Mexico City: Mexico defended its military courts system on Thursday after a US human rights report cited reports of alleged abuses by the Army and a lack of investigation in many of the cases.
The US State Department's annual human rights report cites hundreds of complaints of illegal detention, some involving abuse or killings allegedly carried out by Mexico's military, which has been called in by President Felipe Calderon to help fight powerful drug cartels.
"The military's domestic law enforcement deployment led to an increased number of reported human rights abuses, and human rights NGOs complained that an opaque military justice system led to impunity," according to the US report.
Under Mexican law, soldiers accused of rights abuses against civilians are still mainly tried in military courts.
The State Department cited Mexican rights groups as saying cases involving military personnel "were not handled transparently by the military justice system” and that only a tiny percentage of cases resulted in indictments.
Calderon has dispatched more than 45,000 soldiers to fight cartels since he took office in late 2006.
His office said in a statement that "the military justice system is not a privilege or a refuge for soldiers who violate human rights to avoid punishment."
The statement acknowledged that "important challenges still remain" on rights issues, but said that reforms are being carried out to make sure that security forces respect civilians' rights, and are punished if they don't.
Calderon's office said four members of the military had been convicted of rights violations in civilian courts and 55 others were being tried in military courts. But the statement did not say what charges or possible sentences they faced, one of the concerns cited in the US State Department's 2009 Human Rights Report, released on Thursday.
The Mexican government said that rights complaints against the armed forced constituted only 1.5 percent of all such complaints received by the country's National Human Rights Commission.
The State Department report cites hundreds of complaints of illegal detention, some involving torture or killings, allegedly carried out by security personnel. It said there were 1,289 complaints of arbitrary arrests and detentions by military and other security forces in 2009.
First Published: Saturday, March 13, 2010, 12:48