Mexican government accused of crimes against humanity

Mexico's President Peña Nieto and his administration introduced nationwide education reforms in 2013. (Credit: Presidencia de la República Mexicana/Flickr)

There is “reasonable basis” to believe the Mexican government has committed crimes against humanity during the country’s decade-long drug war, human rights groups said in a report released Tuesday.

The report, conducted by the human rights advocacy organization Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and five Mexican partner organizations, is the first time an international group has made a public legal argument that a pattern of abuses amounts to crimes against humanity rather than as domestic crimes under international law.

The report also singled out the Zetas cartel, one of Mexico’s most violent gangs, for its liberal use of murder, torture and disappearances.

At the end of 2006, the Mexican federal government began an intense military campaign against drug gangs and organized crime. Since then, Mexico has suffered the most violent period in the country’s modern history, with more than 150,000 people killed and thousands more disappeared.

The investigation found that, during this period, the federal administration promoted the extrajudicial use of force as part of their strategy against organized crime and committed numerous acts of murder, enforced disappearance and torture.

“These were neither isolated nor random acts,” the authors stated in the report.

Meanwhile, the Mexican government has not been held accountable for most of the abuses. Mexico’s Army, Navy, Federal Police and the Attorney General’s office have victimized not only cartel members but innocent bystanders and many falsely accused of criminality, the OSJI said in an executive summary of the report.

The Mexican government has repeatedly denied accusations that human rights violations in Mexico are systemic or under the government’s control. They responded to the report late Tuesday in a statement that outlined the efforts of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration to implement a new justice system by June 18, as well as legislative initiatives against torture and disappearances.

“It is important to emphasize that in Mexico the immense majority of violent crimes have been committed by criminal organizations,” it said. “The protective role of the armed forces has been continuously recognized by the people.”

The 232-page Open Society report warned that the International Criminal Court could eventually take up a case against Mexico’s security forces unless crimes were prosecuted domestically. However, the purpose of the report was not to “bring the case in front of the International Criminal Court,” said James A. Goldstone, executive director of Open Society, but to bring the perpetrators of the crimes to trial in Mexican courts.

The report also offered recommendations to improve the country’s justice system. Among them, the authors suggested allowing international specialists to investigate felonies and the thousands of cases of disappearance in the country; allowing independent forensics to investigate crimes; and to progressively remove armed forces members in order to adopt legislation that controls the use of force by the state.

Another suggestion was for the crimes to be investigated at home, supported by the creation of something similar to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

But the creation of an independent international investigative body in Mexico is unlikely to even be considered. In fact, the Nieto administration has already rejected the idea.

“Our country has the capacity and the will to meet human rights challenges,” the administration said.

Under international law, the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute the crimes listed in the report rests with Mexico.


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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email or see her latest work at