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Mexico: Truth Commission Call - Letter

President Vicente Fox Quesada
Los Pinos
México D.F.

Dear President Fox:

I am writing to express our strong support for the establishment of a truth commission to investigate past human rights violations in Mexico. We have been greatly encouraged by statements you have made over the last year recognizing the need for such a commission. We trust that under your leadership a commission will be created with the authority, resources, and legal powers necessary to succeed in its tasks.

The establishment of a truth commission offers an opportunity for your government to clarify the many cases that have never been adequately investigated and prosecuted by judicial authorities, such as the massacres of Tlatelolco in 1968 and Acteal in 1997 . Not only the victims and their families, but Mexican society as a whole, stand to benefit from having these cases properly resolved.

We understand that the proposed truth commission has its critics-even within your administration-who fear that it might undermine the institutions already charged with administering justice in Mexico. Faced with a choice between truth and justice, these critics argue, Mexicans should choose justice. Put this way, who could possibly be against the criminal prosecution of those responsible for egregious human rights abuses? But this is in fact a false choice. Mexicans have the right to truth and justice. And, under international law, your government has an obligation to provide both.

The international treaties ratified by Mexico, such as the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, require states parties to prevent human rights violations and to sanction those who commit them. This duty reflects the view that ending impunity for past abuses is crucial for preventing future ones. It also derives from the right of victims to see their abusers brought to justice. A first step in this process is the systematic investigation and clarification of past abuses.

Seeking the truth about abuses that occurred under past governments is not a matter of political vengeance or witch hunting. It is a fundamental obligation binding on your government, regardless of who was in power at the time the abuses were committed.

History has shown that truth commissions do not undermine existing judicial mechanisms, but rather they strengthen them. In Argentina, Chile, and Guatemala, for example, truth commissions have played a crucial role in improving the judiciary's capacity to handle human rights cases. Not only have they presented new evidence necessary for prosecutions, they have also helped these societies to understand and to address the failings of the judicial institutions that allowed these crimes to go unpunished. The Chilean and Argentine commissions dedicated whole chapters of their final reports to explaining how their judicial systems had failed to handle abuse cases. To ensure that these lessons are acted upon, truth commission reports typically include comprehensive recommendations on how to reform and strengthen weak or ineffective state institutions.

The value of truth commissions as a spur to judicial efforts is especially obvious when legal institutions have failed to administer justice fairly and adequately in the past. This, unfortunately, has been the case in Mexico.

It should be emphasized, of course, that any truth commission that is established must be appropriately constituted, adequately funded, and equipped with the necessary legal powers. It must be an independent, non-political body, made up of knowledgeable and distinguished members. It must also be allocated the resources necessary to conduct thorough and fair investigations. It must, finally, be granted the legal authority to obtain documents and cooperation from other government institutions. Anything short of this will lack the credibility needed to carry out its tasks effectively.

When you took office last December, you inherited a state in which impunity had flourished for decades. Understanding the high cost of this pernicious tradition, which sanctioned injustice and perpetuated inequality, you promised that you would take steps to clarify and resolve past abuses. We strongly support your efforts in this regard, and believe that it is now time to put your plans into effect.


José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Directo

Dr. Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, National Security Adviser
Dr. Jorge G. Castañeda, Secretary of Foreign Relations
Dr. Santiago Creel, Secretary of Government
Gen. Rafael Macedo de la Concha, Attorney General
Dr. Mariclaire Acosta, Special Ambassador for Human Rights and Democracy

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