Retribution

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By Kary Vannice

Justice delayed is justice denied.

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but exceedingly fine.

Two very different takes on the judicial system. Many in Mexico feel the pain of the former yet hold out hope for the latter.

Watch any U.S. or Canadian news report about Mexico, and it’s no secret that Mexico can be a dangerous and violent place. The majority of that violence is relegated to specific areas and, at first blush, appears to involve a clash between organized crime and military might. 

But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that what appears to be a “clash” may indeed be collusion. At least that’s what international human rights groups are claiming, and have been for nearly a decade.

On November 25th, 2011, Human Rights activists appealed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate then-President Felipe Calderon and many of his top military officials for crimes against humanity. 

The ICC, located in The Hague, tries war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in states that are unable or unwilling to prosecute these crimes within their own borders.

The 2011 petition stated that more than 40,000 had died in drug-related violence in Mexico since Calderon took office in 2006 and declared a “war on drugs,” deploying military troops to fight Mexico’s powerful drug cartels. The report also stated that countless more Mexican civilians had been kidnapped, tortured, and suffered sexual violence.

After just five years in office, it seemed that Calderon was ruling over, and allegedly directing, what one reporter called “a bloodbath of historic proportions.” 

The Mexican government responded by laying the blame firmly at the feet of the drug cartels, claiming that the military was providing security for the Mexican people, and the Interior Ministry issued this statement:  The established security policy in no way constitutes an international crime. On the contrary, all its actions are focused on stopping criminal organizations and protecting all citizens.”

At that time, the ICC reviewed the report and determined that no formal investigation was justified. 

On July 5th, 2017, human rights groups once again appealed to the ICC for justice. This time the International Federation for Human Rights (Fédération de  international de ligues de droits de l’homme, or FIDH) was among them. More time and more funding had allowed for a broader investigation and more evidence to back their case. 

The new petition moved the timeline from 2009 to 2016, which now included the term of yet another Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto and expanded its appeal to include Baja California.

This second report alleged that members of both military and law enforcement knew about crimes of violence, murder, and torture (often in advance) and did nothing to stop them and were often complicit, taking part alongside known gang members. It also states that a state-run prison, in the state of Coahuila, was converted into a center of operations for the Zeta cartel, where more than 150 people were murdered, and their bodies dissolved with acid or burned to cover up the crimes. The FIDH said such atrocities would not have been possible without the collusion of state-employed prison officials and authorities. 

When no determination had yet been made by this last June, the FIDH submitted a third report to the ICC, this one specific to the years between 2008 and 2010 in the Chihuahua region. 

The FIDH declared that in a high number of cases where innocent victims were involved, state officials were both the material and intellectual authors of the crimes, which is “indicative of a deliberate and systematic targeting of the civilian population as part of a strategy or policy devised from within the state.”

The FIDH and other participating organizations presented their report to the ICC with these words:  

“The policy to militarize public security … has exponentially increased breaches of human rights and atrocious crimes committed by the armed forces under the protection of the country’s judicial institutions. This means that there is neither the will nor the ability to bring those responsible to trial in Mexico. We . . . appeal to the International Criminal Court to end the impunity surrounding these serious crimes, given the lack of independence and impartiality of the Procurator General’s Office of the Republic [Mexico’s Attorney General], as well as the non-existence of genuine national proceedings.”

Indeed, their statement is true. To date, out of 505 criminal investigations of military personnel in the civilian judicial system, there have been only 16 convictions — a prosecutorial success rate of a measly 3.2%. 

While there may be disagreement as to who is legally responsible for the atrocities that have plagued parts of Mexico for over a decade, the number of victims make the need for justice shockingly clear. Over 200,000 people have died, and an additional 32,000 disappearances are still unsolved. 

It is, once again, in the hands of the International Criminal Court to determine whether justice will be finally served on foreign soil, because it seems clear justice will not prevail here in Mexico. 

However, at this point, after more than ten years since the campaign began in a land littered with the remains of more than 200,000 of its people, the families of the victims must be feeling that justice delayed is indeed justice denied.

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