A prolonged lawsuit alleging human rights abuses against Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81, head of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization and the former president of Mexico, has come to a decisive close.
On Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ request to hear their case claiming that Zedillo was at least partially responsible for a 1997 massacre of a village in Acteal, Mexico. Ten unnamed plaintiffs, who claimed to be survivors and relatives of those killed in the massacre, filed the original suit in July 2011, according to The Economist. In addition to the $50 million suit, the plaintiffs sought a public declaration of guilt from Zedillo.
A statement released by Zedillo’s lawyer, Jonathan Freiman LAW ’98, praised Zedillo’s service to the Mexican people and expressed relief that the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
“The Supreme Court has finally put this frivolous lawsuit to an end,” the statement read. “Mr. Zedillo served his nation with ‘tremendous vision and courage,’ as President Clinton once noted. The calumnious claims against him are now put to rest.”
Zedillo directed all comments to his lawyer.
The lawsuit centered around the allegation that paramilitary troops backed by Zedillo’s government surrounded a prayer meeting of Roman Catholic indigenous townspeople in Acteal in 1997. According to media descriptions of the event, the troops then massacred 45 villagers, who were unarmed and peaceful. The suit claimed that Zedillo bore some responsibility for the massacre because he was president at the time.
The charges included war crimes, crimes against humanity and cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment.
The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case comes after a 2012 Department of State suggestion of immunity for Zedillo. However, any suggestions of immunity from the United States government did not prevent a 2013 Mexican court ruling that Zedillo was not eligible for immunity under Mexican law for alleged war crimes during his presidency.
The case was dismissed by two lower courts, first by the Connecticut Judicial District in July 2013 and again by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2014, before the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. After the February 2014 dismissal, Zedillo said he was relieved about the case’s outcome.
“Of course, I am pleased that the slanderous lawsuit has been dismissed,” Zedillo wrote in a February email to the News. “Although it has not been a distraction from my work and family life at all, it is always good to see that justice is done.”
University Spokesman Tom Conroy said the lawsuit did not affect Zedillo’s leadership of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization and added that the University was pleased Zedillo could put the suit in the past.
In a 2012 investigation, the Spanish-language news channel Univision claimed that Zedillo’s predecessor as president, Carlos Salinas, was behind the lawsuit. Salinas denied any involvement in the case in a 2012 email to the Economist.
Zedillo’s campaign to expand democracy in Mexico alienated members of Salinas’ political group, the Institutional Revolution Party, which historically dominated Mexican politics. While in office, Zedillo also ordered the arrest of Salinas’ brother, suspecting involvement in a murder and other illegal activity.
The YCSG, where Zedillo serves as director, was launched in 2001 to further engage Yale in international dialogues on globalization and policy. Particularly, the Center’s programs are aimed toward applying academic discussions to policy, according to its website.
Zedillo served as president of Mexico from 1994 to 2000.