Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission is experiencing its worst crisis since its inception in 1990. Its inaction in the face of events such as the mass disappearance of students in Iguala and the Tlatlaya massacre – the Mexican army covered up the cold-blooded execution of 15 civilians – destroyed its former president. The new leader, Luis Raúl González Pérez, takes on what he himself calls an “extraordinary” challenge. Given that the nation is agitated and fed up with such abuses, the new Mexican ombudsman’s objective is to regain credibility and trust – two assets in high demand in Mexico today.
Question. You have said that you want the Commission to be uncomfortable and implacable. Has it not been that way until now?
Answer. I am working on my prospective profile but I will be implacable with regard to public servants who sidestep their commitment to respect human rights.
Q. But that’s obvious. An organization that allows civil servants to violate human rights wouldn’t make any sense. My question is, was the Commission not implacable before your arrival?
A. The goal of that effort, of being implacable, is to avoid events like those that have occurred and which led to worldwide indignation. I want to be emphatic, I want to change the paradigm and I do not want to leave any recommendation on the table. I want them to have impact. A piece of paper on the table does not serve the victim.
Iguala set off public weariness, indignation and shame”
Q. And how can you make sure the Commission’s recommendations don’t end up being just a worthless piece of paper?
A. By using all capabilities. What’s that piece of paper worth to a victim if there are no legal consequences, if there are no sanctions, if impunity reigns once more? That is a vicious cycle that expiates human rights violations. As long as there is no fear of sanction, we are encouraging new violations. My challenge is to regain trust and credibility, not to speculate.
Q. There have been 5,098 reported disappearances in Mexico this year, the highest number in history. What’s going on?
A. It’s a serious problem that worries us. Iguala set off and made clear something that was fundamental to the problem. Just look at the mass graves they found as they searched for the students. Now, they must figure out who they are. Iguala is bringing to light the public weariness, indignation, shame we are feeling because of this barbarism and atrocities like this case.
Q. Do you think the Iguala case is closed?
A. Not at all. There are ongoing investigations. We have to know the truth about what happened to those 43 young people. There are also six deaths related to those events. We must know the truth about what happened and the whereabouts of the individuals.
Q. How do you see Mexico?
A. I see social tension in certain areas of the Republic. Iguala partly set it off but there are also very obvious inequalities which make it clear that economic, cultural and social rights should be strengthened. I see tension and I see a legitimate protest given this level of weariness. This social response is welcome and it has to help make sure these events do not happen again. But I should also point out that violence used to enforce the law can only be answered by applying the rule of law. I am not naïve. I assumed this responsibility in the middle of an extraordinary situation. The only thing that can reconcile us given this social tension is the respect of human rights, dignity, and following the rules.
Mexico is experiencing a crisis of human rights”
Q. And how does one put an end to the other kind of violence, drug-related violence? How does Mexico get out of that spiral?
A. By fighting impunity. When the Commission issues a recommendation, we want there to be a legal or political consequence.
Q. Your predecessor was blamed for depending too much on the president’s office. What would you say to those who think you might be infected with the same virus?
A. Fortunately, I am not infected with that virus. I have the necessary vaccines and I have taken them repeatedly over 35 years of professional practice. The ombudsman must be independent of administrations, political parties, and civil organizations. I am not their adversary but rather their contributor. What do the country, institutions and authorities gain if we cover up human rights violations? Look at the depth of indignation and the massive protest. Do they not benefit more from an ombudsman who points out where something is being done wrong? That’s my working plan.
Q. How would you describe the state of human rights in México today?
A. It’s in a state of crisis in certain areas of the country, like Guerrero, Tamaulipas and Michoacán.
Q. Is the government fulfilling its role as guarantor of human rights?
A. It would be a mistake to not recognize the legal progress Mexico has made in terms of acknowledging human rights, starting with the 2011 constitutional reform, the general law for victims, the penal reforms...Our great challenge now is to make sure the regulations are implemented, followed, and have real impact on issues such as disappearances, torture and migration.
Q. And what do you make of the Commission’s work on the Tlatlaya case?
A. I have been in office for five days. I have been looking at all the cases. I will promptly review that case. I am going to go deep into that case...
Q. Are you aware that the Commission’s image has suffered because of the Tlatlaya case? If it weren’t for investigative journalism, nothing would have been known.
A. I want the National Commission to be timely, to open cases and issue statements in a timely manner. Why were there early statements before a conclusion was reached?
Q. The Commission's report limits the list of those responsible to one lieutenant and seven soldiers. Do you think what happened there can be reduced to the actions of these people?
A. That is what I am reviewing. There are differences between the number of people the National Commission holds responsible and the number the authorities say. I am going to find out whether those responsible are the ones they say or whether there are more. I have not gotten that work done in five days. I know very well that I have to go deep and if I have to point out that the official answers were not satisfactory, I will.
Translation: Dyane Jean François