Mexican Supreme Court Strikes Down Military Trial

In a far-reaching decision, Mexico’s Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional a section of the Military Code of  Justice that kept trials of soldiers accused of crimes against civilians confined within the armed forces. Delivered on Monday, August 20, the 8-2 ruling came in the case of Bonfilio Rubio Villegas, an indigenous man killed at an army checkpoint in Huamuxtitlan, Guerrero, in 2009.

In the Rubio case, a majority of the high court’s justices determined that prosecution of the crime within the military system violated Article 13 of the Mexican Constitution. The Supreme Court ordered that the Rubio case be transferred from a military court to the appropriate civilian one at the federal level.

For decades, members the armed forces accused of serious crimes against civilians including torture, murder and rape have been legally processed in the military’s justice system. Backed by international institutions like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights,  Mexican human rights activists have criticized the military trials as lacking in transparency and encouraging impunity.

“This is a historic decision in the sense that it is the first case of a protection that has been won against the extension of the military code,” said Santiago Aguirre, a lawyer for the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain. Based in Guerrero, Tlachinollan has represented civilian clients in different cases against soldiers.

Other human rights advocates also praised the Rubio decision. Monterrey physician Otilio Cantu Gonzalez, whose 31-year-old son Jorge was shot to death by the army during a security operation in the northern Mexican city last year, said the Supreme Court’s action will serve as a precedent in future cases in which members of the armed forces are charged with crimes against civilians.

Nonetheless, Cantu cautioned that the decision will not be sufficient to eradicate institutional impunity.

“While at least the decision means that things should be done as the Constitution spells out, let’s do away with impunity,” Cantu urged. “Who knows why (impunity) and corruption are so rooted, but at least this will be a precedent so Mexican justice is not put in doubt.”

Sources: La Jornada, August 21, 2012. Article by Jesus Aranda. Proceso/Apro, August 21, 2012. Articles by Jorge Carrasco Araizaga and Luciano Campos Garza.

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