Former Mexican President Responds to War Crimes Allegations
November 26, 2012
Posted by on
Earlier this month Ernesto Zedillo, Mexico’s former president, made a statement claiming he was immune to a civil lawsuit that was filed against him last year regarding a massacre of indigenous people that occurred during his administration in 1997. The Mexican government officially claimed (and continues to claim) that the killing–primarily of unarmed women and children–in Acteal had occurred as a result of religious and territorial disputes among indigenous populations, though the victims’ families and other groups have alleged that the killings were carried out by paramilitaries acting under government orders to decimate leftist members of indigenous groups. As public outcry over the massacre intensified, Mexican authorities swiftly tried and convicted 84 people. Of the convicted, however, 37 have been released because the Mexican Supreme Court believed them to be innocent, and many of the remaining cases are being reopened because the prosecutor’s office committed serious violations, including using torture to extract confessions and the falsification of evidence to get convictions.
The group that filed the lawsuit last year is seeking $50 million in damages, but is also requesting an official admission of guilt. Military documents have been uncovered which allegedly detail plans to eradicate indigenous rebels who challenged the government the year Zedillo began his presidency, and the group representing the victims claims that Zedillo had knowledge of these policies and of the human rights abuses that occurred during the massacre in Chiapas. In Mexico, immunity is frequently used to cover wrongdoings of preceding presidents, and current president Felipe Calderón has urged that immunity be given to Zedillo (which sets a powerful precedent considering that Calderón himself has also faced allegations that he was committed war crimes and crimes against humanity).
Zedillo did not address the allegations that he participated in or permitted the killings and other acts of violence, including forced displacement of indigenous populations, and instead spent the bulk of his 26-page response describing the lawsuit as slanderous. Interestingly, Zedillo currently lives in the United States, and since the civil suit was filed in Connecticut, the federal court in that state will decide the next step. In correspondence with the Mexican government in September of this year the U.S. State Department has also officially suggested immunity for Zedillo. It will, of course, be extremely difficult to prove Zedillo’s involvement, and it is unlikely that a U.S. court will try Zedillo for crimes committed while he was president. This raises a number of interesting questions about the trend of impunity that emerges, specifically because many believe that Calderón will also move to the U.S. and seek immunity after finishing his term this December.