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Mexico’s Supreme Court, in an effort to obtain justice and press for the very reforms that the Mexican Senate passed on April 24.
WOLA praises the Mexican Senate for approving reforms to the Military Code of Justice and hopes that the Chamber of Deputies and President Peña Nieto will do their part to secure the passage of these important reforms.