Mexico Senate: civilian courts for soldiers

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's Senate on Thursday unanimously approved amendments to the country's military justice code that will allow for members of the armed forces who commit a crime against civilians to be tried in civilian courts.

The amendments were approved with 106 votes. They must still be approved by the lower house of congress.

The approval heeds a 2010 recommendation by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that urged Mexico to try soldiers who abuse human rights in civilian courts.

Thousands of soldiers and marines have been patrolling the streets since former President Felipe Calderon in 2006 launched a massive crackdown against drug traffickers and decided to rely on the armed forces because of rampant corruption in local and state police departments.

Mexico's military code currently says that all crimes committed by soldiers on duty are considered crimes against military discipline. The provision has been subject of scrutiny because human rights activists claim it has long allowed security forces to take over cases of soldiers accused of abusing, torturing and executing civilians.

Sen. Fernando Yunes, who is a member of the National Defense Commission, said the amendments will help modernize the Code of Military Justice.

"This will allow the armed forces to have a regulatory framework to strengthen their efforts and so their actions are carried out with absolute respect for human rights," Yunes said.