Access to Public Information
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The Supreme Court of Mexico protected Tita Radilla Martínez’s right of access to public information, by granting her access to the documents contained in the preliminary criminal investigation regarding her father’s enforced disappearance. Radilla’s initial request had been previously denied by the Attorney General’s Office and a first-instance court. The Supreme Court held that the requested information was of public interest —since it was about serious human rights violations— which justified its disclosure.
Mrs. Tita Radilla Martínez submitted an access to information request to the Attorney General’s Office, asking for a certified copy of all the proceedings in the preliminary investigation regarding her father’s (Mr. Rosendo Radilla Pacheco) enforced disappearance. The entity denied the delivery of the information, arguing that it had already disclosed it for another access to information request. The plaintiff lodged an appeal before the Federal Institute of Access to Public Information (IFAI, currently the National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Personal Data Protection of Mexico, or INAI).
In its response to the appeal, the Attorney General’s Office emphasized that preliminary investigations are considered as confidential information. However, the IFAI indicated that the preliminary investigation, in this case, was related to the investigation of facts that imply serious violations of fundamental rights and possibly constitute a crime against humanity. It considered that in this cases “classifying the information could generate greater damage, compared to the harm that could be caused by the dissemination of the data, because the facts of the present case refer to an enforced disappearance that constitutes a serious violation of human rights, which has been condemned by national and international authorities, such as the National Human Rights Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which have publicly criticized the deficiency of the investigation” [p. 3-4]. Consequently, the IFAI concluded that the preliminary investigation should be publicly available and ordered the delivery of the information within 10 days. However, the Attorney General’s Office did not provide the demanded data.
Consequently, Mrs. Radilla filed a claim (amparo action) alleging that the refusal of the Attorney General’s Office to deliver the information, as ordered by the IFAI, violated her right of access to information, enshrined in articles 6 of the Constitution, 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
She also claimed that the Attorney General’s Office was questioning the autonomy of the Federal Institute of Access to Public Information by not respecting its final determinations, thereby undermining the main procedure for the protection of the fundamental right of access to information. In this sense, Mrs. Radilla also considered that there was a violation of the principle of legality because the Attorney General’s Office was challenging the resolutions of the IFAI and their definitive nature.
A first-instance court held that preliminary investigations, regardless of their content or nature, are considered strictly confidential.
The Court had to decide whether classifying preliminary investigations as confidential, regardless of the nature of the investigated crime, was constitutionally valid or violated the right of access to public information.
The Court explained that “the general rule must be the public access and maximum disclosure of information; however, there are some exceptions, which, by constitutional mandate, must be established by law, in a formal and material sense. One of these exceptions is the case of preliminary investigations, whose content is considered ‘strictly confidential’” [p. 3]
The Court acknowledged that “preliminary investigations are kept confidential because the disclosure of the information contained therein could seriously affect the prosecution of crimes and, thus, the administration of justice” [p. 40]. However, the Court held that when the crime “is so serious that the public interest in classifying as confidential the preliminary investigation is outweighed by the interest of society as a whole in knowing the arrests, trials, and punishments of those responsible” [p. 40], the disclosure of the information must prevail. In this sense, the Court also indicated that “the need to allow access to the information contained in preliminary investigations for serious violations of human rights or crimes against humanity is particularly relevant, since these cases not only affect the victims and those directly affected by the unlawful acts, but offend society as a whole” [p. 41].
The Court further recalled that the right of access to information has a dual character: i) it is a right in itself, and ii) it is a means for the exercise of other rights. In this sense, it affirmed that “the right of access to information is the basis for the people to control the government and public authorities, therefore, it is a social requirement of the Rule of Law” [p. 40].
In this case, it was also crucial that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had previously recognized the right of the plaintiff to access the information contained in the preliminary investigation. Additionally, the judges also developed some conceptual lines on serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity. In conclusion, the Supreme Court decided to grant the information.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
At the international level, the decision serves to comply with one of the reparations ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in the case of Radilla Pacheco v. Mexico.
At the domestic level, the decision fosters transparency on criminal investigations related to serious human rights violations and/or crimes against humanity.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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