Monday, October 27, 2014

Military justice reform in Mexico

The Brown Political Review has an excellent summary of the state of play regarding reform of the Mexican military justice system, prompted by The Tlatlaya Case:
The Tlatlaya case will continue to put to the test the reach of civil jurisdiction as a tool to deter human rights violations by the military. The reform to the military penal code paved the way for some justice in the Tlatlaya case already, and can have an even greater impact if and when the government toughens its response to investigation and prosecution. But it may, unfortunately, take more than Tlatlaya before we can expect the government to be willing and able to respect the spirit of the law expressed in the new military penal code.
In fact, the Mexican Supreme Court has been reinterpreting the applicability of military jurisdiction to expand its scope on other frontiers. On October 20, in resolving a case of amparo forwarded by the soldier Luis Alberto Martínez Campos, six out of ten ministers of justice supported that the military tribunal is competent to try federal crimes committed by soldiers if and whenever there are no civilians involved. Campos was accused in a military court of crimes against health, specifically of permitting the traffic of marijuana into the United States. He filed a writ of amparo, a form of constitutional relief, claiming that since he was being accused of a crime against health he couldn’t be tried in a military court. In the Supreme Court’s analysis, the majority argued that as the crime did not affect civilians, the sentence handed out by the military court was valid. The opposing ministers, on the flipside, invoked the Inter-American Court rulings, specifying that, in times of peace, an on-duty officer can only be tried in military courts if the crime pertains to the military discipline itself. This recent decision reveals the deep fractures in the Mexican Supreme Court. The walled garden approach to military justice would appear to be yet another deliberate attempt to block investigation and prosecution against officers involved in the trafficking of narcotics, allowing systemic corruption to metastasize at the heart of Mexican society.
Military control over cases that should concern civilian courts undermines central constitutional principals, rights and institutions: it subverts the rule of law and access to justice. Atrocities like Tlatlaya capture the public imagination, reminding us that empowering the military justice system corrupts the right to fair recourse and submits military officers and citizens — guilty or innocent — to an arbitrary application of the law.
Tlatlaya may point Mexico to a new direction, but as long as the state keeps granting military courts extraordinary power to oversee crimes that do not pertain to their functions, the further it promotes the corruption and corrosion of its own institutions, and the further it entrenches itself in a cyclic war it does not have the institutional capacity or integrity to end.

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