Wednesday, July 20, 2016

New book sheds light on military courts in Latin America

A recent book by Julio Ríos-Figueroa (CIDE, Mexico) will be of great interest to many readers. Constitutional Courts as Mediators: Armed Conflict, Civil-Military Relations, and the Rule of Law in Latin America was published this summer in Cambridge University Press’s well-respected Comparative Constitutional Law and Policy series. The book focuses on the key question of how democracies attempt to balance the need for a strong military that is also bound by the rule of law, and the under-examined role that constitutional courts can play in this process. The main argument is that constitutional courts and judges play an informational role in the bargaining that occurs between the civilian government and military, reducing uncertainty and leading to a more cooperative relationship. These courts are successful, in other words, when they serve as mediators rather than just arbiters of disputes.

To illustrate his theory, Ríos-Figueroa examines constitutional court cases that challenge a previous ruling by a military authority and those that reflect broadly on the scope of military jurisdiction across three countries in Latin America: Colombia, Peru, and Mexico. The three cases share a history of internal security threats, democratic elections, and constitutional reform processes in the early 1990s, yet the nature of constitutional courts (particularly the level of accessibility) varies significantly over time and across cases, providing solid leverage on the main variable of interest. Colombia is described as being the case where courts have been the most informational and served the important mediator role that has helped resolve conflicts between the government and the military. A later chapter reflects briefly on Israel, Turkey, and Pakistan to demonstrate the applicability of the model outside of the region of Latin America.

Overall, readers will find the theory accessible and argument convincing, and will greatly value the detailed case studies. Anyone interested in the role that high courts can play in checking military power and reforming military justice should take a look at this new work.    

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