News reports indicate that the Obama Administration is “actively considering” whether to grant immunity to former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, currently a Professor at Yale University and Director of its Center for the Study of Globalization, in connection with the suit currently pending before Judge Thompson in New Haven regarding his responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the December 1997 massacre of 45 displaced Mayan villagers—36 of them women and children—by paramilitary forces acting in complicity with the Mexican Army, under Zedillo´s command. Most of those killed and wounded were assaulted as they prayed for justice.
The case was brought pursuant to the Torture Victims Protection Act and Alien Tort Statute. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center in Chiapas have extensively documented the Acteal case and the broader context of the Mexican government´s responsibility for persistent human rights violations by the Mexican Armed Forces throughout the last 20 years, funded at least in part by US tax dollars through assistance to purported ”counter-insurgency” and “anti-drug” initiatives.
The National Security Archive at George Washington University has revealed declassified cables from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) indicating official US knowledge of “direct support” provided by the Mexican Army to paramilitary groups such as those responsible for the Acteal massacre between 1994 and 1999, implicating both Zedillo and his predecessor Carlos Salinas de Gortari. International media such as The Economist (in its edition of January 1, 1998) have reported along the same lines that the ”authorities knew the Chiapas killing was on its way.” Meanwhile the case has been admitted for review by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the OAS in Washington, and has recently been submitted to the Permanent People´s Tribunal, based in Rome, the successor to the renowned Russell Tribunal of the 1960´s.
Given this context, for the Obama Administration to grant immunity to Zedillo would be a gross violation of fundamental norms of due process and the imperatives of international justice, and a shameful admission that US “interests of state” tainted by our complicity with Mexico´s ruling élite, the “drug war,” Mexican oil, and NAFTA have greater weight than the rights of the victims of crimes against humanity to truth, justice, reparations, and non-repetition of the conduct which violated their rights.
Camilo Pérez-Bustillo is Research Professor of the Graduate Programme in Human Rights and the Faculty of Law, Autonomous University of Mexico City.