On 12 July 2011, Mexico’s Supreme Court issued a historic ruling establishing that members of the military accused of human rights violations should be tried in civilian courts. The Court made this decision after reviewing a 2009 Inter-American Court of Human Rights judgment against Mexico for the forced disappearance of activist Rosendo Radilla in 1974 by members of the Mexican military.

The Court’s decision opens the door to holding members of the military accountable for human rights violations that have historically gone unpunished when tried in military courts. Currently, approximately 50,000 soldiers are involved in counter-drug operations throughout the country, and accusations of human rights violations by Mexican soldiers have skyrocketed. Since 2006, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has received more than 4,800 complaints against the military for human rights violations, increasing from 182 complaints in 2006 to 1,415 in 2010.

In 2010, three cases were brought against Mexico before the Inter-American Court involving human rights violations by Mexican soldiers. These cases involve Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo, two indigenous women who were tortured and raped by Mexican soldiers in the state of Guerrero on separate occasions in 2002, and Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, two ecological activists in Guerrero who were arbitrarily detained and tortured by soldiers in 1999. Although the Inter-American Court ordered that these cases be transferred to civilian jurisdiction, the Mexican government has so far failed to comply with this ruling. In light of the decision by Mexico’s highest legal body, the Mexican government should immediately transfer these cases to civilian courts so that the soldiers responsible for these human rights violations are finally brought to justice.

The Court’s ruling also renders ineffective President Calderon’s proposal to the Mexican Senate to reform the military code of justice to transfer only certain types of human rights violations to civilian jurisdiction. The new ruling establishes that all human rights violations be judged in civilian courts. The Mexican Congress now is charged with the task of approving a reform that fully complies with the Supreme Court’s judgment.

The Court’s decision puts an end to the debates that have gone on for years in Mexico about the application of military jurisdiction for human rights violations committed by members of the military against civilians, and it is a step forward to ensuring accountability and strengthening the rule of law in the country.