Author: Jennifer Johnson
History was made this week when Mexico’s lower chamber of Congress (Cámara de Diputados) unanimously passed an important reform to Mexico’s military code of justice to ensure that abuses committed by the military against civilians are investigated and heard in civilian, not military, jurisdiction. This legislative victory follows a unanimous vote by the Senate one week ago. The passage of this crucial reform is the result of a tremendous effort spurred by Mexican and international human rights organizations and, most importantly, victims themselves.
Historically, soldiers who commit human rights violations against civilians have been almost exclusively investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system. This notoriously opaque and unaccountable system created a climate of impunity and left thousands of victims of human rights violations by the military without access to justice.
The urgency for Mexico to act has grown in recent years as Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported a five-fold increase of reports of abuses by federal security forces during the Calderón administration. Reports of abuse have continued at alarming levels into the Pena Nieto administration, with Mexico’s National Human Right s Commission having registered 1,050 complaints of human rights violations by soldiers (SEDENA) from December 1, 2012 – April 22, 2014, including cases of unlawful killings, forced disappearances, and torture.
These numbers tell a story, but the call for Mexico to reform its military justice code gained critical momentum through the tireless struggle for justice of victims of violence by the military, such as Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Inés Fernández Ortega, two indigenous women from Guerrero who were raped by soldiers in 2002. Since 2009, multiple rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Mexico’s Supreme Court have clearly stated that human rights violations committed by the military against civilians must be heard in civilian, not military, courts. Despite these rulings and long-standing and valiant efforts by human rights groups and victims, efforts to advance legislative proposals to reform the Military Code of Justice were long met with a firm resistance that many civil society groups attributed to the fear of policymakers to challenge the demands of the Mexican military.
Of course, these reforms do not solve all problems and cases will need to be carefully monitored to ensure that justice is served. However, they are a critical step towards building a climate of accountability and human rights-respecting institutions in Mexico. LAWG applauds the Mexican Congress for this historic vote – and the human rights organizations and victims who made these reforms a reality.