Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Military justice and impunity in Mexico's drug war


Securing the Mexican border with troops

By Kristin Bricker

A Report by The Security Sector Reform (SSR) Issue Papers, published by The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)

* US Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal this week likened Mexico's drug war to an 'insurgency' and suggested the US might need to send troops to prevent cartels from taking over Mexico.


...The military has punished only one soldier who committed an abuse during the Calderón administration: a soldier who shot and killed a civilian who failed to stop at a military checkpoint was sentenced to nine months in prison...

When Felipe Calderón assumed Mexico’s presidency in late 2006, following an election marred by allegations of voter fraud, one of his first actions was to deploy the country’s military to combat drug trafficking organizations. Four years later, Mexico’s military maintains a monthly average of 48,750 soldiers in the field, fighting the war on drugs (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional [Sedena], 2009: 104).1 In some regions, soldiers have taken over policing duties from local and state police when the police have been deemed unable or too corrupt to continue their law enforcement duties.

Human rights organizations are critical of the military’s participation in law enforcement duties, and the increasingly common practice of appointing military officials to run police departments. They argue that using the military to carry out law enforcement duties violates Article 129 of the Mexican Constitution, which strictly limits the military’s duties in times of peace (Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, A.C. [Centro Prodh], 2009: 11). The practical consequences of the troops’ deployment are of particular concern to human rights organizations: during Calderón’s administration, over 47,337 people — the overwhelming majority of them civilians2 — have been killed in the war on drugs (McKay, 2011). Human rights abuse complaints filed with the Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH) against the government have increased by 26 percent since Calderón took office. The military is largely responsible for this increase. Human rights abuse complaints filed against the military rose from 182 in 2006 to 1,415 in 2010.3 By May 26, 2011, the number of human rights complaints filed by civilians against military personnel during Calderón’s administration had reached 5,055 (Sedena, 2011: 3). By all measures, Mexico’s level of security has decreased, not increased, since Calderón deployed the first soldiers in December 2006.

Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) argues that human rights abuses were a foreseeable consequence of the deployment: “Military forces are trained for combat situations, in which force is used to vanquish an enemy without regard for the enemy’s wellbeing. In contrast, domestic law enforcement authorities are trained to interact with civilians within at least a minimal framework of Constitutional rights. The difference in roles and tactics means that conflict and abuses are virtually inevitable when the military is brought into a law enforcement role” (Meyer, 2010: 9).

The military has punished only one soldier who committed an abuse during the Calderón administration: a soldier who shot and killed a civilian who failed to stop at a military checkpoint was sentenced to nine months in prison (Vivanco, 2009)...

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