WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

AP Photo/Eric Gay

7 Nov 2017 | Publication

WOLA Report: Overlooking Justice


The report Overlooking Justice: Human Rights Violations Committed by Mexican Soldiers against Civilians are Met with Impunity analyzes the crimes and human rights violations committed by Mexican soldiers that have been investigated and punished by the civilian justice system, as well as the cases that remain unpunished.

For over ten years, rather than prioritizing justice, Mexico’s public security strategy and efforts to combat organized crime have focused largely on using force through the deployment of soldiers into Mexican streets. Efforts to strengthen civilian institutions such as the police and the Attorney General’s Office have taken a back seat to this militarized approach. During the early years of its security cooperation with Mexico through the framework of the Merida Initiative, the United States supported this strategy by allocating a significant amount of funds to Mexico’s armed forces.

The militarization of public security in Mexico has had at least three grave consequences: violence has increased in the country while human rights violations persist, the urgency and pressure to pass reforms to strengthen the civilian police force has decreased, and accountability has been virtually nonexistent. Soldiers who commit crimes and human rights violations, public officials who request the deployment of soldiers into states or municipalities, and politicians who have failed to undertake serious efforts to improve the civilian police force in Mexico are rarely held accountable.

This militarized public security model has negatively impacted Mexico’s criminal justice system. The civilian justice system faces challenges—including military authorities’ actions resulting in the obstruction or delay of investigations—which limit civilian authorities’ ability to sanction soldiers implicated in crimes and human rights violations.

Civilian investigations are the only way to find truth and justice for victims of crimes and human rights violations committed by soldiers. Therefore, Mexican authorities’ top priority should be to strengthen the civilian justice system. Currently the opposite is the case in Mexico, as there is an alarming threat of passing laws—including a Law on Internal Security (Ley de Seguridad Interior) that would expand and normalize the militarization of public security—that would weaken the civilian justice system and other reforms that would represent a setback for the adversarial judicial system.

This report establishes a pathway for strengthening the civilian justice system and improving investigations of soldiers. The first section explains reforms to military jurisdiction in Mexico. The report then analyzes official data and discusses obstacles to investigating soldiers in the civilian justice system, as well as the failure to investigate the chain of command in these cases.

The final section provides recommendations and emphasizes that if authorities demonstrate political will they can carry out efficient civilian investigations of soldiers implicated in human rights violations and put an end to the impunity that persists in these cases.