Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

Permanent People’s Tribunal Sets Up Shop in Mexico

Daniela Pastrana

MEXICO CITY, Oct 25 2011 (IPS) - “We have a duty to show what the reality is, and we will do so with complete independence,” said French judge Philippe Texier, a member of the Permanent People’s Tribunal, which has opened a chapter in Mexico.

“Traditionally judges keep silent, but we have to clarify why we are here and why we accepted the request of the Mexican organisations” to set up the new branch of the PPT, which will investigate possible state crimes against humanity in this country, he said Friday.

“Mexico has a relatively good international human rights image, because it has signed all of the treaties and conventions, and the role of the PPT will be to demonstrate whether or not that image reflects reality,” said Texier, who sits on France’s Court of Cassation and is a former chair of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The PPT, an international opinion tribunal, was founded in 1979 in Bologna, Italy at the initiative of late Senator Lelio Basso to investigate and try crimes against humanity around the world.

It is the successor to the Russell Tribunal, which in the 1960s investigated war crimes committed during the 1965-1975 Vietnam War, and in the 1970s investigated crimes against humanity committed by U.S.-backed dictatorships in Latin America. Also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal, the Russell Tribunal was named for its organiser, British philosopher, activist and pacifist Bertrand Russell.

Although the PPT’s verdicts are non-binding, they are based on international law and legal precedent and take into account the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. It has held sessions in some 40 countries.

The Fondazione Lelio e Lisli Basso, set up by Basso before his death to keep the PPT going, agreed to have the tribunal look into the case of Mexico, in response to a request filed two years ago by human rights groups and other civil society organisations.

Over the next two years, the PPT will hold a series of hearings on seven broad areas of human rights that are concerns in Mexico today, where drug-related violence has spiralled since the “war on drugs” began to be militarised in 2007.

The areas are: the dirty war, violence, impunity and lack of access to justice; migration, refugees and forced displacement; femicide (gender-related murders) and gender violence; violence against workers; violence against maize, food sovereignty and autonomy; environmental devastation and the rights of native peoples; and misinformation, censorship and violence against media workers.

The organisers say the hearings, which will take place at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) with the participation of PPT secretary general Gianni Tognoni and two international judges who will sit on the jury – Texier and Ippolito Franco from Italy – will run through early 2014.

“It is an important step in unifying all of the struggles and in systematically analysing global abuses,” said Mexican indigenous rights activist Magdalena Gómez, a member of the PPT Mexico chapter’s committee of guarantors.

“As the experts said, the PPT will be essential for drawing international attention to human rights violations committed in this country,” she told IPS.

Franco, a former president of the Italian Association of Democratic Lawyers (IDL), told IPS that the PPT’s main contribution, besides helping to make “the painful situation in Mexico visible,” will be to generate a new dynamic of citizen participation, through the hearings.

That participation, he explained, “is more important than the trials themselves held by the Tribunal.”

Raúl Vera, the Catholic bishop of the city of Saltillo in northern Mexico and a staunch defender of human rights, thanked the PPT judges and members who agreed to open a chapter in Mexico.

“We know you have come to help us, because the responsibility to bring about justice in our country is ours. Thank you so much, because it gives us hope to know that the PPT will be working here,” said the priest, after listing human rights violations committed in this country.

Addressing a packed auditorium on Friday, Vera mentioned the “criminalisation of young people who are hired by criminal economic groups because the institutions do not give them work,” the emergence of paramilitary groups, “which are a sign of the breakdown of the social order we are experiencing,” and the militarisation of the fight against drugs.

“The army has the authority to inflict the death penalty; it kills and no one punishes it,” he said. “These are actions imposed by a state whose leaders are full of ambition, and where it is not political proposals that count, but business and theft, which open the door to the posts to which they aspire.”

Later, in a brief interview with IPS, Vera said the presence of the PPT in Mexico “will help people find out what is really happening here.”

According to the PPT’s working method, pre-hearings and thematic hearings will be held in 2012 and 2013, to the extent of the financial and organisational capacity of each committee. And in early 2014, the jury will hand down its rulings.

Andrés Barreda, an economics professor at UNAM, one of the driving forces behind the establishment of a Mexican chapter of the PPT, told IPS that the aim is to explicitly distance the process from the 2012 presidential elections.

“If there are members of the political parties involved, it will be in a personal capacity, but no party will be involved in the hearings,” he said.

Franco explained that the PPT is based on the legal principle that all peoples have a right to an identity, traditions and paths to development, and on the concept that human rights come before the property rights of the powerful and economic freedom.

“Victims (of abuses) and society have a right to know the truth, and to full reparations,” he said.

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