MEXICO: General Gallardo - the price of speaking out for human rights

'It is high time for the Fox administration to demonstrate its real commitment to uphold human rights by releasing General Gallardo immediately and unconditionally,' Amnesty International added.

In a new report published today, the organisation expressed concern that the Mexican authorities may be unwilling or unable to guarantee a fair process in General Gallardo's ongoing appeal hearing

The concern stems from a close examination of the submission made by the Attorney General's Office (Procuradoría General de la República, PGR) in the appeal lodged by General Gallardo seeking compliance with the Inter-American Commission's recommendation.

'The tone and substance of the PGR's submission, which argues vehemently against the appeal, suggest a misuse of its powers. It appears to wish to influence the judge with elements not directly relevant to the terms of the appeal,' Amnesty International said, noting that the arguments presented are often incomplete and lack impartiality.

'It is disturbing to note that the arguments put forward by the PGR and by government bodies such as the Ministry of Defence appear to be essentially identical with the position expressed by former president Zedillo's administration,' Amnesty International said.

'For all its stated commitments to upholding human rights and recognising the role of the Inter-American Commission, the Fox administration is proving to be just the same as its predecessors,' the organisation continued. 'It is difficult to believe in President Fox's fine words on human rights while the PGR continues to play such a dominant and unrestrained role in the administration of justice,' Amnesty International added.

Only in March this year, during a meeting with Amnesty International's then Secretary General, Pierre Sané, President Fox indicated that government lawyers were working with General Gallardo's legal representatives in order to find a solution to the case. However, to this day the government has failed to ensure his release and President Fox's recent comments to the press indicate that his government continues to dismiss the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission and the United Nations on the case.

'Eight years after being jailed for criticising human rights abuses committed by the Mexican Army, General Gallardo remains in detention and the harassment he and his family have suffered has never been effectively investigated,' Amnesty International said. 'This case is an embarassing reminder for President Fox that, after almost one year in office, his administration has so far failed to have a significant impact on improving respect for human rights.'

Background Brigadier General José Francisco Gallardo Rodríguez was imprisoned on 9 November 1993, following the publication of an article in which he called for the creation of a military ombudsman to oversee reports of human rights violations of soldiers and civilians by members of the armed forces He was charged with a number of offences against the armed forces, and when these were dismissed by the civilian courts, new charges were levelled against him in order to prevent his release.

Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience in 1994. In 1996 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a number of recommendations to the Mexican government on the Gallardo case, including calling for his immediate release and for the threats against him and his family to be investigated. In 1998 General Gallardo was tried and convicted of illicit enrichment and embezzlement by two separate special military courts (consejos de guerra) and sentenced to 28 years' imprisonment. The Mexican authorities have consistently refused to comply with the IACHR recommendations.

In June 2001 General Gallardo was granted the right to appeal against his continued detention in the light of the IACHR recommendation. The judge has still not decided on the merits of the case.

Amnesty International is today sending the Mexican authorities copies of the report, 'Mexico: Silencing dissent: An update on the case of General Gallardo', which is available on the web

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