Human Rights and Civil Society · Transparency & accountability

Mexicans React to Supreme Court Decision on Military Human Rights Violations

07/21/11 — The Mexican Supreme Court’s (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) ruling on July 12, 2011 that military human rights violations will now be under civilian jurisdiction has led to varied reaction from journalists, organizations, civilians, and the military. Some journalists have suggested that the new law significantly changes the relationship between the military and civilians, which is welcomed by many, specifically those who have been victims of human rights violations by the military or have had family members as victims. With President Calderón’s military campaign against drug trafficking and drug-related violence increasing the number of military personnel in the public domain, the number of violations reported against the military has significantly increased since 2006. However, very few soldiers have been punished due to the fact that military cases were, up until July 12, either tried and found innocent in the military court system or dismissed altogether. Read more about the reform here.

According to human rights lawyer and member of the Mexican Commission in Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CMDPDH) Sergio Méndez Silva, the new reform both increases the chance for prosecution against soldiers and “sends a political, judicial and moral message” that judges need to take action. An increase in military involvement in and attention to cases is already being seen only two weeks after the reforms were passed. As reported in Vanguardia, in the five months leading up until July 12, there were 42 individual members of the military, ranging from soldiers to captains to sergeants, being investigated for violating civilians human rights. Many of the victims in the cases, however, were labeled as “collateral” by the military, thereby stalling the case and leaving the victims’ families with few options. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling on July 12, the Secretariat of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, Sedena) offered victims’ families 1, 794, 519 Mexican pesos in exchange for not pursuing further legal action in civilian courts. Despite still not having their cases go to trial, the majority of the families accepted the financial compensation. While victims’ families welcome the new reform, some believe it came too late. As Proceso reported, Otilio Cantú, whose 29-year-old son was killed by the military in April in Monterrey, is unable to take advantage of the changes to the law because his son’s case has already been started. Nevertheless, Cantú noted that the new reform addresses the problem of having the military do police work and added that it sets “a good precedent for the future.”

Similar to families simultaneously applauding and critiquing the reform, human rights organizations have reacted to the new law. According to Amnesty International (AI), “the resolution is a historical step in the effort to limit military courts’ jurisdiction and to ensure the right to an effective remedy for abuse victims.” At the same time, however, AI also warned of flaws in the reform’s language. Despite the efforts to transfer jurisdiction to civilian courts, military courts will remain the primary investigators of military violations and will have discretion in how they label crimes, which may undermine the reform effort if cases are still deemed to be heard in military courts. AI suggested that this language be removed from the newly established law in order to best serve the Mexican population.


Campos Garza, Luciano. “Aplaude Padre de Asesinado por Militares Decisión de la Corte.” Proceso. July 12, 2011.

Lara Moreno, Carlos. “Celebra AI Resolución de SCJN sobre Fuero Militar.” El Sol de Mexico. July 14, 2011.

Sandoval Alarcón, Francisco. “Se Preparan Demandas Civiles contra Militares.” Vanguardia. July 14, 2011.

Castañón Cuadros, Carlos. “El Ejército al banquillo.” Milenio. July 15, 2011.

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