Human Rights and Civil Society

National and international scrutiny on military justice system for soldiers accused of HR abuses

With the continued military presence in populated areas of Chihuahua, Baja California, Michoacán, and Guerrero among other states, claims of unlawful entry, torture, and forced disappearances by Mexican soldiers continue to accumulate. The office in charge of complaints against soldiers and federal police in Chihuahua has registered 623 claims since April. Meanwhile, Chihuahua’s Human Rights Commission reports 50 complaints of disappearances, torture, and murder. Such cases are currently handled by the military’s own justice system, a process that is coming under increased scrutiny amidst escalating abuse claims as well as a hearing in the Inter-American Human Rights Court in Costa Rica over the disappearance of a Guerrero man under military custody in 1974.

Mexican and international human rights groups are demanding increased transparency from the Mexican government in scores of alleged human rights abuses by the military during President Calderón’s military-led campaign against the drug cartels. The organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Interior Minister Fernando Gómez Mont to hand over arrest orders, indictments, case files and sentences from cases of alleged violations handled by the military justice system. Officials in the Foreign Relations Ministry (SRE) last month reported to the United Nations that six cases are currently under investigation. The SRE reported that three of these collectively involve 32 soldiers, and that 14 individuals have been sentenced. HRW countered by pointing out that the Secretary of Defense has failed to make public any specific convictions carried out over the past 10 years. José Miguel Vivanco, HRW director for the Americas, requested information regarding the specific abuses for which the 14 soldiers were reportedly sentenced, as well as their ranks, and the dates when the abuses took place. Vivanco also requested information regarding soldiers who have been absolved of charges against them. HRW recently released its report “Uniform Impunity,” in which it documents 17 cases of military abuse involving more than 70 victims. According to the report, none have resulted in a conviction with the exception of a case tried in a civilian court in which soldiers were convicted of raping 13 women in Castaños, Coahuila.

Interior Minister Fernando Gómez Mont continues to defend the use of military justice to investigate and prosecute alleged human rights abuses committed by Mexican soldiers against civilians, and insists that abuses by soldiers are not systemic occurrences, but rather isolated incidents that are being duly addressed through military channels. Gómez Mont, in charge of coordinating domestic security operations nationwide, assured members of the Inter-American Human Rights Court (CIDH) in Costa Rica that the same standards of independence, impartiality, and transparency exist in the military as in the civilian justice system. His statements came during a CIDH hearing on the 1979 forced disappearance of Rosendo Radilla.

Radilla disappeared in August 1974 after being held in a military installation in Acapulco, Guerrero. Rosendo Radilla’s children, Tita and Rosendo, testified against the Mexican government, claiming that the investigations that ensued after their father’s disappearance were inadequate, due to the fact that they were carried out by military authorities. Aside from accusations of forced disappearance of her father and an ensuing miscarriage of justice, Tita Radilla also reported that she had received threats from the Mexican military for her role as president of an association of families of detained and disappeared, and victims of human rights violations in Mexico. Representing the Mexican government at the hearing were Gómez Mont; general Jaime Antonio López Portillo, the Army’s prosecutor; and Alejandro Negrín, the general director of Human Rights and Democracy for the Foreign Relations Secretariat.

Gómez Mont ultimately argued that Mexico has experienced a democratic transformation since the time of the alleged disappearance, in part due to the efforts of its armed forces, and challenged the CIDH’s jurisdiction in a case from far before Mexico signed on to the court. For the plaintiffs in the case, however, the implications of Radilla’s disappearance extend to a much larger and contemporary context, as they insist that similar acts of arbitrary detention, torture and disappearances by the Mexican military remain commonplace and systemic.

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


Giles Sanchez, Citlal. “Comienza el juicio contra México por la desaparición de Radilla.” La Jornada July 8, 2009.

Rea, Daniela and Ariadna García. “Rechaza México jurisdicción de CIDH.” Reforma July 8, 2009.

“Señalan excesos en guerra contra narco.El Universal July 13, 2009.

Garduño, Silvia. “Exigen datos de fuero militar.” Reforma July 9, 2009.

Olivares Alonso, Emir. “ONG: ante la CIDH, doble discurso del gobierno; reconoce el caso Radilla pero rechaza jurisdicción.” La Jornada July 16, 2009.

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