A Mexican congressional decision this week that allows members of its armed forces to be tried in civilian courts for crimes against civilians is a long-awaited win for Mexico’s human rights, advocates say.
Mexico’s lower house unanimously voted 428-0 on Wednesday to change provisions in the military code, including a clause that had given the military courts jurisdiction over any crimes committed by on-duty soldiers. The senate passed the changes last week and the bill is now expected to be signed into law by President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The reform is an important step, because a civilian court, “for all its flaws, is not rigged against" civilians as military courts are, Human Rights Watch senior Americas researcher, Nik Steinberg, told The Associated Press in an email. Mexico’s civilian system is far from perfect: More than 96 percent of crimes are never solved or punished. But the military system is considered opaque, with no public access to trial or prosecution information, and is full of incentives for judges to rule in favor of the military, according to a Human Rights Watch report, "Uniform Impunity.”
“Holding soldiers accountable for abuses is one of the most effective ways to help reduce widespread human rights violations by the military,” Mr. Steinberg said. “It will now be up to civilian prosecutors to see to it that the huge backlog of military abuses is vigorously and effectively prosecuted.”
Former President Felipe Calderón put Mexico’s military on the front lines of his battle against organized crime and skyrocketing violence, a tactic many human rights defenders argue led to cases of civilian abuse and torture. An estimated 60,000 people died due to drug-related homicides during Mr. Calderon’s six-year term that ended in 2012.
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