Conflict & Justice

Mexican soldiers to face civil trials, rules Supreme Court


A policeman walks next to firefighters as they extinguish a fire at the Police Station of Guadalupe municipality, Nuevo Leon state, Mexico, after an attack of gunmen, on March 2, 2011.


Dario Leon

Mexican soldiers accused of rights abuses against civilians should be tried in civilian courts rather than by closed-door military tribunals, Mexico's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

"If a civilian's rights have been violated by the armed forces, the jurisdiction will be in civil courts not military courts," Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldivar said, as reported by Reuters.

The military tribunals have been accused of having little transparency, and the civil trials will give the public more information on what is happening.

Tuesday's ruling restricts the extent of Mexico's military code of justice, BBC reports.

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However, the court did not automatically take all such cases out of military tribunals but rather made the recommendation, the Associated Press states.

Human rights groups have accused soldiers of violating citizens' rights during the nation's battle against drug cartels and traffickers. Soldiers have been accused of arbitrarily detaining suspects, conducting illegal searches, torturing suspects, opening fire at crowded checkpoints and accidentally shooting innocent civilians.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the drug cartels after taking office in 2006. He has deployed thousands of troops to the streets to crack down on the trafficking and violence. However, the violence has gotten worse and more than 35,000 have been killed in Mexico since Calderon's campaign.

Rights groups say Calderon's operation has led to more troops abusing civilians' rights, BBC reports. The National Human Rights Commission has reportedly received more than 5,000 complaints of military abuses since Calderon's 2006 campaign. And yet the military courts have resulted in convictions in only a small percentage of those.

Human rights groups praised the ruling and said it is a step in the right direction.

"We like it, and we hope that it begins to be applied as soon as possible," human rights lawyer Andres Diaz told AP.