(New York) - The Mexican Supreme Court decision to uphold the extradition of Ricardo Miguel Cavallo will reinforce the principle of “universal jurisdiction” in international law, Human Rights Watch said today. Cavallo, a former Argentine military official, faces prosecution in Spain for atrocities committed during Argentina’s military dictatorship.

According to the principle of universal jurisdiction, human rights atrocities committed in one country can be subject to criminal prosecution by courts in another country. The principle has helped make it more difficult for human rights abusers to find safe haven abroad to escape justice for their crimes.

“This case represents a real victory for international justice,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. “Mexico will become the first Latin American country to extradite someone for gross human rights violations under the principle of universal jurisdiction.”

According to a November 1999 indictment issued by Spanish Judge Balthazar Garzón, Cavallo, known by the name of Miguel Angel Cavallo, was a Navy lieutenant working in the notorious Navy Mechanics School (Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada, ESMA) in Buenos Aires during the military regime. Between January 1977 and October 1978, the indictment states, Cavallo belonged to the operations sector of Working Group 3.3.2, a group actively involved in kidnapping and torturing persons perceived as leftist by the military.

The indictment implicates Cavallo in the torture of Thelma Jara de Cabezas, and the execution of Mónica Jauregui and Elba Delia Aldaya.

The 1984 report of the Argentine truth commission names 8,961 people who “disappeared” under the military dictatorship, noting that this figure is not exhaustive. Although some high-level officials were criminally prosecuted in Argentina in the 1980s for these abuses, the vast majority of military perpetrators were protected by the country’s amnesty laws. Pardons issued by then-President Menem in 1989 and 1990 freed the few who had been convicted.

The Mexican Supreme Court authorized Cavallo’s extradition on charges of genocide and terrorism, but not on charges of torture. A lower court had previously ruled that Cavallo could not be extradited for torture on the grounds that, under Mexican law, the statute of limitations for a torture prosecution would have expired.

“In a region where far too many human rights violators have escaped justice, Mexico is setting an important example that other countries should emulate,” said Vivanco.