This blog has been following the civil lawsuit for money damages in U.S. federal court against Ernesto Zedillo, the former President of Mexico, for his alleged involvement in a 1977 massacre in a Mexican village and his claim for immunity from same.
That request for immunity has prompted another lawsuit, this in a Mexican court, over the legality of the request under Mexican law. In early March 2013 the Mexican court decided that the request for such immunity by the Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. State Department was illegal, and on March 28th that Mexican court decision was filed with the U.S. court.
The latest move in this duel between the two court systems took place on April 12th when Mr. Zedillo told the U.S. court that it should just ignore the Mexican court.
That was the bottom line in the Defendant’s Response to Plaintiffs’ Notice Regarding Mexican Trial Court Decision that was filed that day in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.
Although Mr. Zedillo in this document noted that his pending appeal of the Mexican court decision had been joined by the current Mexican President and Secretary of Foreign Affairs, that decision is asserted to be “irrelevant” to the U.S. case, and the U.S. court should “promptly and finally” dismiss the U.S. case. This conclusion purportedly follows from these premises:
- The U.S. Department of State decides whether immunity for a foreign official advances U.S. interests and U.S. law.
- The U.S. Department of State does not judge whether a foreign nation’s request for immunity for one of its former officials is in accordance with that country’s laws.
- The U.S. Department of State already has decided that immunity in the U.S. case for Mr. Zedillo is in accordance with U.S. law and foreign policy and so advised the U.S. court.
- Under U.S. law, U.S. courts are required to honor the U.S. Department of State’s decisions on immunity of former foreign officials.
Although I do not quarrel with these premises, I do not think that they support the conclusion put forward by Mr. Zedillo.
If the Mexican trial court decision is sustained on appeal in Mexico, then that should result in the Mexican government’s rescission of the earlier request for immunity by its Ambassador. That hypothetical situation, to me, looks like the case where the State Department recently refused to support immunity in a U.S. case for a former Somali official because there was no Somali government that could ask the Department for such immunity.
In any event, if I were the U.S. judge in the Zedillo case, I would postpone making any decision on immunity for Mr. Zedillo until after the Mexican case was concluded and the U.S. State Department had expressed its views on the impact of the Mexican case. Perhaps I would now ask the State Department for its views before the Mexican case had concluded, but I anticipate the Department would say it was waiting for a final judgment in the Mexican case before it expressed its views.
This blog will continue to watch for further developments in these cases.