A historic rights step by Mexican government

Posted: Thursday, February 08, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

Mexico has made human rights history by ordering the extradition of a man accused of being a torturer in Argentina's "dirty war." If the courts reject defense appeals, Ricardo Miguel Cavallo will be sent to Spain. It is believed to be the first case in which a country has agreed to extradite a foreigner detained on its soil to a third country on human rights charges.

The decision late last week by Jorge Castaeda, Mexico's minister of foreign affairs, opens a new avenue of judicial action for countries seeking to try suspects who think they have escaped justice. Castaeda and Mexican President Vicente Fox deserve praise for their landmark decision, which will help establish accountability for those who commit human rights abuses anywhere in the world. Not too long ago a Mexican government would never have taken such a step.

Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge in the case, is the same jurist who led international attempts to extradite Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from Britain to Spain in 1998 and indicted Cavallo and others who were Argentine military officers during that country's so-called dirty war of 1976-83.

Castaneda's action was made legally possible by a federal judge who ruled that Mexico's extradition treaty with Spain constitutes a valid legal basis for the case. Mexico has signed several international conventions against genocide and terrorism and has domestic laws against those crimes that justify the extradition.

In vowing to appeal, Cavallo's lawyers argue that the Mexican constitution protects Cavallo from prosecution by a third country and that laws cannot be applied retroactively. Appeals may delay the extradition for as much as a year, but the precedent has been set and universal jurisdiction over human rights reinforced.

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