Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mexico Lawmakers Vote for Military Justice Reform

In a major step forward for human rights in Mexico, lawmakers in the country have passed a bill ending military jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel against civilians.

Following the Senate’s passage of the bill last week, Mexico’s lower house approved the reform to the military code of justice by a unanimous vote, according to Animal Politico.

The move comes after years of pressure from human rights organizations in the country, involving multiple claims against Mexico in the Inter-American human rights system. The most famous of these, Radilla Pacheco v. Mexico, resulted in a landmark 2009 Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision which ordered Mexican authorities to limit military jurisdiction over cases involving civilians.

In an analysis for El Universal, Javier Cruz Angulo Nobara of the CIDE research center notes that once the bill is signed by President Enrique Peña Nieto, it will effectively end an 80-year debate in the country over the limits of military authority. The paper also notes that in addition to limiting the armed forces’ jurisdiction to cases solely involving military personnel, the reform will rename various institutions within the military justice system.  The Judicial Military Police, for example, will be known as the Ministerial Military Police, to reflect its more internal and disciplinary role.

But while the law is seen by many as an “undeniable” victory for victims of military abuses, human rights advocates in Mexico caution that there is still much work to be done.  In a joint statement released yesterday, four of the country’s leading human rights organizations (Centro Prodh, Centro Tlachinollan, Fundar and the IMDHD) praised the bill while lamenting that the measure does not allow civilian oversight over human rights abuses committed by military personnel against their peers.

The groups also point out that that one of the main factors fueling military abuses is the government’s continued reliance on the armed forces for law enforcement purposes in the first place. “The human rights violations committed by members of the armed forces,” the statement reads, “can only be reversed when the prevailing militarization of public security is put to an end.”

More on the story from the L.A. Times, Reuters and the Associated Press.

 News Briefs
  • In the first round of talks on normalizing relations, Cuban and European Union officials have reached an agreement on establishing a road map for further negotiations. Christian Leffler, the European Commission’s director for the Americas, told the AP that the two sides had hammered out "the general structure" for future discussions, but said they had not discussed the EU’s “Common Position” on the Cuba policy. Interestingly, Cuba’s support for Russia in the Ukraine crisis may have cast a shadow over the EU-Cuba talks, as Reuters reports.
  • Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has backed away from his previous support for a referendum on his decision to allow oil drilling in the Yasuni National Park, telling reporters that the matter had become “too politicized,” according Diario Hoy. The announcement comes after the campaign against drilling presented electoral authorities with the necessary signatures to trigger a popular vote on the measure, and amidst allegations that officials are tampering with signature records.
  • In time for International Workers' Day, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced a 30 percent increase in his country’s minimum wage, El Nacional reports. Critics of the measure note that this is below the level of annual inflation, which was 56 percent for 2013. And as BBC Mundo points out, many Venezuelan workers on minimum wage say ongoing inflation is making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
  • The US-based Freedom House has released its annual report on freedom of the press. Worldwide, the organization claims press freedom had fallen to its lowest level for over a decade, and its assessment of the state of media in the region is equally grim. As the AP reports, Freedom House classifies just two states in Latin America  -- Uruguay and Costa Rica -- as having “free” press. This excludes Belize and the Caribbean nations of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, which joined the U.S. and Canada as free press bastions in the Americas.
  • Yesterday, El Salvador’s Attorney General charged former President Francisco Flores with corruption and embezzlement, making him the first ex-president in the country to be issued a warrant for his arrest. The NYT and El Faro note that Flores is accused of embezzling “at least $5.3 million” in loans from Taiwan during his term, though La Prensa Grafica reports that this figure is much higher, at $15.3 million.
  • After being denied a second term as Guatemala’s Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz gave a  short interview to El Periodico on the development, noting that she -- like many analysts -- was “surprised” that her name was not on the shortlist presented to President Otto Perez Molina.
  • The Global Post’s Rights blog takes a look at the growth of mining operations in Guatemala, which has been accompanied by an alarming rise of violent attacks on indigenous communities in the country.
  • Today marks the fourth day of rural protests in Colombia, echoing last year’s nationwide “agrarian strike” albeit on a smaller scaleSemana reports that the government and demonstrators have yet to come to an agreement, and according to El Tiempo talks have been suspended since yesterday afternoon.
  • Rodrigo Uprimny, head of Bogota-based human rights center Dejusticia and former assistant judge of the Constitutional Court, has been selected as one of two Latin American representatives to the Committee on Social Economic and Cultural Rights. Uprimny’s strong record is good news for advocates of strengthening global recognition of ESC rights, and his rejection of the dominant global drug paradigm could bring a fresh perspective on the issue to the committee.