05/02/14 (written by dpera) — Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) unanimously approved historic reforms to the Military Code of Justice (Código de Justicia Militar) on April 30, less than one week after the Mexican Senate approved the reforms on April 24. These reforms will require all cases involving human rights abuses committed by members of the military against civilians to be tried in civilian courts. Previously, Mexico’s Military Prosecutor (Ministerio Público Militar) held jurisdiction over trying these cases; military officials conducted investigations and trials behind closed doors, leaving the victims and their families in the dark while fostering an environment of impunity.
According to The Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA), roughly 5,000 cases were brought before the Military Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia Militar) alleging human rights violations committed by members of the military against civilians between 2007 and 2012, of which only four resulted in convictions. WOLAalso noted that Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comision Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) received three times more complaints of human rights violations by soldiers in 2013, compared to 2007. This increase coincides with the large influx of military troops on the ground in Mexico as part of former President Felipe Calderón’s efforts to combat organized crime, violence, and drug trafficking, which he declared immediately after taking office in December 2006.
Now that the reforms have passed through Congress, they will now be sent to President Enrique Peña Nieto for his approval. In a joint press release between several Mexican human rights advocacy organizations—the Miguel Agustín Pro Juaréz Human Rights Center (Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez), the Fundar Center for Analysis and Investigation (Fundar Centro de Información y Análisis), the Mexican Institute of Human Rights and Democracy (Instituto Mexicano de Derechos Humanos y Democracia), and the Montaña-Tlachinollan Human Rights Center (Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña-Tlachinollan)—, the organizations called these reforms a “triumph for the victims of military abuses,” especially for the victims of cases previously brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). The reforms, however, are somewhat limited in that cases involving the infringement of human rights that were investigated and tried by the military cannot be brought to court again, nor will cases involving human rights violations by soldiers against soldiers be tried in civilian court, cautions the press release. Nevertheless, President Peña Nieto’s pending approval of these reforms will bring Mexico into compliance with previous IACHR rulings and related decisions by Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN).