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Off the hook…

27 March 2009

Speaking of old people facing criminal charges, 87-year-old ex-president Luis Echeverría Álvarez probably will never face criminal charges for his role in the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre.


Echevarria, 2007. Photo: Liga Mexicana por la defensa de los derechos humanos

The possibility of bringing Echeverría to justice seemed hopeless for many years. As in other countries, there is a strong reluctance to bring criminal charges against even despised former presidents, and by the time there was enough political and social change to consider charges, the statute of limitations for murder had expired. However, there is no statute of limitations on charges of genocide, and Echeverría, who was Secretario de Gobernacion in 1968, finally was briefly detained and questioned, but — because of his age (and politically sensitivities) was never jailed. In 2006, a federal judge issued an amparo (injunction) against prosecution saying that the massacre, even if Echeverría was responsible, was not genocide.

The Fifth Collegial Tribunal for Penal Affairs (the equivalent of a Federal Appeals Court in the United States) has upheld the ruling. While I agree with Mexican commentators who say it sucks, and are rightly angry about this, I think the legal grounds for dismissal are valid.  Genocide under international law (the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and which Mexico was an original signatory) specifies that genocide is an act designed to kill, cause bodily harm to, intimidate, prevent the birth of children (or remove children from)   ” a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”.  Students, as the original judge had said, may have been killed or subject to bodily harm, or intimidated as a group, but they are not one of the groups covered under the definition.

While there is always hope that Echeverría will be Augustin Pinochet’s cell-mate in the not so distant future, but barring some new and untried criminal charge (like Pinochet,  Echeverría could face charges for his shady financial activities), it’s unlikely he’ll face any justice this side of the grave.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 27 March 2009 11:07 am

    Yes, I think you’re right. I’m currently reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and she mentions the judge who described Argentine police chief Etctecolatz as a perpetrator of “genocide”. Klein notes that “the [UN] convention [on genocide] does not include eliminating a group based on its political beliefs… but [judge] Raminski said he did not find that exclusion to be legally legitimate”. She explains that the convention DID originally contain the word ‘political’ but this was excised at the demand of Stalin, who knew that he would fall foul of such a clause. Which is very interesting, but we can’t really rely on earlier drafts of laws or interpret them as they ‘should’ have been written.

  2. 27 March 2009 12:39 pm

    Oh, and your first link doesn’t seem to be working, at least not for me…

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