Mexico high court rules military abusers should be tried in civilian courts
Human rights activists say the move will rein in the military's abuses, which have sharply increased with the army's deployment against criminal gangs operating in Mexico.
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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 President Felipe Calderon’s militarized security strategy have argued that the deployment of the army has provoked a sharp increase in abuses against the civilian population.
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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.
Mr. 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.