Mexico’s Supreme Court has declared that soldiers accused of committing crimes against civilians can be tried in civil courts.
The justices ruled 8-2 that the section of the military justice code that claims soldiers must be tried in military courts was unconstitutional, the Associated Press reported today.
Reuters said the decision could result in tougher prosecutions against army personnel accused of abusing, torturing and executing civilians.
Human rights groups say military crimes against civilians have risen sharply since President Felipe Calderon deployed thousands of troops to take on the powerful drug cartels in late 2006.
Since then, more than 55,000 people have died in drug-related violence.
The lack of transparency in military courts has led to allegations of misconduct.
Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that the Mexican armed forces opened nearly 5,000 investigations into human rights abuses by soldiers against civilians between 2007 and April 2012, but only 38 ended in sentencing.
The BBC reported that the Supreme Court justices made the ruling on Tuesday as they reviewed the case of Rubio Villegas, who was shot dead by soldiers at a checkpoint in the southern state of Guerrero in 2009.
Another four similar judgments are needed to set a precedent that would change the law.
Amnesty International welcomed the long-awaited decision and urged the Supreme Court to ensure it “becomes a binding legal precedent on all courts in Mexico.”
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