Human Rights and Civil Society

Mexican Senate eliminates military jurisdiction for forced disappearances of civilians

Source: Inter American Court of Human Rights.
Source: Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

02/19/14 (written by cmolzahn) — In a move that drew muted praise from human rights advocates in Mexico, the Mexican Senate voted in early February to remove a reservation made by the Mexican government upon ratifying the Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons, allowing for military jurisdiction in cases where members of the Mexican armed forces have been implicated. The move comes four years after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) rejected Mexico’s adherence to its military justice system for cases of alleged human rights abuses by members of its armed forces. This came as part of the court’s ruling that the Mexican government was responsible for violating international human rights conventions in connection with the forced disappearance of Rosendo Radilla, detained by the Mexican military in the state of Guerrero, and accused of having ties to a guerilla group. As a result, such cases will now be heard in civilian courts.

The Senate’s decision this month was made on the grounds that Mexico’s reservation violated article IX of the convention, which states that, “Persons alleged to be responsible for the acts constituting the offense of forced disappearance of persons may be tried only in the competent jurisdictions of ordinary law in each state, excluding all special jurisdictions, in particular military jurisdiction.” Upon ratifying the convention in 2002, however, the Mexican government had issued the reservation to Article IX, on the grounds that the “Political Constitution [of Mexico] recognizes military jurisdiction when a member of the armed forces commits an illicit act while on duty.” The reservation went on to defend the use of its military justice system, citing language in its constitution ensuring that individuals undergo criminal proceedings within a judicial framework that existed when the crime was allegedly committed: “Military jurisdiction does not constitute a special jurisdiction in the sense of the Convention given that according to Article 14 of the Mexican Constitution nobody may be deprived of his life, liberty, property, possessions, or rights except as a result of a trial before previously established courts in which due process is observed in accordance with laws promulgated prior to the fact.” Of the 34 countries ratifying the convention, including the United States, Mexico was the only one to issue a reservation with the exception of Guatemala.

While non-governmental organizations dedicated to promoting human rights expressed their pleasure over the Senate’s unanimous decision, they maintain that the Mexican Congress must do more to limit the reach of military jurisdiction in Mexico. The groups include the Mexican Committee for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos, CMDPDH), which litigated Rosendo Radilla’s case in front of the IACHR; the Mexican Institute for Human Rights and Democracy (Instituto Mexicano de Derechos Humanos y Democracia, IMDHD); the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, Centro Prodh); the Investigation and Analysis Center (Centro de Investigación y Análisis, Fundar); and the Human Rights Center of Montaña-Tlachinollan (Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña-Tlachinollan). Groups such as these were instrumental in bringing cases such as that of Radilla to the attention of the IACHR and maintaining pressure on the Mexican government to abide by the court’s findings against its use of military jurisdiction.

In a press release, the NGOs pointed out that the Mexican government still needs to comply with a 2012 Mexican Supreme Court ruling that found the use of military jurisdiction in cases involving civilians unconstitutional, in addition to IACHR rulings stemming from Radilla’s case as well as those of Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Inés Fernández Ortega, who are survivors of sexual assault at the hands of Mexican soldiers; and Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, farmers and environmental activists who were victims of torture by Mexican soldiers and false convictions stemming from forced confessions. Military jurisdiction, they said, “continues being applied in Mexico for investigating violations of human rights, despite recent resolutions by the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) to restrict military jurisdiction.”

The groups also pointed out a proposal by the Senate’s Justice Committee (Comisión de Justicia) to modify the Military Justice Code (Código de Justicia Militar) in order to comply with the aforementioned rulings, but lamented that it has not yet been brought to the Senate floor for discussion and approval, “allowing military jurisdiction to continue knowing of violations to human rights.”


Ballinas, Víctor and Andrea Becerril. “Aprueba Senado juzgar por vía civil a mlitares que participaron en ‘guerra sucia.’” La Jornada. February 4, 2014.

Notimex. “Eliminan reserva de México sobre desaparición forzada de personas.” Vanguardia. February 4, 2014.

Díaz, Gloria Leticia. “Celebran ONG que Senado retire fuero militar por desapariciones.” Proceso. February 5, 2014.

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