Mexican Congress Approves Reparations Fund for Victims of Human Rights Violations to Comply with Inter-American Court Judgments

Camara de Diputados, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Jose Maria Molina.

At the end of 2010, the Mexican Congress approved a budget of 30 million pesos (almost 2.5 million USD) to establish a reparations fund for Mexican victims of human rights violations. The fund is specifically designated to fulfill judgments handed down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Court), as well as to compensate unspecified victims of past human rights violations. The creation of the reparations fund follows six Court judgments against Mexico since it formally accepted the Court’s competence in 1998.

Civil society organizations have responded to the creation of the fund with mixed reactions. Some are optimistic that the fund signals progress by the Mexican government to fulfill its obligations, while others are concerned that it is merely a means of temporary appeasement through payment of monetary reparations and that the government will not tackle larger institutional reforms that are ordered by the Court. Compliance with judgments not only compensates victims for abuses suffered, but also provides public acknowledgment of the harm caused.

In Castañeda Gutman v. Mexico in 2008, the Court ordered Mexico to reform its domestic law regarding the electoral system, a process that is not yet complete. The Court also ordered Mexico to investigate the kidnapping and murder of three young women in a cotton field near Ciudad Juarez in its 2009 judgment in the case of González (Cotton Field) v. Mexico. The judgment additionally required Mexico to improve its investigatory procedures related to disappeared persons, especially women, and to ensure that they meet international standards. In its 2009 and 2010 judgments in the cases of Radilla Pacheco v. Mexico, Rosendo Cantú v. Mexico, and Fernandez Ortega v. Mexico, the Court ordered Mexico to remove offenses committed by military members against civilians from the jurisdiction of its military justice system, in keeping with prior precedent set within the Inter-American system. The Court’s most recent ruling in Cabrera García and Montiel Flores v. Mexico reiterates this order. In all four of those judgments, Mexico is required to complete reform within a “reasonable” time-period.

While Mexico’s Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (Supreme Court) acknowledges its international obligations in the area of human rights in its 2010 Annual Report, Mexico’s actions to comply with the Court judgments appear to be nascent. Despite 2010 deadlines for compliance with the 2009 Cotton Field and Radilla Pacheco judgments, Mexico has only reported compliance with the monetary reparation measures in Castañeda Gutman, the first of the six cases adjudicated by the Court. In November 2010, Mexico reported on its initial actions to comply with the Rosendo Cantú and Fernandez Ortega judgments, but those efforts did not include monetary reparations.

Similarly, Mexico has reported efforts to comply with some, but not all, non-monetary measures ordered in the six judgments. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Annual Report mentions its investigation into compliance with the Radilla Pacheco judgment. It also references publication of the judgment and coordination of a roundtable and conference on gender stereotypes and access to justice with respect to the 2009 Cotton Field judgment. Although there is evidence of Mexico’s attention to its criminal justice system through constitutional reform, there is no indication that Mexico is altering the jurisdiction of the military justice system, as required by the latest four judgments.

As compared to reports from prior years, the Mexican Supreme Court’s 2010 Annual Report demonstrates progress in the form of increased attention to compliance with the recent Court judgments. Given that the Mexican Supreme Court fielded 21 requests for information in 2010 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs related to eight petitions and other complaints received by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, there are likely to be more cases against Mexico in 2011. The reparations fund, along with other compensatory measures required by the Court, will be crucial in providing Mexican victims of human rights violations the justice they have been denied so long.

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