Mexico Faces War Crimes Investigation Over ‘War On Drugs’

A man looks at a van containing the bodies of several men in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Thursday. Mexican authorities found 26 bodies in three vehicles abandoned near a major intersection, officials said. (photo: Alejandro Acosta/Reuters)A man looks at a van containing the bodies of several men in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Thursday. Mexican authorities found 26 bodies in three vehicles abandoned near a major intersection, officials said. (photo: Alejandro Acosta/Reuters)The day after 26 bodies were found abandoned in vans in Guadalajara, a group of Mexican lawyers are asking the International Criminal Court to investigate President Felipe Calderon, government officials and drug cartel leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying they haven’t done enough to stop drug-related murders in the country.

The case to be brought Friday centres on the nearly 50,000 people killed and the estimated 10,000 disappeared under Calderon’s militarized “war” on drugs, which started after he took office in 2006.

“We will present documentation, with a wide variety of evidence, that demonstrates that in Mexico, war crimes and crimes against humanity are happening,” said Netzai Sandoval, a human rights lawyer heading the case. “The ICC can and should investigate and prosecute, with legal force, those responsible for these crimes.”

Sandoval and his supporters argue that the severity of the situation in Mexico demands legal intervention from the international community.

Most groups peg the national impunity rate for violent crime at 98 per cent — meaning only a few members of criminal groups face prosecution.

There are also accusations that Calderon’s war on drugs lets the army violate human rights. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has received 6,500 formal complaints of human rights abuses by the army since 2006. A two-year study by Human Rights Watch, published earlier this month, found that security forces operated with “total immunity.”

“Human Rights Watch found evidence that strongly suggests the participation of security forces in more than 170 cases of torture, 39 ‘disappearances’ and 24 extrajudicial killings since Calderón took office in December 2006,” the group wrote on its website.

“In Mexico, it’s impossible to bring justice,” Sandoval said.

Mexico’s Presidential Office rejected Sandoval’s war crime allegations in a written statement.

“In our country, society is not the victim of an authoritarian government or of systematic abuses by the armed forces,” the statement said. “The Mexican state complies with the rules of combat against the criminal organizations that . . . put at risk the security and tranquility of families.”

On Thursday, the bound and gagged bodies of 26 men were found dumped before dawn in Guadalajara, a sign that full-scale war between drug cartels may have come to the city that hosted last month’s Pan American Games.

Law-enforcement officials said the men were found, shot execution-style, in two vans and a pickup truck abandoned in Mexico’s second-largest city.

Guadalajara sits on the main highway running through western Mexico from the methamphetamine-producing state of Michoacan to the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa. In recent months, security officials and analysts have worried the city could become a target for the Zetas drug cartel, which has been using headline-grabbing atrocities in a national push to grab territory from older organized crime groups.

“These acts of barbarism show how the war between cartels, and crime, is getting more brutal,” said Guadalajara’s mayor, Jorge Aristoteles Sandoval.

A message was found with the bodies in one of the vehicles, said Luis Carlos Najera, public security secretary for the state of Jalisco. He provided no details, but Mexican cartels frequently leave threatening messages with the bodies of their victims as a way of sowing fear and taking credit for their actions.

International lawyer Kate Cronin-Furman said the ICC follows stringent guidelines when choosing which cases to investigate and prosecute, handling only “the worst of the worst.” While the death toll in Mexico dwarfs that of current ICC cases such as Kenya and the Ivory Coast, she said, numbers alone don’t determine the viability of a case.

“The war crimes charges won’t fly because, although there is obviously serious violence occurring, it’s characterized as ‘law enforcement’ rather than ‘armed conflict,’” she said. “Crimes against humanity charges are viable in the absence of armed conflict (as defined by international law), but require that the conduct be part of a ‘widespread or systematic’ attack on civilians.”

The court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, has already said the court will not hear the case.

“We don’t judge political decisions or political responsibility,” the Latin American Herald Tribune quoted him as saying in Mexico earlier this month.

Sandoval said he’s concerned about Moreno Ocampo prejudging the case, but his group won’t be deterred.

“There are certain limits of violence that are not permitted by the international community,” he said. “So what we are saying is that Mexico is a country that has surpassed this.”

– Article originally from The Star.

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