08/28/12 – The Mexican Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) took another significant step forward this month regarding military human rights violations being tried in civilian courts. The Supreme Court’s initial ruling on August 10 determined that cases involving human rights violations and military personnel should be tried in federal civilian courts, and not through the military’s own justice system, which is notorious for its high levels of impunity. On August 21, the SCJN furthered the scope of that ruling by confirming Article 57 of the Mexican Military Code of Justice to be unconstitutional, which is the specific article that the military has interpreted to give itself jurisdiction over cases involving military human rights. The court must rule on an additional two cases to establish precedence, but the fact that the SCJN has continued to uphold their initial decision is nevertheless an historical moment in Mexico for human rights and will certainly strengthen victims’ access to justice.
The specific case that prompted the August 21 decision surrounded Bonfilio Rubio Villegas, a Mexican indigenous man who was shot and killed at a military checkpoint in 2009. In an 8-2 vote, the Supreme Court justices determined that the case should be tried in federal court rather than in a military court. For the past three years, the family of Rubio Villegas has been fighting for a transfer of jurisdiction, despite being allegedly threatened and intimidated for their attempts.
International organizations and human rights advocates, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have hailed the SCJN decision and applauded Mexico’s decision to adhere with an Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) ruling in 2009 against the Mexican military justice system. Nevertheless, they recognized that more work is still needed, including establishing precedent and actually putting the ruling into action.