Rights Groups Plea for International Criminal Court Assessment of Coahuila, Mexico Case

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Human rights organizations in Mexico are calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged crimes against humanity in the state of Coahuila, once again raising questions over the court’s jurisdiction in cases of criminal violence and the impunity that surrounds it.

In a document compiled by the International Federation of Human Rights (Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos – FIDH), 17 human rights groups present evidence that crimes committed in the north Mexico state of Coahuila between 2009 and 2016 amount to crimes against humanity that have not and will not be investigated in the country, and that as a result the International Criminal Court (ICC) should launch its own investigations.

Using interviews with victims, investigations into disappearances by both the state and human rights groups, along with reports, statements and articles from the media and international bodies, the report flags up three areas in which it argues the ICC would have jurisdiction.

The first two are related to the allegedly state government facilitated advance of the criminal organization the Zetas in Coahuila between 2009 and 2011.

In this regard, the first case presented is the Allende massacre in 2011, in which Zetas operatives, allegedly acting in collusion with state entities, went on a revenge rampage in the municipality of Allende, slaughtering anywhere from 42 to 300 people. The second involves Piedras Negras Prison, which the authorities allegedly permitted the Zetas to turn into a base of operations that they used to murder and disappear an estimated 150 victims.

SEE ALSO: Zetas News and Profile

The last case flagged by FIDH concerns the period 2011 to 2016, when under the auspices of a new state government, newly formed elite security forces units were allegedly responsible for hundreds of disappearances, along with cases of torture and the illegal deprivation of liberty. While some of their victims were believed to be members of organized crime networks, many others had no known links or were no more than street level drug dealers.

The FIDH’s case hinges on proving that these crimes represent a systematic attack on the civilian population of Coahuila directed by the state government. It argues that the cases in the first time period result from an “undeniable” collusion between the state and the Zetas, and that in the second period the abductions and disappearances represent a state policy of presenting victims as members of organized crime networks.

The ICC was not established with organized crime in mind.

As evidence that the cases meet the requirement that they are “of an organized nature,” the report highlights evidence of coordination in carrying out and covering up these atrocities and consistent patterns surrounding methods, especially of abductions and torture.

For the ICC to become involved, the FIDH must also prove that these crimes against humanity are not being properly investigated within the country. To do this, FIDH cites its own investigations into the cases, drawing the conclusion that although it is unclear whether the Zetas’ role can be considered to have been properly investigated, it is very clear that the state’s involvement has not and is not likely to be in the foreseeable future.

InSight Crime Analysis

Corruption and impunity have long been central characteristics of the drug war in Mexico, and the human rights groups that make up FIDH are not the first to turn to the ICC in an attempt to find justice and hold the Mexican state accountable for its failings.

The first such attempt, in 2011, aimed high, with activists calling for the ICC to investigate the government of then President Felipe Calderón, along with the heads of both the security forces and the country’s most prominent drug cartels. While the attempt failed, more have followed, most recently with a call for the ICC to investigate former Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte, who is currently facing a range of charges involving corruption and collusion with organized crime.

However, the ICC was not established with organized crime in mind, and establishing its jurisdiction in such cases is no simple matter. The claimants must not only prove that crimes against humanity have taken place, but also these crimes amount to a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population carried out by state actors or the highest authority in the region.

It’s not clear if this document clears those hurdles mostly because the strength of the arguments presented by the FIDH vary from case to case and the government’s participation in the actual criminal operations is not clear.

Evidence of state collusion in the Allende massacre is devastating, and there can be little doubt that this atrocity was facilitated by the actions of factions of the state. Nevertheless, it is doubtful the killing itself can be considered part of state policy or a systematic targeting of the population. The event was isolated and the civilian deaths appear to be more the product of rather than the objective of the state’s policy of collusion with organized crime.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Similarly, there can be little doubt that the state allowed the Zetas to set up base in the Piedras Negras Prison and use it to carry out atrocities. However, again, it is far from clear whether the resulting violence can be considered a systematic attack against the population or more the violent result of state corruption and weakness.

By far the strongest case the FIDH presents is related to the disappearances, abductions and torture of civilians by security forces units. In these cases, state actors are both the intellectual and material authors of the crimes and so the cause and effect of the state’s actions are easier to establish, as is the fact that investigations in Mexico have been clearly inadequate.

Although, as FIDH admits, the motives for this campaign remain uncertain, the high number of cases that follow a similar pattern and the number of apparently innocent victims involved are indicative of a deliberate and systematic targeting of the civilian population as part of a strategy or policy devised from within the state.

Whether the ICC takes the case or not, as a recent Open Society report points out, such an intervention would not be an ideal scenario for Mexico as it would amount to an admission that justice is essentially beyond reach with Mexican institutions. Nevertheless, it could prove to be the only recourse left on the table.

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