Friday, August 10, 2012

Mexican Supreme Court strips military tribunals of jurisdiction in offenses against civilian victims

*Updates below*
The Supreme Judicial Court of Mexico (SCJN), the nation's highest tribunal, has ordered that a military officer accused of covering up the murder of a civilian must be tried in a regular criminal court rather than by a court martial. The court announced its decision on Thursday.

The ruling is in accord with a July 2011 SCJN decision, which held that human rights cases involving members of the armed forces should be litigated before civilian authorities (Military court martial convicts 14 in 2007 murder of Sinaloa civilians).

The case before the court involved a colonel who was accused of covering up the torture and murder of a young man in Cuernavaca, Morelos in May 2011. The man died at the hands of soldiers, while they were interrogating him.

In its 8-2 ruling, the court said "whenever members of the armed forces commit an offense against a civilian, ordinary civil jurisdiction will control." The SCJN ruling resolved a dispute between two lower tribunals, a military court martial panel and a federal criminal court, both of which believed they had no jurisdiction to sentence the colonel. Yesterday's ruling made it clear that the federal court must handle the matter.

Mexican armed forces have long been accused of excesses against the civilian population during the drug war, which began in December 2006. A November 2011 report by an international organization documented some cases, but fewer than many had anticipated. Human Rights Watch condemns abuses, violations by Mexican military forces.

Under American law, any serviceman or woman who is accused of committing a crime while on active duty in the U.S. armed forces is subject to the sole jurisdiction of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Military courts martial, or lesser tribunals in very petty cases, resolve all such matters, which may not be turned over to civilian prosecutors. The UCMJ does not recognize an exception for cases involving human rights claims.

Aug. 14 - Mexico's Supreme Judicial Court appears poised to further restrict military jurisdiction in cases where active duty members of the armed forces are charged with offenses which involve no particular victim, such as the falsification of evidence, or conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice during military operations targeted at narcotics trafficking. Such matters are not properly the concern of the military establishment, one minister has argued, but rather of the entire nation. If her legal argument prevails those types of cases will be tried in ordinary federal criminal courts, although the accused was in uniform when the offense occurred. This marks a further departure from standard military law as it exists in most nations, and suggests the court's determination to ensure that service members are dealt with by civilian tribunals rather than by courts martial, which, according to some human rights advocates, are commonly predisposed to exonerate armed forces personnel.

Aug. 20 - The SCJN has ruled that family members of civilians killed by military forces may intervene procedurally in such cases. By conferring legal "standing" upon third parties who were not themselves direct victims of military aggression, the court continues to strip away the jurisdiction of courts martial in favor of ordinary civilian tribunals. The case arose out of the 2009 killing of an indigenous man at an army roadblock, which had stopped a bus for a routine inspection. The driver began to pull away when he thought the search was over, but regrettably it wasn't. A guard opened fire, killing the man. The decedent's survivors intervened in the case to demand that the guard be tired in a regular court, not a military one, and today by a 7-3 vote Mexico's Supreme Court said they had the legal right to do so.

Aug. 21 - Mexico's Supreme Court formally declared unconstitutional a provision of the nation's military code, which had required that service members charged with crimes against civilians be tried before courts martial. The ruling is based on the emerging legal notion that civilians who are victims of military excesses enjoy a fundamental right to have their causes litigated in ordinary criminal courts. There is no such exception in U.S. law, where offenses committed by those in uniform are within the exclusive jurisdiction of military tribunals.

Nov. 21 - The Supreme Court today published a formal order confirming its rulings in the above cases, and directing ordinary federal criminal courts henceforth to assume jurisdiction in all cases where service members are accused of committing crimes against civilians.

Dec. 16, 2011 - Mexico apologizes for rape of 17 year old - after a decade of litigation

No comments:

Post a Comment