Armed Conflicts, Crime & Justice, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

MEXICO: Activists Want President and Drug Lords Tried for War Crimes

Emilio Godoy

One of the peace caravans by a burgeoning anti-violence movement in Mexico.  Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

One of the peace caravans by a burgeoning anti-violence movement in Mexico. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

MEXICO CITY, Nov 24 2011 (IPS) - Activists are hoping that the International Criminal Court (ICC) will take up a case against Mexican President Felipe Calderón, government officials and drug traffickers and indict those responsible for the violence wracking the country. But this is likely to be a complex and lengthy process.

 One of the peace caravans by a burgeoning anti-violence movement in Mexico.  Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

One of the peace caravans by a burgeoning anti-violence movement in Mexico. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

“It’s the only legal means of punishing those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Mexico,” lawyer Netzaí Sandoval, who is preparing the complaint to be filed Friday Nov. 25 before the ICC in The Hague, told IPS.

“The Mexican legal system does not specifically define these crimes, so there is no way to prosecute those who commit them. Moreover, there is no political will to investigate the widespread violence,” Sandoval said.

Backed by 23,000 signatures, the petition asks the ICC to investigate President Calderón, ministers Genaro García of public security, Guillermo Galván of defence and Mariano Saynez of the navy, as well as Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa cartel, to determine the degree of their responsibility for the violence battering Mexico.

Only days after taking office in December 2006, President Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) deployed thousands of police and soldiers to combat the drug cartels. The ensuing violence has left 50,000 people dead, 10,000 disappeared and 230,000 displaced, according to human rights organisations.

In the view of the petitioners, who include activists and scholars, the current spate of violence – rape and forced disappearance committed by soldiers, killings of civilians at military checkpoints, other murders of civilians and the resultant cover-ups, torture, extrajudicial executions, attacks on hospitals and massacres of migrants – can and should be investigated by the ICC.


The ICC, established in 2002, is empowered under the Rome Statute to act in cases in which national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute those accused of war crimes, genocide or other crimes against humanity. Its chief prosecutor is Argentine lawyer Luis Moreno Ocampo.

This is the fourth case involving a Latin American country to come before the ICC. The Spanish Pro Human Rights Association (APDHE) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) petitioned the ICC in September 2009 to investigate and try those responsible for the Jun. 28, 2009 overthrow of then Honduran president Manuel Zelaya.

After a 2005 massacre of members of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community, in the northwest of the country, the leftwing Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) party of Colombia accused then president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) in 2010 of publicly stating the victims were linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and of blaming the FARC for the killings, when they were perpetrated by the army.

The same month, Colombian lawyer Jorge Granados filed a suit on behalf of victims of the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), a smaller insurgent group, against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for allegedly allowing the guerrilla groups on Venezuelan soil.

With regard to the petition filed by activists in Mexico, Eugenia Solís, a member of the board of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, an international women’s alliance that monitors the ICC, told IPS that “the complaint may be successful, because the violence is systematic and there is no response from the state. Government and non-government agents are involved, and the people are defenceless.”

But some experts are doubtful that it will succeed. In an article published in the newspaper Reforma’s weekly magazine Enfoque, the head of the National Institute for Criminal Sciences (INACIPE), Gerardo Laveaga, argued that the petition does not conform to the Rome Statute, because national legal recourses have not been exhausted, and it does not comply with ICC admissibility criteria.

“It will only waste the time of the International Criminal Court, which will be compelled to carry out useless proceedings to throw the case out,” Laveaga concluded.

After receiving the petition, prosecutor Moreno Ocampo will ask the Mexican state about the facts reported, and whether it is willing to investigate them. Depending on the response, he will decide whether to open an investigation, which may lead to a trial if the necessary conditions are met.

Mexico’s foreign ministry claimed the lawsuit would not be viable, and denied that Calderón’s security policy constitutes an international crime.

“To call on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation in Mexico is to misrepresent the reality in our country. The jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court is complementary to national criminal jurisdictions,” the foreign ministry said in a communiqué.

“Action by the Court is only justified when a state cannot or will not institute a criminal action to punish certain crimes defined in the Rome Statute … Neither of these two premises applies in this case,” it added.

But Sandoval argued that “the cases of Honduras and Colombia demonstrate that the ICC could rule on the situation in Mexico. On multiple occasions, analysts and experts around the world have compared what happened in Colombia with what is going on now in Mexico.”

The petitioners want the ICC prosecutor to investigate alleged collusion between the Mexican government and the Sinaloa cartel, based on testimony from Jesús Vicente Zambada – the son of Ismael Zambada, Guzmán’s right hand man in the leadership of the Sinaloa cartel – who is in prison in the U.S.

The spiralling violence in Mexico over the last few years has become the focus of study by several international organisations. The German University of Heidelberg’s Conflict Barometer reports that in 2010 the violence in this country was more intense than in places like Honduras and Colombia, two of the most violent countries in the world.

In 2012, the International Crisis Group (ICG) based in Brussels, which works to prevent and resolve deadly conflicts, will launch a specific programme for Mexico, such as it already has for Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti and Venezuela.

 
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