Washington, DC—A new study published today by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) found that Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) has failed to investigate and prosecute cases of human rights violations committed by soldiers against civilians, despite a series of reforms which required such cases to be tried in civilian rather than military courts. The report shows that the vast majority of investigations that have been opened concern the military’s rank-and-file rather than high-ranking officers and that, even when there is evidence that these officials have issued abusive and violent orders against civilians, they have not been held accountable.
“Civilian oversight of the military is essential to any democracy, yet the PGR has failed to hold the military accountable for human rights violations. This is particularly important given the government’s reliance on soldiers to patrol streets and take the leading role in the fight against organized crime,” said Ximena Suárez, WOLA’s Associate for Mexico and lead author of the report.
The report, titled “Overlooking Justice: Human Rights Violations Committed by Mexican Soldiers against Civilians are Met with Impunity,” found that while the PGR launched 505 criminal investigations into military abuse between 2012 and 2016, only 16 cases ended with a conviction, representing a success rate of 3.2 percent for this period. WOLA, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC, was able to make these statistics public for the first time ever via a series of public information requests, revealing the shortcomings of the PGR’s investigations into military abuse.
According to the records on military abuse convictions obtained by WOLA, only two cases during this time period involved commanding officers rather than rank-and-file soldiers, a strong indication of the impunity enjoyed by Mexico’s military leadership. WOLA’s research found that the PGR has consistently demonstrated a lack of political will to amass the evidence needed to successfully prosecute these cases. Moreover, according to testimonies, the foot soldiers who are compelled to follow orders are prosecuted for directly perpetrating human rights violations, while to date, commanding officers have been able to issue “shoot to kill” directives virtually without penalty.
“While their own records reveal the degree to which Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office has failed to prioritize investigating human rights abuses committed by the military, we also found that the armed forces have come up short. It’s clear that Mexico’s military plays an active role in impeding justice for human rights violations,” Suárez said.
The report details examples of military authorities engaging in practices—such as limiting civilian access to testimony, or altering crime scenes—that obstruct or delay investigations. The report also identifies several rulings by federal judges that could potentially strengthen the PGR’s ability to investigate military abuse, alongside other decisions that could hinder how these cases progress in civilian courts.
“For far too long, Mexican politicians have been able to call in the military to address insecurity and combat criminal groups without being held responsible for the consequences. At a time when Mexico’s Congress is still considering legislation that would further the role of the armed forces in public security tasks, they must account for the human costs of this militarization,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA Senior Associate for Mexico.