(Washington, DC) - A judgment by the Inter-American Court on December 20, 2010, underscores Mexico’s obligation to stop using the military justice system for human rights abuses by the military, Human Rights Watch said today. It also shows that President Felipe Calderon’s proposed reform of the military justice system, which would only subject three types of abuses by military personnel to civilian jurisdiction, is inadequate.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights published its judgment in the case of Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, peasant leaders from Guerrero state involved in environmental activism who were arbitrarily detained and tortured by the military. The court found that the Mexican State had violated their right to liberty, personal integrity, due process, and judicial protection, and ordered Mexican civilian authorities to investigate the victims’ allegations of torture.
“The case lays bare all of the reasons the military should not investigate its own soldiers for human rights abuses: the manipulation of evidence, the military’s use of torture to elicit confessions, and the completely inadequate investigations into serious violations,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The Court’s decision makes clear that President Calderon’s proposal to exclude only some abuses from military jurisdiction, rather than all of them, does not go nearly far enough.”
The Court also reiterated the Mexican government’s obligation to reform its military code of justice in accordance with the American Convention of Human Rights. This was established in earlier cases in 2010, involving the enforced disappearance of Rosendo Radilla Pacheco and the rape of Inés Fernandez Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú, both issued in 2010. In particular, the binding decision dictates that the conclusion that alleged human rights violations should be investigated and prosecuted in the civilian justice system “applies not just to the crimes of torture, forced disappearance, and rape, but to all human rights violations.”
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission found that the military had arbitrarily detained Montiel and Cabrera, planted false evidence on them, and subjected them to torture including beatings and electrical shocks. Despite these findings and evidence of torture documented by Physicians for Human Rights-Denmark, Mexico’s military prosecutor’s office system closed its investigation into the case in November 2001, dismissing Montiel and Cabrera’s claims that their rights had been violated.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on the Mexican government to ensure that all allegations of human rights violations committed by the military are investigated and prosecuted within the civilian justice system.
The case was litigated by Centro de Derechos Humanos "Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez" A.C. (Centro Prodh) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL).