Mexico City – The cases of Ines Fernandez Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantu, two Indian women allegedly raped by soldiers in 2002, have been transferred by military prosecutors to the Mexican Attorney General's Office, a human rights group said.
The Military Prosecutor's Office notified the women in writing on Aug. 12 that the rape and torture investigations had been handed over to the AG's office, the Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Center said.
Federal prosecutors have not received official notification that the case is now theirs, an AG's office spokesman told Efe.
The Defense Secretariat was also unable to confirm the report from the human rights group.
Rosendo Cantu and Ines Fernandez Ortega, who are Me'phaa Indians from the southern state of Guerrero, were raped in separate incidents by army soldiers.
The women have been fighting for nearly a decade to have justice done in their cases.
"The Military Prosecutor's Office was correct in acknowledging that it lacked jurisdiction to continue investigating and determine the indictments," the human rights group said.
Military prosecutors handed over the cases on July 29 to civilian prosecutors so they can move forward with the investigations, the human rights group said.
The Military Prosecutor's Office made the decision to turn over the cases to the AG's office because of the charges involved and recent constitutional reforms in the human rights area, as well as an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling against the Mexican state, the human rights group said.
The move was also made in response to an "express request" by the women in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling, the human rights group said.
The women and human rights organizations contend that Mexican laws giving the military jurisdiction over alleged rights crimes by soldiers against civilians serve only to cover up disappearances, rape, torture and other serious offenses.
The Inter-American Court has repeatedly ordered Mexico to ensure that those crimes be tried in civilian courts as opposed to military tribunals and called on Congress and the president to make the necessary legal changes.
The Mexican Supreme Court on July 12 limited military jurisdiction in cases of rights abuses committed by soldiers, in conformance with a 2009 ruling by the Inter-American Court in connection with another case.
The high court also found that judges should ensure their sentences are consistent with international human rights treaties ratified by Mexico.
Previously, only some federal courts had taken the international legal obligations assumed by Mexico into account in their proceedings.
President Felipe Calderon submitted a bill to Congress last year that would require that soldiers indicted on charges of enforced disappearance, torture and rape be tried in civilian courts, but lawmakers have not yet put the measure to a vote.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said in July that the president's proposal "falls short of what is required by the Inter-American Court's rulings" because "other serious violations would continue to be investigated and prosecuted within the military justice system."
The bill "would also grant military authorities the power to determine which acts constitute such violations, despite the military's track record of downgrading the severity of charges against soldiers," the rights watchdog said.
In an earlier press release asserting the need for a military justice overhaul in Mexico, HRW said Mexico's National Human Rights Commission had "received nearly 5,000 allegations of human rights violations against the military since 2007, including killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and rape."
Military courts trying cases of rights abuses against civilians have a record of "near total impunity," HRW said.