MEXICO CITY — The Mexican Supreme Court on Thursday cleared several top officials of responsibility for civil rights violations when riot police in 2006 used force to quash an uprising near Mexico City.
Justices ruled 8 to 3 that it would be unfair to blame top decision-makers, including Enrique Pena Nieto, governor of the state of Mexico, and Eduardo Medina Mora, then the national public safety chief, even though they approved sending police to quell rioters in the town of San Salvador Atenco in May 2006.
Thousands of police officers stormed the town square to evict machete-carrying protesters who had beaten two officers in a scene televised live. The clashes, led by a firebrand activist involved in another rebellion there years earlier, erupted after flower vendors in a nearby town were evicted from their usual market.
A 14-year-old boy was fatally shot during the clashes. Three of the uprising's leaders were later convicted and sentenced to 67 years in prison on kidnapping charges stemming from the unrest. No police officers were prosecuted.
Human rights activists accused police of beating and sexually abusing detainees, and an official inquiry later found gross rights abuses. In discussing the case this week, nearly all of the court's 11 justices agreed that there had been grave rights violations by police.
Justice Genaro Gongora Pimentel, who brought the case before the court, said the highest-ranking officials deserved blame because they approved the use of force and did not stop it.
Besides Pena Nieto and Medina Mora, he singled out Wilfredo Robledo Madrid, who was police chief in Mexico state. Two justices sided with Gongora Pimentel.
But, in a series of votes, the court majority held that the highest-ranking officials should not be held culpable for rights violations by officers under them.
Justice Sergio Salvador Aguirre Anguiano said blame was wide and it was improper for the court to zero in on top decision-makers. "It doesn't seem right to me that we act as sharpshooters," he said during the debate this week.
Thursday's court decision has wider political implications. Pena Nieto remains governor of Mexico state and is seen as a likely candidate for president in 2012 under the banner of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Medina Mora is the nation's attorney general.