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Letter in Response to Interior Minister of Mexico, Fernando Francisco Gomez-Mont Urueta

The letter responds to information provided by Mr. Gomez Mont and requests again information on alleged military convictions on human rights cases

Dear Dr. Gómez Mont,

I am writing to thank you for your October 20, 2009 response to our request for further information on the claim that there have been convictions by the military courts of military personnel accused of committing human rights violations. The information provided by the Ministry of Defense that you included in your letter, however, fails to adequately respond to our request, and does not provide evidence that the military justice system is holding members of the military accountable when they commit abuses. Available evidence continues to point precisely in the opposite direction.

In our letter of July 8, 2009, we requested copies of the relevant documents connected to the "9 registered convictions against 14 military personnel" that Mexican government officials mentioned during Mexico's Universal Periodic Review in Geneva in June.[1] We requested, in particular, copies of the charges, indictments, court records, transcripts and judgments, including sentencing. The letter also stated that, at minimum, we would like a response to a series of questions regarding the cases, such as what crimes the men were convicted of committing, the precise acts on which their convictions based; the facts of the cases, when they occurred, the date of the rulings; and whether the convictions are subject to review and can therefore be reversed.

Your response did not provide copies of a single document, nor a reason for withholding that information.

Moreover, the information included in the 3-page chart attached to your letter does not substantiate the Mexican government's claim that its military justice is sanctioning members of the military who commit human rights violations.  An analysis of the information provided in your letter demonstrates that:

  • Eight convictions are for events from the 1990s. General Lopez Portillo had stated in a press conference in July that these convictions were issued "during the current administration," giving the impression that he was providing examples of recent cases. Based on the information that is now available, it is unclear whether General Lopez Portillo was wrong because the cases are not from the Calderon administration, or if military courts are currently convicting soldiers for crimes over a decade old.
  • One case included in the list is about a car accident in which a soldier ran over a civilian, which does not appear to be a human rights abuse. In another case that is pending before a military appeals court, your letter fails to provide information on the facts of the case, so we do not know if that investigation is about a human rights violation. Additionally, we do not know if the appeals court will reverse the conviction.
  • The sentences imposed in similar cases are inconsistent. In a 2001 case, for example, a sergeant shot at civilians "without apparent reason" (according to your letter), killing a civilian and injuring another. He was convicted to two and a half years in prison. Yet in another case in which a member of the military opened fire in 2004 against civilians who tried to run away, also killing one of them, a soldier was convicted to 12 years in prison and is currently in jail. Given that there is no apparent reason for the huge discrepancy, it would be very useful to obtain additional information to explain it.
  • Despite the dramatic increase in complaints of military abuses since President Calderon deployed over 40,000 troops to carry out public security operations, only three cases in the list are about events that occurred during the Calderon administration. But none of the three "convictions" demonstrate that the military justice system is adequately investigating, prosecuting, and sanctioning military abuses:
  • a. One case would not qualify as a conviction, because, as you note in your letter, a military appeals court reversed the initial decision. A military court had convicted a lieutenant to one year in prison for committing "violence against a civilian" who, according to your letter, later died of a heart attack.But an appeals court acquitted the lieutenant.
  • b. Another case is the one mentioned above about the car accident, which does not appear to be a human rights abuse. The driver was convicted to one year and 11 months in prison.
  • c. It is unclear whether the third conviction imposes a sentence that reflects the gravity of the offense. It is a case about a soldier who opened fire on a car that failed to stop at a military checkpoint, killing a civilian.The military convicted one soldier and sentenced him to 9 months in prison.It is very difficult to know from the brief description of the facts whether the circumstances justify a lenient 9-month sentence, given the nature of the offense.

Based on the above considerations, I would respectfully urge you to provide us with copies of the documents we requested in our previous letter.  With the minimal information provided to date, including very brief descriptions of the events that led to the convictions, it is impossible to understand why the Mexican government insists that military courts are holding members of the military accountable when they commit crimes that constitute human rights violations. 

In addition, it would be extremely useful if you could please respond to the following questions, which derive from the information included in the list of cases provided by your ministry:

  • Case 4 from the chart, which is the case in which a military appeals court reversed the initial conviction, appears to be one of the cases included in our Uniform Impunity report. In our report, we describe a case in which soldiers detained three men in the municipality of Naco in Sonora state on August 3, 2007, but only presented two of them before the state prosecutor, accusing them of possessing illegal firearms. The body of the third man, Fausto Ernesto Murillo Flores, was found the following day on the side of a road in Sonora, showing signs of torture. The Ministry of Defense told the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) that the cause of Murillo's death was a heart attack, which was the consequence of "addiction to cocaine and tobacco, obesity, and being sedentary." However, according to documentation-including a medical forensic evaluation-analyzed by the CNDH, Murillo's death was likely the consequence of asphyxia. Is Case 4 from your list, which describes a similar fact pattern on the same day but says that the civilian would have died of a heart attack, the case of Fausto Ernesto Murillo Flores?
  • Case 3 in the chart is about a civilian who went missing in 1996 and was seen held by the military.A captain was convicted to 20 years in prison for the crime of "violence against people causing aggravated homicide" but he is currently free. Can you please explain the circumstances that led to authorizing an early release of someone convicted of such a serious crime? When was he released? In addition, can you please explain why the six other members of the military who were also subject to the same investigation were acquitted?

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards, 

José Miguel Vivanco
Americas Director
Human Rights Watch

CC: Pablo Ojeda, Coordinador de Asesores

Lic. Daniel Francisco Cabeza de Vaca Hernández, Undersecretary for Legal Affairs and Human Rights

Dr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Director of the Unit to Promote and Protect Human Rights

[1] "Universal Periodic Review. Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. Mexico. Addendum. Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review,", para. 16.

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