July 13, 2011 / 2:07 AM / 8 years ago

Mexico court rules soldiers can face civil trials

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican soldiers accused of rights abuses in the army-backed fight against drug cartels can face civil trials instead of closed-door military tribunals, the nation’s highest court ruled Tuesday.

Human rights groups say some Mexican soldiers battling traffickers have arbitrarily detained suspects, subjected them to beatings or torture and even mistakenly shot innocent civilians.

Military courts handle the cases in a process activists say limits transparency, but Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision could change that.

“If a civilian’s rights have been violated by the armed forces, the jurisdiction will be in civil courts not military courts,” Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldivar said.

President Felipe Calderon deployed tens of thousands of troops to the streets to take on powerful traffickers shortly after taking office in late 2006. Violence has spiraled since then, with more than 40,000 people killed across Mexico.

Calderon’s government, in joint statement from the marines, the armed forces and the interior ministry, said it would work to implement the court’s ruling while also strengthening military courts.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Mexico to reform the military justice system last year based on a 1970s-era case of left-wing activist Rosendo Radilla, detained by the army in southern Mexico and never heard from again.

Reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez and Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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