The Mexican Supreme Court decision to authorize the prosecution of the perpetrators of a 1975 case of forced disappearance is a major victory for accountability, Human Rights Watch said today. The court's ruling today opens the possibility for the prosecution of former officials implicated in the kidnapping of leftist activists in the 1960s and 1970s.

"This is a landmark ruling for accountability in Mexico," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "It removes a potential obstacle to the prosecution of hundreds of 'disappearance' cases from the 1960s and 1970s."

The case that was just decided, like the other cases from this period under investigation, is being pursued by the Special Prosecutor's Office. That office, created by President Vicente Fox in November 2001, is responsible for investigating and prosecuting human rights violations committed under previous governments.

The special prosecutor's first attempt to indict former officials was dealt a major setback in March when a federal judge refused to issue arrest warrants, arguing that the time allotted by the statute of limitations for the crime had expired.

The Supreme Court today unanimously rejected this ruling. The Court found, instead, that the statute of limitations on abduction does not begin to run if the victim's body remains missing.

The victim in this case was Jesus Piedra Ibarra, the alleged leader of the guerrilla group Liga 23 de Septiembre. He was allegedly abducted by police and intelligence agents in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1975, and his body has never been found.

The Ibarra case is one of hundreds currently being investigated by the Special Prosecutor's office. In July, Human Rights Watch released a report, Justice in Jeopardy, that showed how the Special Prosecutor's Office has been seriously undermined by a lack of resources, limited access to declassified documents and a lack of cooperation by the military.

Other steps needed to shore up the work of the Special Prosecutor's Office include improving access to declassified documents by indexing the archives and ensuring that they are not managed by officials with potential links to the people under investigation.

"A lot of work remains to be done for the special prosecutor to determine what happened and who was responsible for these crimes," said Vivanco. "But now at least these cases can go forward."