07/14/11 — On Tuesday July 12, Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) ruled that cases of human rights violations by military personnel will now be held in civilian courts instead of in specialized military courts. Critics have long considered military courts to be unsuccessful in punishing human rights violators and therefore creating a culture of impunity. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, over 4,800 complaints against military personnel have already been filed since 2006, a number which has increased drastically since the military has become significantly more involved in Mexico’s counter-drug operations. While 182 cases of human rights violations were reported in 2006 against soldiers, 1,415 were reported in 2010.
The Supreme Court decision came after reviewing a decision in 2009 by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, CIDH) regarding Mexico’s report on the alleged military involvement in the forced disappearance of Rosendo Rodilla in 1974. During this case, the Court determined that article 57 of Mexico’s Military Code of Justice (Código de Justicia Militar), which ensures that military personnel could only be tried in military courts, was in violation of international human rights codes. Although the Supreme Court had previously suggested that specific military human rights violations be moved under civilian jurisdiction, these suggestions had been ignored. With the passing of the new law on Tuesday, such crimes can now be prosecuted in civilian courts.
Quoted in Frontera, Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, president of Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH), suggested that this is the “first step in a new phase of benefits for the country’s inhabitants” and that this change has reminded the population that “the violation of law is not acceptable under any circumstance,” regardless of one’s position or status.