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Human rights — slightly better

16 October 2009

[P]rove one case, one single case in which the authorities have not acted, in which human rights have been violated, in which the relevant authorities haven’t responded to punish those who have abused their legal powers: whether they are police, soldiers, or any other authority.

Felipe Calderón

Where to start? Amnesty International, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and The Committee To Protect Journalists have all weighed in at various times… but have been dismissed as foreign meddling. Now, the Supreme Court of Justice has responded — taking the unusual step of not only ruling on a “single case in which the authorities have not acted, in which human rights have been violated,” but also informing probable or potential human rights abusers what exactly they are doing wrong.

Last Wednesday (14 October), the ministers issued a finding that specifically named Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruiz as the authority that violated human rights during the 2006 teachers’ protests that escalated into full scale rebellion.  Three ministers (Juan N. Silva Meza, José de Jesús Gudiño Pelayo y José Ramón Cossío) issued what in the U.S. system would be a concurrent opinion, naming Vicente Fox, then Secretary of Public Security Eduardo Molina Mora and then Secretaría de Gobernacíon, the late Carlos Abascal, as equally responsible.

In addition, two police officials were also named in the report as culpable for criminal violations.

The Supreme Court of Justice cannot order prosecutions, and for political reasons it is unlikely that Ruiz will face charges (both the State and Federal legislatures are controlled by the PRI, Ruiz’ own party, which is loathe to open up a can of worms, and Ruiz’ support was crucial in electing [if he was elected] Felipe Calderón to the Presidency).  Ruiz’ term expires in December 2010, with elections scheduled for next July.  The most likely immediate result is a united front to break the PRI hold on state government.  The last attempt, which included only the left failed — depending on who you chose to believe — because of election fraud on the part of PRI, because the PRI was able to take advantage of the large Zapatista constituency within the state (the Zapatistas rejecting electoral politics) and the failure to bring PAN into the equation.  The Zapatistas are going to do their own thing, no matter what, and with the National PAN now seeing the PRI as a bigger threat to hanging on to the Presidency than the PRD-led coalition it faced in 2006, a united opposition is a viable, and probable, option.

The unusual step taken by the Supreme Court in sending their findings to all State governors, puts them on notice that “any authority” — at least at the state level — who violates human rights is fair game for ambitious public ministers.  A couple obvious candidates for scrutiny — Enrique Peña Nieto (the odds-on favorite for PRI Presidential candidate in 2010) for state action during the Atenco situation and former Jalisco Governor, Francisco Ramírez Acuña (a hard-right PANista, who served as Calderón’s first Sec. de Gobernacion) for having anti-globalization protesters arrested and tortured during a May 2004 summit meeting).  Mario Marín Torres, the “gober preciosa” accused of  having Lydia Cacho kidnapped, jailed and raped for uncovering his connection to an international kiddy-porn ring, may not be off the hook, although an earlier court ruling said he was not personally liable for the particular incident involving Cacho’s phony arrest.

Undoing all “impunity”, especially that enjoyed by federal officials is going to take a little more time.  At least the President can no longer blithely dismiss claims of abuse.  Just the admission that attention must be paid to human rights is a huge step forward.

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