MEXICO CITY – In a groundbreaking decision, a Mexican judge has ordered that a soldier accused of homicide in the 2009 death of an indigenous man in the southern state of Guerrero be tried in a civilian court instead of a military tribunal.
Judge Carlos Alfredo Soto ruled on a motion from the victim’s father and brother asking that the case be removed from military jurisdiction, the Judiciary Council said.
Soto’s ruling follows a decision in June by Mexico’s Supreme Court that substantially restricted the immunity of military personnel from prosecution by the civilian justice system.
The high court’s review of the case of Rosendo Radilla, a former mayor and community activist who disappeared after soldiers seized him at a checkpoint in 1974, led to the conclusion that the armed forces’ immunity did not extend to human rights violations.
The Mexican Constitution requires that members of the military accused of crimes against individuals be subjected to civilian justice, Judge Soto said in his ruling.
The current case involves an unnamed infantryman who opened fire on a bus on June 20, 2009, killing one of the occupants.
While the Guerrero state Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation, the matter was quickly turned over to the military justice system, which indicted the soldier for homicide.
Lacking confidence in the military courts, the victim’s family filed the motion seeking to have the case transferred to the civilian justice system.
Mexico’s independent National Human Rights Commission has “received nearly 5,000 allegations of human rights violations against the military since 2007, including killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and rape,” Human Rights Watch said in July.
The purported crimes have occurred in the context of President Felipe Calderon’s deployment of tens of thousands of soldiers, marines and federal police to battle drug cartels.
Members of the armed forces charged with rights abuses against civilians have enjoyed “near total impunity” in military courts, HRW said. EFE