On Tuesday (9 November 2010) Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) expressed concern about the limited nature of President Calderón’s proposal to reduce the scope of military judicial jurisdiction (currently being discussed in the Federal Congress) . After the rulings by the Inter American Court of Human Rights (IAMCHR), which indicate that Mexico should ensure that soldiers who commit crime against civilians are punished in a civilian court , Calderón has submitted a bill which proposes to make the rape, “desaparición forzosa“(unlawful kidnapping or “disappearance”) and torture by soldiers crimes that must be dealt with by the civil justice system. However, the bill would allow military authorities to decide in each case if the charge made falls into these categories. A clause which obviously maintains the army’s privilege of deciding whether or not to pursue complaints made against its soldiers.
In a memorandum sent to the government and the Senate AI warms that this reform –due to its partial nature- does not comply with the IACHR’s sentence. For its part, HRW wrote to the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate respectively to ask them to reform Calderón’s proposal. In his letter, José Miguel Vivanco, Director of the America Division of the human rights organization, pointed out quite rightly that the reform in its present state “would not put an end to the majority of abuses committed by soldiers”. He called for the representatives to change the terms of the bill to cover more crimes and to make sure that the military is not awarded the right to determine whether a charge fall into the categories that must be prosecuted in civilian courts.
Vivanco highlights the fact that military personal commit a wide range of abuses against civilians, most of which are not contemplated in Calderón’s reform. He points out that HRW has carried out an analysis of the 65 recommendations the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) has made to the Mexican Minisitry of Defence. This study revealed that “in only three of the 62 cases (only 5%) the crimes being investigated” can be classified as rape, kidnap or torture. As a result, “the 59 remaining cases, which include extrajudicial executions, sexual assault and cruel and degrading treatment” would still remain crimes that could only be prosecuted under military law.
Finally, he demonstrates the inadequate nature of President Calderón’s proposal to allow the army to determine which cases to hand over to the civilian authorities. In his letter he states, “of the [aforementioned] 62 cases examined by Human Rights Water […], in more than half -34 out of 62- it has been proved that the cases of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment documented by the CNDH have been classified by the Ministry of Defence as lesser crimes, such as ‘injuries’ or ‘abuses of authority'”. At least one case, even a “disappearance” had been termed an abuse of authority.
Evidently AI and the HRW speak sense. However, given the fact that Calderón has been unsuccessful in achieving any reform of military law during his government, despite a number of attempts, even if Mexico’s Congress were to change the bill in the manner that Vivanco suggests, it is unlikely to become law. Mexico’s military are too important a part of the President’s war on drugs for him to accept any reforms Congress might make.
 See my earlier blog post for more details: https://hidingunderthebedisnottheanswer.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/mexico-condemned-for-women%E2%80%99s-human-rights-violations/