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Mexico: Supreme Court limit on military jurisdiction must become binding precedent

    August 22, 2012

    The historic decision by Mexico’s National Supreme Court (SCJN) to refer a case involving human rights violations by military personnel against Bonfilio Rubio Villegas to a civilian not a military court, must become a binding precedent for other such cases, Amnesty International said.

    The SCJN yesterday ruled against the application of military justice in the case of Villegas, an indigenous man shot and killed by military personnel at a road block in Guerrero in June 2009.

    The decision confirmed as unconstitutional Article 57 II (a) of the military penal code which has previously justified the transfer of all cases of alleged human rights violations by military personal to the military justice system.

    “Amnesty International calls on Mexico’s National Supreme Court to ensure the historic decision to refer cases of human rights violations to civilian jurisdiction, not military, becomes a binding legal precedent on all courts in Mexico,” said Rupert Knox, Amnesty International’s Mexico Researcher.

    “It is also now time to ensure the civilian justice system demonstrates that it can and will investigate, prosecute and try those all military personnel implicated in human rights violations and uphold the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparations.”

    The SCJN ruling was in line with four judgements against Mexico by the Inter American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), which ordered the changes after concluding that military jurisdiction had denied access to truth, justice and reparations for victims of human rights violations.

    The SCJN ruling  also complies with the IACHR order to establish victims’ right to effective legal recourse,,including relatives of victims of enforced disappearance and homicide, to file a federal judicial review (amparo petition) and to challenge issues of jurisdiction.

    In its ruling, the SCJN also confirmed its interpretation of the Constitution in line with the IACHR judgements, that military jurisdiction is only applicable where civilians are not accused, nor victims, and should be limited to cases of military discipline or specific legal interests of the military (bienes juridicos propio del orden militar).

    Decades of campaigning

    Victims of human rights violations by the Armed Forces and national and international human rights organizations have campaigned for more than 40 years for this change to end the impunity which military justice has ensured.

    Amnesty International wrote to the Supreme Court to press for the restriction of military jurisdiction, in line with international human right law, in these cases which were brought to the court by victims and human right organizations.

    The executive and legislature have so far failed in their obligation to pass legal reforms in line with IACHR judgements, leaving it to the SCJN to act in favour of victims of human rights violations.

    The SCJN ordered in May 2012 that at least 28 cases in lower courts relating to the application of military jurisdiction should not be resolved until the court had established binding jurisprudence on the issue.

    The SCJN began to study cases on 6 August 2012, resolving the first case of jurisdictional conflict in favour of the civilian courts in the case of enforced disappearance, torture and killing of Jethro Sanchez in May 2011 in Morelos state.

    The SCJN must rule on at least two further cases to establish binding jurisprudence according to Mexico’s legal system.

    Beth Berton-Hunter,
    Media Relations,
    Amnesty International Canada
    416-363-9933, ext. 332