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Mexico Considers Truth Commission

“As a government we are going to look ahead…But you can’t wipe the slate clean and start over. There are affronts to the people of Mexico, there are notorious crimes, there are assassinations, there are acts of corruption which can’t be dropped without a formal investigation, without discovering the truth… What formula have we found so that the government doesn’t get worn out and lost in the past? What we have found is the ‘transparency commission,’ a commission made up of citizens who are recognized for their ethics. From outside the government, they will do the work of finding the truth in these cases. They will be behind the institutions that are in charge of applying the law. I will be requiring reports on their advance and bringing to bear all the will and political weight of the presidency so that the truth is known. It’s a balance always looking ahead and always discovering the truth looking back.”

-President Vicente Fox, July 2000

After winning the landmark presidential election last July, Mexican President Vicente Fox, of the Party of National Action (PAN), has noted human rights reform as one of the top priorities on his political agenda. Immediately following the 2000 electoral victory, Fox announced his intention to establish a congressional “Transparency Commission,” a truth commission assigned to investigate dozens of unresolved cases of human rights violations throughout Mexico during the 71-year reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Included in these abuses are: the massacre of hundreds of student demonstrators in Mexico City in 1968; the disappearances of 500 campesinos and social activists in the “dirty war” of the 1970s and 1980s; the violent deaths of more than 600 members of the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) since its founding in 1988; and the assassinations of a Roman Catholic cardinal in 1993 and a presidential candidate in 1994, among a host of other scandals spanning over the past seven decades.

“Mexico will no longer be held as a bad example in matters of human rights,” Fox proclaimed in his inauguration speech before Congress in December 2000. “We will protect human rights as never before, respecting them as never before and seeking a culture that repudiates any violation and punishes the guilty.”

However, some government officials have questioned whether the Fox administration will have the strength to embark on the seemingly impossible task of uncovering years of PRI-related corruption or the power to enforce prosecution for the crimes. While Fox has yet to formalize his Transparency Commission, people around the world remain hopeful that during the next six years the new Mexican government will uphold its promise for justice and its commitment to human rights.


Truth commissions are official agencies established to formally investigate and report on human rights violations that have occurred in a specific country or during a particular conflict. Generally sponsored by the government and/or international organizations, a truth commission provides a forum for victims, their relatives, and sometimes the perpetrators of the crimes to give testimony and evidence of human rights abuses. Ultimately, the goals of such commissions are to provide closure for the tragedies, to account for past abuses of authority and to provide recommendations for avoiding similar recurrences in the future. Additionally, they are intended to promote national reconciliation and to help legitimize the new government and policies.

While the first truth commission emerged in Uganda in 1974, the practice did not gain prominence until the mid-1980s in Latin America. In 1983, the Argentine government created the National Commission on the Disappeared, a truth commission to investigate the mass killings and kidnappings that occurred under the previous military dictatorship. Since that time, truth commissions have been established worldwide to investigate similar human rights violations. For instance, in 1991 the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation in Chile issued its report on the violence and abuses of the Pinochet-era; in 1992, the Commission of Inquiry in Chad published its investigative report of crimes committed during the eight-year rule of Hissein Habre; and in 1998, the South African Commission of Truth and Reconciliation exposed the tragic crimes and abuses of the apartheid-era between 1960 and 1994. In addition to the recent call for a ‘transparency commission’ in Mexico, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has established a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate war crimes committed in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo over the past decade. For more information on Truth Commissions, please visit:

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Written July 20, 2001. Last updated July 18, 2003.

Human and Constitutional Rights Resource Page.

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