HomeNewsAnalysisMexico Military Abusers to be Tried in Civilian Courts
ANALYSIS

Mexico Military Abusers to be Tried in Civilian Courts

MEXICO / 14 JUL 2011 BY PATRICK CORCORAN EN

A Supreme Court ruling that Mexican soldiers accused of human rights abuses should be tried in civilian courts could improve the way the armed forces conduct domestic security operations.

The move has long been sought by human rights activists, and long opposed by the armed forces. It changes the established practice of trying soldiers accused of rights violations in military courts, where judges can be removed at the behest of the defense secretary. Eager to remain on good terms with their de facto bosses, judges often appeared to bury cases that would reflect poorly on the military. As a result, critics say, convictions were exceedingly rare, even in cases that appeared straightforward.

The issue of military abuses, and the government’s response to them, has taken on new importance over the past few years, as the Mexican army and marines have expanded their participation in combating organized criminal groups. Critics of Calderon’s militarized security strategy have argued that the deployment of the army has provoked a sharp increase in abuses against the civilian population.

In 2009, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting more than a dozen allegations of military abuse, from extrajudicial executions to the rape of suspects. Anecdotes about summary executions by the military increasingly circulate in Mexico, reflecting a widely-held belief that the armed forces are often abusive, and are not usually held to account for their actions.

Calderon’s response has been to point out that such incidents are rare, and that they pale in comparison to the abuses carried out by the criminal groups. While the second claim is undeniable, it is an apples-to-oranges comparison that is irrelevant to the issue. Defending the army's record by comparing it to criminals ignores the fact that it is in the military’s own interest to rein in abuses, and anything that pushes the brass to do so will help to make the armed forces more effective.

Following the Supreme Court decision, some commentators have expressed concern that the armed forces will no longer be as effective in their growing domestic role. Carlos Marin, the editorial director of Milenio media group, worried in a Wednesday column that the military will now feel obliged to avoid risky operations, “like the one from last week, in which a military venture managed the rescue of 20 kidnapped people in Monterrey.”

This seems unlikely, given that most of the cases of abuse stem not from risky rescues but rather interrogations that went too far, or are premeditated disappearances. Marin’s logic runs backwards; the military top brass may not be comfortable with embarrassing prosecutions playing out in the public eye, but if this decision results in fewer cases of abuse, it will make for a more effective military able to play a more constructive role in public security.

One thing military apologists often seem to forget is that human rights abuses are not only wrong, but counterproductive. The military obtains no operational benefit from torturing or raping potential witnesses. Indeed, it generally serves only to turn the civilian population against the security forces, and reduce locals’ willingness to cooperate.

Similarly, summary executions of suspected criminals may cut through the red tape and eliminate the possibility that the suspect is released without a conviction, but it also means that that the witness in question cannot be persuaded to inform or work as an undercover agent for the government. In many cases, it seems that the army has put bullets into people who could have provided a wealth of information regarding the Mexico’s criminal threats.

The military is one of the public institutions that enjoys the highest levels of trust in Mexico, and civil prosecutions of soldiers may well undermine that prestige to a certain degree. However, the real long-term threat to the military’s enviable reputation is not the prosecution of a small (and hopefully diminishing) number of bad apples, but rather the steady drumbeat of reported violations coupled with the failure to hold the guilty parties accountable.

It appears that Mexico will continue to employ the military in domestic security for years to come. The recent ruling can only, in the long run, make its performance more effective.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Tags

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 15 JUN 2017

Press reports have raised the alarm on decreasing gun seizures in Mexico and their possible impact on homicides, but the…

MEXICO / 26 NOV 2013

A recent report from a Mexican NGO tackles the crisis in the nation's penitentiary system, unearthing a number of critical…

HOMICIDES / 30 OCT 2014

Mexico’s declining murder rate counts as a major accomplishment for President Enrique Peña Nieto, but the nation’s annual victimization…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…