Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mexican Defense Secretary Opposes Civilian Trials for Military Human Rights Abusers

Military Leaders Are Against UN Recommendations and Plan Mexico Human Rights Conditions

by Kristin Bricker

Secretary of Defense Guillermo Galván Galván used his speech on Mexican "Military Day" to rally the nation against proposals that members of the military who are accused of human rights violations be investigated by civilian officials and tried in civilian courts. Currently, the military investigates its own members and tries them in military tribunals under what is known as "Military Jurisdiction."

Calls to Abolish Military Jurisdiction

As Mexico increasingly relies on the military to perform policing functions in the war on drugs, the Mexican government's human rights ombudsman, the National Human Rights Commission, is seeing an increasing number of human rights complaints being filed against the military.

National and international human rights organizations have long called for Mexican law to be changed so that soldiers and military officials be investigated and tried in civilian courts. According to International Service for Peace, a Chiapas, Mexico-based human rights organization,
In 1998 the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture issued a report on Mexico, in which he affirmed that “military personnel appear to be immune to civil and criminal justice and generally protected by military courts.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) has also criticized the systematic and absolute use of military tribunals to judge military personnel: “independence and impartiality are clearly compromised (…), producing de facto impunity.” The Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH)...indicated [in 2007] that military jurisdiction has negative results especially in cases of violence against women: they [the women] fear going to the military tribunals, converting themselves into “perfect victims of a dysfunctional system.”
Calls to abolish Military Jurisdiction in cases that involve human rights abusesnhave long fallen on deaf ears. However, now that the military has occupied many towns in northern Mexico in the government's self-proclaimed war on organized crime, the problem of military impunity is taking stage--both nationally and internationally.

When former president George W. Bush signed the first year of funding for the Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico, into law on July 1, 2008, the bill conditioned 15% of military and police funding on, amongst other conditions, military members being investigated and tried in civilian courts. The bill states that the US Secretary of State must inform Congress, in writing, that the government of Mexico is "ensuring that civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities are investigating and prosecuting, in accordance with Mexican and international law, members of the federal police and military forces who have been credibly alleged to have committed violations of human rights, and the federal police and military forces are fully cooperating with the investigations." The conditioned 15% has not been released because Mexico is not in compliance with the conditions. However, the other unconditional 85% has been released, and it includes military training and armament.

On February 19, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, strongly criticized both the use of the military in the war on drugs and military jurisdiction. Regarding the war on drugs, she stated that "the utilization of the military in civilian law enforcement functions continues to be problematic and is fundamentally inappropriate considering its training, philosophy, equipment, and its perspectives.... [The use of the armed forces against drug trafficking and organized crime] can generate more violence and cause innocent civilians to suffer or lose their lives, particularly when the military uses force to confront heavily armed groups, which leads to lethal confrontations. I consider the war on drugs, if it even exists, or the war on organized crime, these so-called wars have to be won not in the streets, but rather in the courts... It should be remembered that the Military is strictly prohibited from killing or murdering civilians. On principle, those responsible--the accused--should be arrested so that they are tried and their responsibility or guilt is determined. The Military has to understand that the use of force has to be designed so that it activates a judicial process, not so that extraordinary force is applied; it can't come to extra-judicial sacrifices or murders."

Specifically addressing Military Jurisdiction, Arbour stated, "Soldiers have committed human rights violations in the fight against organized crime--rape of women and adolescents, murders, arbitrary detentions, theft, and looting--which need to be investigated by the civil justice system. The abuses perpetrated by soldiers have to be attended to by civil tribunals and not only by the Military's discipline." (source: La Jornada)

Military Leaders Fight Back

It was this last statement that motivated Secretary Galván and his subordinates in the military to defend Military Jurisdiction. "Military Jurisdiction," stated Galván on Military Day, celebrated on February 19, "revolves around military justice. It's a guarantee of the rule of law, never a cover of impunity.... For those who demand that Military Jurisdiction be abolished, we tell them that this is the jurisdiction where violations of military discipline are prevented and those who transgress are made examples of."

Enrique Jorge Alonso Garrido Abreu, commander of the 9th Military Region located in the state of Guerrero, went on the offensive against human rights organizations following the UN High Commissioner's statements. "I think it's logical, in respect to human rights, to which the Military is completely committed to upholding, that in a given moment organized crime is able to use these human rights to do whatever they want and say that their human rights are being violated," he told journalist Juan José Belmonte Torres in an interview.

Belmonte Torres asked Garrido Abreu to clarify: "So what you just told us is that human rights organizations are used by criminal groups to cover their activities?"

"Yes, of course," the commander replied.

Brigadier General Jaime Antonio López Portillo, director general of the Mexican Defense Department's human rights office, minimizes the number of complaints against the military in the war on drugs. In a recent interview published in La Jornada, "We believe that the number of complaints isn't a lot in relation to the quantity of people we have working for us." He went on to discredit claims that Military Jurisdiction promotes impunity. "They haven't cited a single concrete case where it can be said 'here is the proof that it is convincing that the Military Jurisdiction has been a safe haven for impunity.'" Mexican Congress left López Portillo's human rights office with zero funds for 2009.

Human rights organizations have actually cited several cases to prove their point that Military Jurisdiction promotes impunity. In a press release issued in response to the military authorities' defense of Military Jurisdiction, the "All Rights for Everyone" National Civil Organization Network, the Mexican Commission for Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, the la Montaña, Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, the Center for Justice and International Law, the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Center, the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center, and the Fundar Center for Analysis and Investigation cite the following cases, none of which have been brought to justice:
  • Guerrero activist and community leader Rosendo Radilla Pacheco disappeared in 1974 at a military checkpoint during Mexico's Dirty War.
  • Ecologists Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera were arrested in an unauthorized military raid in Guerrero in 1999 and severely tortured. They remained imprisoned until November 2001.
  • In Guerrero in April 1999, Victoriana Vazquez Sanchez, 50, and Francisca Santos Pablo, 33, stumbled upon a military camp while they were searching for two male relatives, Antonio Mendoza Olivero, 10, and Evaristo Albino Tellez, 27. The soldiers spotted the women and chased them. They raped the women until Santos Pablo lost consciousness. A month later, the women learned the relatives they were searching for had been killed by soldiers. There has never been an investigation into the rapes nor the murders.
  • In March 2002, soldiers raped Inés Fernández Ortega in Guerrero when she did not answer their questions regarding meat they claimed had been stolen from them.
  • In February 2002, Valentina Rosendo Cantú, 17, was raped by soldiers in Guerrero after the soldiers stopped her near her home to ask her questions about insurgents.
  • In June 1994, a group of soldiers detained Ana, Beatriz, and Celia Gonzalez Perez and their mother Delia Perez de Gonzalez to interrogate them. The soldiers separated the girls from their mother, beat them, and raped them repeatedly.
  • In March 2008, soldiers opened fire on a car, killing Edgar Geovany Araujo Alarcón, 25, Héctor Zenón Medina López, 28, Manuel Medina Araujo, 25, and Irineo Medina Díaz, 50. The soldiers injured two other people in the car. The occupants were doing nothing illegal and were not armed.
  • In February 1995, during one of the most intense military offensives in Chiapas following the Zapatista uprising, soldiers tied up and shot Gilberto Jimenez as he fled from the military siege.
The human rights groups who issued the statement don't propose to completely abolish Military Jurisdiction--an act that pro-military op-ed columnists have argued would undermine military discipline. Rather, the organizations argue, "Military Jurisdiction must be exclusively for crimes and offenses committed by soldiers against military regulations, and can not be extended to the investigation and prosecution of incidents that constitute human rights violations.... Military Jurisdiction is not a guarantee of independence and impartiality, much less an efficient investigation to prosecute soldiers responsible for [human rights] violations."
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