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Mexico's refusal to hear massacre case decried

by Confused Saturday, Jan. 14, 2006 at 3:33 PM

MEXICO CITY - Human rights activists accused Mexico's highest court of upholding a "culture of impunity" Thursday after the judges refused to hear a genocide case against former President Luis Echeverria.

MEXICO CITY - Human rights activists accused Mexico's highest court of upholding a "culture of impunity" Thursday after the judges refused to hear a genocide case against former President Luis Echeverria.

A Supreme Court panel voted 3-2 late Wednesday against hearing an appeal in the 1968 massacre of student protesters, arguing that they had ruled on a similar case in June. While the massacre is of enormous "social, political and historical importance," prosecutors did not present sufficient evidence to justify revisiting the issue, the judges said in the ruling.

"More than disappointing, it's shocking," said Felix Hernandez Gamundi, a former student leader. "The court is ratifying the culture of impunity which permeates the entire society. That sets a dangerous precedent for other cases."

The Oct. 2, 1968, massacre in Mexico City's Tlatelolco plaza marked one of the darkest moments in the nation's recent history. Security forces opened fire on hundreds of unarmed students, crushing rising protests just days before the country was to host the 1968 Summer Olympics. Estimates of the dead range from several dozen to 300.

Prosecutors accuse Echeverria, who was interior minister at the time, of ordering the killings. They also have charged him with orchestrating a violent crackdown on student activists in 1971, in which more than a dozen people died.

Echeverria, 83, who was president from 1970 to 1976, has denied responsibility in any of the killings. Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, who was president during the 1968 massacre, died in 1979.

The cases have laid bare the difficulties of prosecuting past leaders in a country where ordinary crimes often go unpunished. Judges have issued arrest warrants for 14 former officials from the Echeverria era, but only two have been apprehended, rights activists say.

Hundreds 'disappeared'

Pro-government forces allegedly killed or "disappeared" hundreds of leftist opponents during Mexico's so-called Dirty War of the 1960s and 1970s, historians say.

President Vicente Fox, whose 2000 election ended seven decades of autocratic, one-party rule, appointed a special prosecutor to pursue alleged human rights abuses from previous regimes. However, the prosecutor, Ignacio Carrillo, has faced one legal setback after another, with judges ruling that the cases are too old to try or that prosecutors lack evidence.

In the Tlatelolco case, Carrillo had asked the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court's decision, which found there was not enough evidence to try Echeverria for the massacre. After the court rejected that request Wednesday, Carrillo said in a statement that he "deplored the ruling," but would follow the judges' instructions to appeal to a lower court.

Seven other former high-level officials, including Mario Moya, Echeverria's former interior minister, are charged with genocide in the massacre.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the 30-year statute of limitations for genocide had expired for all of the defendants except Echeverria and Moya. Since both held judicial immunity until leaving office in November 1976, prosecutors technically have until December to bring them to trial.

It won't be easy. Successive judges have already ruled that the crime of genocide does not apply in the massacre.

If the appeal in the 1968 massacre fails, prosecutors would have one final judicial recourse before closing the books on one of the country's most high-profile human rights cases. They have already exhausted the legal options to try Echeverria and others for the 1971 killings.

However, former student activists have vowed to take both cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in Costa Rica, if necessary.

Wednesday's decision shows an "authoritarian arrogance" on the part of the court, said Hernandez Gamundi, a former student leader. He argued that the ruling showed "there is lack of will to bring about justice, from the highest levels of the Mexican state."

Some critics, however, question the wisdom of pursuing such a prominent figure as Echeverria.

"They started with the spectacular cases, trying to get at the very head of state, and I don't know if that's a good strategy," said Marieclaire Acosta, the former undersecretary of human rights under Fox. "What they're actually doing is inoculating everyone in the whole legal system against reviewing the past."

Another option suggested

Acosta was forced to step down in August 2003 after her office was closed amid administrative tussling; she since has become a scathing critic of the government's human rights policies. She argued that prosecutors would be better off pursuing the cases of the more than 500 Mexicans who were forcibly disappeared by the government during the Dirty War. Those cases have already been well documented by the National Human Rights Commission, which turned the files over to the public in June 2002.

"If they really want to review the past and achieve some measure of justice for victims," she said, "you could also get to Echeverria by looking at the disappeared."

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yeahhh... canat Saturday, Jan. 14, 2006 at 7:51 PM
Confused? Leslie Saturday, Jan. 14, 2006 at 8:06 PM
To Leslie Confused Saturday, Jan. 14, 2006 at 11:13 PM

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