Human Rights / Transparency

On International Right to Know Day, a Call to Declassify Migrant Massacres in Mexico

Mexican authorities oversee the transfer of corpses resulting from the August 2010 San Fernando massacre. (Photo courtesy Proceso)

Mexican authorities oversee the transfer of corpses resulting from the August 2010 San Fernando massacre. (Photo courtesy Proceso)

Yesterday, on International Right to Know Day (#IRTKD2014), our friends at the Foundation for Justice (FJEDD) and Article 19 (A19) in Mexico launched a brand new website calling on Mexico’s Attorney General (PGR) to follow the law and declassify investigative files pertaining to the 2010 and 2011 migrant massacres in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, as well as the case of 49 others—some of whom were probably migrants—killed in Cadereyta, Nuevo León, in 2012.

The investigations have long been shrouded in secrecy amid charges that state agents may have collaborated with the criminal groups responsible for the killings. A19 and FJEDD argue that these killings constitute clear violations of human rights and that the PGR is thus required to produce declassified versions of its investigative files on these cases.

The new site, which is mirrored at A19 and FJEDD, brings together every available resource on the massacres, including critical rulings in a pair of access to information cases brought by the two organizations, key news articles on the massacres (including some that have appeared here), declassified material from the State Department and other U.S. agencies on the killings, and important rulings from Mexico’s access to information commissioners at the Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI).

In an open letter to Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam published on the new site, A19 and FJEDD stress that it is the “judicial duty” of Karam to publicize records “in cases of gross human rights violations or crimes against humanity.”

In the pair of cases brought by FJEDD and A19, two separate federal judges have ruled that IFAI, as the organization charged with resolving disputes over access to information, is both competent and legally obligated to make determinations with respect to the applicability of human rights criteria in these cases. In the FJEDD case, the judge further ruled that the 2010 and 2011 San Fernando killings, as well as the murder and dismemberment of 49 others in Cadereyta in 2012, were human rights violations prima facie and that IFAI should require the Attorney General’s office to release files on the cases. Both cases are now up for consideration by Mexico’s Supreme Court.

Last month, in a related access to information case brought by the National Security Archive, Mexico’s information commissioners appeared to abide by the legal concepts set forth in those cases and for the first time ordered the federal prosecutor’s office to open certain investigative files relating to the discovery of some 200 bodies in mass graves in the state of Tamaulipas in April 2011. In making the decision, the IFAI commissioners—a seven-member body approved by the Mexican Senate—declared themselves competent to determine the applicability of human rights criteria in access to information cases, even the absence of such a finding by another legal authority. The finding is critically important for transparency in such cases. Article 14 of Mexico’s access law prohibits the state from withholding information relating to grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Declassified documents previously published by the National Security Archive underscore allegations linking federal and state officials to the San Fernando massacre. One U.S. Embassy cable highlights the arrest of 16 police officials in connection to the 2011 San Fernando massacre and the fact that state officials were “trying to downplay both the San Fernando discoveries [of mass graves] and the states [sic] responsibility for them.” Embassy officials said they did so despite being “fully cognizant of the hazards of highway travel in this area.” Another U.S. report described a state of “near total impunity” for criminal organizations operating in that region “in the face of compromised local security forces.” (See previous post on U.S. documents on San Fernando massacre).

While a number of people have been arrested in relation to the San Fernando cases, there has been little information available on the cases against them. The presumed authors of the violence, Édgar Huerta Montiel (“El Wache”) and Martín Omar Estrada Luna (“El Kilo”) remain in detention. Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, the top leader of the Zetas, was arrested by Mexican authorities in July 2013. More recently, Mexican authorities reported the arrest of an alleged human smuggler (pollero) said to be linked to the case.

For the latest on what’s happening around International Right to Know Day, check the Twitter hashtag #IRTKD2014.

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