In Defense of International Justice

MEXICO CITY – Not long after I took office as Mexico’s foreign minister in 2001, a novel problem came across my desk. An Argentine naval officer who had resettled in Mexico under an assumed name was wanted by Spain on charges of genocide, torture, and terrorism. The officer, Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, was implicated in abuses committed in 1977 and 1978 at the notorious Naval Mechanics School in Buenos Aires. According to the Spanish indictment, Cavallo belonged to the operations unit of a group actively involved in kidnapping and torturing people whom the military regime perceived as leftist.

The question before me was whether to extradite Cavallo to Spain, a third country, to face trial for human rights abuses committed in Argentina. Signing the papers would be groundbreaking, as it would signal for the first time that suspected rights abusers might face trial anywhere in the world if justice was not likely at home.

For me, the decision was straightforward: the crimes demanded justice, and Cavallo was more likely to be held to account in Spain than in Argentina. Amnesty laws in Argentina at the time shielded him from prosecution. I signed the extradition papers.

Since then, many inroads have been made to ensure that the world’s most serious crimes no longer go unpunished. The International Criminal Court is up and running, and 107 states, including Mexico, have ratified the treaty establishing the court and acceded to its jurisdiction.