MEXICO CITY (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday handed down Mexico's first-ever conviction of a soldier for the disappearance of a civilian.
The Federal Judiciary Council said the army lieutenant was sentenced to 31 years in prison for illegally detaining and causing the disappearance of the victim in the northern state of Nuevo Leon in 2012. The unidentified victim has never been found.
A federal judicial official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name because of internal policy, confirmed it was the first sentence of its kind for a member of the military.
Despite hundreds of complaints, Mexico had only six previous convictions of public officials in connection with what is formally called "forced disappearances" here. All those were police officers.
In the verdict announced Tuesday, an aggravating factor in the sentencing was the suffering of the victim's family and their struggle to find out the truth.
Since the army was deployed in 2006 to fight drug cartels, its troops have been accused of repeated human rights violations, including disappearances, by national and international groups.
Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the verdict could mark a change after years in which non-governmental organizations accused the government of treating the military too leniently.
"It is important that these cases start to be recognized, because it implies a precedent that there will begin to be aggressive prosecutions of soldiers, that there is no tolerance," Benitez said.
In one high-profile case last year, 22 criminal suspects died at the hands of soldiers in Tlatlaya, a town in the State of Mexico.
Authorities initially said all 22 died in a fierce shootout, but evidence emerged to indicate many of the suspects were slain after surrendering.