Human Rights and Civil Society

Human Rights Watch accuses Mexican military of systematic abuses

Human Rights Watch (HRW) appealed to the Mexican government to hold the military accountable for what it characterized as systematic human rights abuses against detainees, contradicting previous official statements that abuses happened at the hands of only a few rogue soldiers. HRW characterized the military justice system as ineffective and ultimately undermining security and antidrug efforts.

In its 76-page report, “Uniform Impunity: Mexico’s Misuse of Military Justice to Prosecute Abuses in Counternarcotics and Public Security Operations,” HRW examines 17 cases of abuse, many during 2007-2008 and involving alleged acts of killings, torture, rape, and arbitrary detention of over 70 victims. According to the report, none of these alleged violations has led to the conviction of a soldier in a military court. One civilian investigation resulted in the conviction of four soldiers in Sinaloa last year.

A central criticism of the report is that with the military justice system in place the Secretary of Defense maintains both executive and judicial control over the armed forces, resulting in the lack of a true system of checks and balances. By invoking the Code of Military Justice, the military has exerted jurisdiction over cases of alleged abuse at the hands of military officers while “in service.” The situation has been complicated by the military’s ever-increasing role in domestic security operations.

The report advises Pres. Calderón to move all investigations of alleged human rights abuses to civilian courts to lend transparency to the proceedings, ensure public trust, and ultimately strengthen the Mexican government’s ability to improve public security.

For its part, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in Chihuahua recently documented alleged cases of torture by soldiers of detainees in that state. The CNDH has also criticized the use of military courts to try soldiers accused of committing abuses against Mexican civilians. Nonetheless, human rights groups including HRW have criticized the CNDH, and its president José Luis Soberanes in particular, for not fully exercising the organization’s powers to protect Mexico’s citizens against abuses of power.

From the Justice in Mexico Project’s Monthly News Report: May


“El discurso de Soberanes no corresponde con su actuación en la CNDH, dice ONG Ángeles Cruz Martínez.” La Jornada March 22, 2009.

“Mexico: Hold Military to Account on Rights Abuses.” Human Rights Watch Press Release April 29, 2009.

“Denuncian “impunidad uniformada” en México.” BBC Mundo April 30, 2009.

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