Thursday, February 24, 2005

Mexico Genocide Indictment Barred by Statute of Limitations

Mexico's highest court ruled yesterday that a 30 year statute of limitations nullified the indictment of one of its former presidents on charges of genocide. This appears to be another case (like the recent Bolivia indictment) raising the question of whether genocide can apply to a government's attack on a group of protesters (this time 45 deaths occurred and its not obvious whether an ethnic group was involved) but I'm also struck by another interesting legal aspect of the case.

Apparently, Mexico's prosecutors claimed that the ratification of the Genocide Convention in 2002 required Mexican courts to lift any statute of limitations on charges of genocide. But the Mexico court held that the "interpretation" attached by Mexico upon acceding to the convention allows Mexico to continue to apply the statute of limitations to genocide charges. This is a controversial practice in the U.S. as well because the U.S. has attached similar declarations (though not with respect to statute of limitations) to all of the major human rights treaties it has ratified (for a defense of this U.S. practice, see here). It is interesting that Mexican courts, like U.S. courts, have sided with the domestic lawmakers (the Mexican government) over the international ones on this tricky question.


Blogger Andreas Paulus said...

Julian, Mexico ratified the Genocide Convention in 1952 and, ironically, added a notification in 1990 that it regarded the US reservation referring to its national law as impermissible. The Convention the Court is talking about is the Convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the Mexican interpretative declaration refers to past, not to future cases. There is little doubt that such declaration would be absolutely permissible also as a reservation. Thus, it seems not legitimate to use the Mexican case as justification for the US practice.
Having pointed out this technical point, I may add that the judgment demonstrates that Mexico considers a statute of limitation for genocide as possible, at least for 1970 - which goes against the purpose, but not the letter of the Genocide Convention.
Best, Andreas

2/24/2005 12:44 PM  
Blogger Julian Ku said...

Andreas, I stand corrected on the point of which convention and what provision of the convention was at issue here. (the LA Times article did not make this distinction clear to me). Thanks for pointing this out.

Perhaps the more interesting legal point: can Mexico apply a statute of limitations do genocide crimes under the Genocide Convention. You suggest that this would be consistent with the letter of the Convention. Is it really so clear? I defer to your no doubt greater knowledge of this question, but what about the language of Article V, which requires states to
"enact, in accordance with their respective Constitutions, the necessary legislation to give effect to the provisions of the present Convention, and, in particular, to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of genocide..." Couldn't this language be understood to prohibit applying a statute of limitations because it prevents "effective penalties"?

2/24/2005 8:12 PM  
Blogger Andreas Paulus said...

Julian, of course, this depends on what 'effective penalties' means. But I agree with you that this is a debatable point, and I would tend to the result that a statute of limitations would be incompatible. Andreas

2/25/2005 6:52 AM  
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