11 Years of Impunity Show the Impact of Militarization in Mexico

Washington D.C and Tlapa de Comonfort, Guerrero – On June 20, 2009, a young Nahua, Bonfilio Rubio Villegas, was extrajudicially executed at a military checkpoint by soldiers in the Mexican Army. His case, like many others in the country, was strongly characterized by a context of poverty, inequality, militarization and impunity.

The day of his death, Bonfilio boarded a bus on the “El Sur” line bound for Mexico City as part of his journey to the United States, seeking opportunities that did not exist in the region. At around 10:30 pm, the bus in which he was traveling was detained at an illegal military checkpoint, for what was said to be a “routine check-up.” After arbitrarily arresting one of the passengers for wearing military boots, the soldiers fired their weapons at the bus, executing Bonfilio as a result.

From that moment on, Bonfilio’s family began a tireless search for justice. His case was brought to the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice, which issued a historic sentence declaring article 57 of the Military Penal Code unconstitutional and ordering that the case be brought in the civil justice system. However, although the investigation was transferred to the civil jurisdiction, it kept the same line of investigation pursued by the military jurisdiction; as a result, in 2014 the only military officer prosecuted was acquitted.

Given the impossibility of accessing justice in Mexico, the family decided to petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in January 2017, detailing the human rights violations suffered, including the rights to life and personal integrity, as well as judicial guarantees and due judicial protection – all of which are established in the American Convention on Human Rights.

The Bonfilio case has once again become highly relevant in the context of the current administration’s militarization of public security in Mexico. On May 11, 2020, the agreement allowing the permanent Armed Forces to carry out extraordinary, regulated, supervised, subordinate and complementary public security tasks was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation. With this presidential agreement, the armed forces have far exceeded their legitimate authority. With the authorization of their deployment throughout the country, the armed forces can now carry out arrests, secure property, regulate immigration and remain on the streets, tasks that had been de facto carried out by the National Guard. All this, with no strategy for the gradual withdrawal of the armed forces, nor civil controls or accountability mechanisms. The publication of this agreement, moreover, took place in the context of the current health emergency, making it impossible for it to be scrutinized and publicly debated.

WIth these measures, the administration has reimposed the same model of militarization we have seen in past administrations, and which has proven for years to be ineffective. This failed security strategy will continue to perpetuate the pact of impunity that the armed forces enjoy, preventing cases like those of Bonfilio from achieving justice in Mexico. We reiterate the recommendations made by innumerable international mechanisms that have called for a gradual withdrawal of the armed forces and the constant supervision of their actions by a civil authority, as well as mechanisms for the strengthening of the state and municipal police forces.

We continue to fight for a thorough investigation into Bonfilio’s case and for those responsible for his extrajudicial execution to be arrested and prosecuted, so that the military’s impunity may end..