On September 7, the Justice Department filed a Suggestion of Immunity on behalf of former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo in a suit against Zedillo under the Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act by families of Mexican civilians killed in a 1997 massacre during the Zapatista uprising. The complaint did not allege that Zedillo, who was respected as a political and economic reformer and is now a professor of economics at Yale University, had any involvement in the massacre but rather argues that he should be held accountable as Mexico’s President at the time.
The Suggestion of Immunity, which attaches a letter from Legal Adviser Harold Koh, concludes:
Upon consideration of the facts and circumstances of this case, the Department of State has determined that former President Zedillo is entitled to immunity from suit in this action. See [attached letter from Legal Adviser Koh] The alleged actions as set forth in the Complaint are predicated on former President Zedillo’s actions as President of Mexico, thus involving the exercise of his powers of office. Accordingly, the Department of State presumes that those actions, if taken at all, were taken in his official capacity. The Department of State has not found a sufficient reason to question that preliminary assessment. Plaintiffs’ allegations that former President Zedillo should be held liable for lower level officials’ tortious conduct simply by virtue of his position as President at the time do not provide a sufficient reason to question that initial assessment. The Department of State has further determined that those allegations in the Complaint that allege particular conduct of former President Zedillo himself do not provide a sufficient reason to question whether that conduct was taken in his official capacity. Accordingly, the United States has determined that former President Zedillo enjoys immunity from this lawsuit.