Women Voice Ire, Fear as Femicides Continue to Rise in Mexico

Over 80,000 people particpated in Sunday’s International Women’s Day March in Mexico City. Photo: El Universal.

03/10/20 (written by kheinle) — Mexico just recorded its most dangerous year on record for women, according to the Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). Targeted violence against women, also known as “femicides,” has long been an issue with which Mexico has grappled. With the numbers on the rise, critics are turning their ire towards the López Obrador administration to seek answers, action, and accountability.

What the Data Shows

According to the SESNSP, more women were victims of homicide in 2019 than ever before. The number of women who were victims of illicit crimes was also 2.5% higher than in 2018. This included physical injury or assault, extortion, intentional homicide, corruption of minors, femicide, kidnapping, human trafficking, and trafficking of minors. The number of female victims of such crimes reported each year rose from 62,567 in 2015 to 72,747 in 2018, only to be surpassed in 2019 with 74,632 victims. This represents a 137% increase over the past five years in such crimes against women. Women are also murdered at an astounding rate in Mexico, with ten women killed each day, writes The Associated Press. In 2019, more than 1,000 of Mexico’s 35,588 homicides were categorized as femicides. The country’s notorious levels of impunity compound the issue.

The data release comes amidst backlash in Mexico from citizens and human rights advocates demanding the government step up its efforts to protect women. Three specific cases of gender-based violence have thus far caught the country’s attention in 2020, prompting significant protests, a march, and a nationwide strike.

High Profile Cases

The first case surrounds the murder of 26-year-old Isabel Cabanillas, a young artist and feminist who was shot dead in Ciudad Juárez while riding her bicycle on January 18, 2020. Protestors took to the streets of Juárez a week later demanding the government protect women and hold those responsible accountable for their crimes.

A woman mourns at the tribute set up for Ingrid Escamilla who was brutally murdered in Mexico City. Photo: Imelda Media, Reuters.

Then, on February 9, 25-year-old Ingrid Escamilla’s body was found in Mexico City, stabbed to death and partially skinned by her partner. Photographs of Escamilla’s body were later leaked by the media, prompting even more protests and demonstrations. Activists demanded that the media stop “re-victimizing” the victim and making a public display of the violence. Instead, activists buried the images by flooding the internet with non-violent pictures of nature and artwork linked with Escamilla’s name.

Less than a week later, Mexican authorities discovered the mutilated, naked body of 7-year-old Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett Antón in a plastic bag four days after she went missing. Fátima disappeared on February 11 after videos showed her being picked up from school in Mexico City by a stranger. The mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, spoke out, calling the child’s murder an “outrageous, aberrant, painful” crime that would “not go unpunished.” Sheinbaum is the first elected female mayor of Mexico City, who campaigned on eliminating violence against women. In July 2019, she vowed “to avoid and eliminate violence against women… It’s not fighting it,” she said. “The objective is ultimately to eradicate violence. That should be the goal.”

Protests Erupt

The string of femicides culminating in Fátima’s murder launched a wave of protests throughout Mexico. Activists are demanding an end to gender-based violence and brutality against women, calling for the government to act.

President Andrés López Obrador has specifically come under fire for what protestors say has been his insufficient response to the crisis. The president pushed back, “saying that the issue of femicides have been ‘manipulated’ by those critical of his administration,” writes BBC News. A few of the protests have turned violent with activists throwing “flaming projectiles” at a statue of Christopher Columbus, defacing other statues, smashing cars and setting fires, and spray painting “Femicide state” on the exterior of the National Palace, among other acts.

Some protests, like this one in Mexico City, turned violent with demonstrators defacing public and private property. Photo: The Associated Press.

President López Obrador’s calls for protestors to pacify the demonstrations only further angered participants, writes The Washington Post. Critics argue the president has been dismissive of both the femicides and protests that have ensued; the president counters that demonstrations are just serving as a distraction. Still, the president eventually conceded that “the feminist movement was fighting for a ‘legitimate’ cause,” though he held on to the argument that his political rivals “who want to see his government fail” were instigating the demonstrations.

International Women’s Day March

The protests culminated on International Women’s Day, March 8, when more than 80,000 people marched through Mexico City. It lasted nearly six hours, stretching from the iconic Monumento a la Revolución to the Zócalo city center. At least 38 people in attendance – including several police officers – suffered injuries and needed medical attention. Protestors also hung banners with statements like, “We apologize for the inconveniences, but they are murdering us!” and “I’m marching today so that I don’t die tomorrow.”

The march also featured Vivir Quintana, a 36-year-old musician from Coahuila who sang “Song Without Fear” alongside 40 other women at the Zócalo. Quintana wrote the anthem with the intention to inspire justice and serve as a rallying platform for the women not just in Mexico, but generally throughout Latin America. “At every minute of every week, they steal friends from us, they kill sisters,” sings Quintana. “They destroy their bodies, they disappear them. Don’t forget their names, please, Mister President.”  

‘A Day Without Us’

President López Obrador speaks to a room full of male journalists at his daily morning press conference on March 9, the day women went on strike nationwide. Photo: Milenio.

The day after, tens of thousands of women throughout Mexico participated in a strike against gender violence. From classrooms to offices, private to public sector, journalists to street vendors, and beyond, women stayed home during what was dubbed ‘A Day Without Us.’ The strike was meant to show what life would be like without women as more and more become victims of femicide. For the most part, the strike was well supported by places of employment. Mexico City’s Mayor Sheinbum, for example, announced that none of the City government’s 150,000 female employees would be penalized if they did not show up for work on March 9th. According to Mexican business group Concanaco Servytur, had all women participated in the strike the economic impact could have reached $1.37 billion.

As The New York Times summarized, “The unprecedented outpouring of women on Sunday [March 8] and their strike on Monday [March 9] tested the leadership of Mexico’s president.” The events also picked up significant international and social media attention under the hashtags #UnDíaSinNosotras and #ADayWithoutUs. It also paralleled protests and marches throughout Latin America – like the one million-person march in Chile on Sunday – in honor of International Women’s Day.

Read more about cases of femicide in Mexico, violence against women, and underreporting on the crime in these 2019 Justice in Mexico posts here and here.

Sources:

“A Look at Violence in Mexico City: Femicides and Underreporting.” Justice in Mexico. August 7, 2019.

“Allegations of Police Involvement in Rape, Corruption.” Justice in Mexico. August 20, 2019.

Ortiz Uribe, Monica. “Feminist Is Murdered in Mexico, And Protestors Demand Answers.” NPR. January 26, 2020.

Ortiz, Alexis. “2019, el año con más mujeres víctimas en México.” El Universal. February 3, 2020.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. February 14, 2020.

“Marcha de mujeres exige justicia por feminicidio de Ingrid Escamilla.” Excélsior. February 14, 2020.

Orsi, Peter. “Murdered Mexico City girl buried amid grief, outrage.” The Associated Press. February 18, 2020.

Sieff, Kevin. “The death of a 7-year-old girl in Mexico provokes new outrage.” The Washington Post. February 18, 2020.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. February 20, 2020.

Solomon, Daina Beth. “Don’t forget their names’: Women in Mexico sing anthem protesting femicides.” Reuters. March 7, 2020.

Guthrie, Amy and Alicia Hernandez. “Mexican women Paint, march to protest gender violence.” The Associated Press. March 8, 2019.

“Minuto a Minuto. Marcha por el Día Internacional de la Mujer.” El Universal. March 8, 2020.

Stettin, Cinthya et al. “March 8 de marzo en CdMx: minuto a minuto.” Milenio. March 8, 2020.

“Un día sin mujeres: así luce México sin ellas el 9 de marzo.” Milenio. March 9, 2020.

Villegas, Paulina. “In Mexico, Women Go on Strike Nationwide to Protest Violence.” The New York Times. March 9, 2020.

Leaked Reforms to Mexico’s Criminal Justice System Raise Serious Concerns

02/01/20 (written by kheinle) — Critics are fiercely pushing back against a package of proposed reforms to Mexico’s justice system made public in mid-January. Alejandro Gertz Manero, Mexico’s Attorney General (Fiscal General de la República, FGR), and Julio Scherer, the president’s chief legal adviser, prepared a draft of reforms that was leaked on January 15, 2020, causing immediate pushback from experts who argue it would fundamentally undermine the country’s criminal justice system and devalue human rights protections.

Background on Proposed Reforms

Mexico’s Supreme Court. Source: Supreme Corte de Justicia Nacional

The initiatives have been aptly referred to as contrarreforma, or counter reforms, giving reference to the overhaul of the judicial system in Mexico in 2008 through sweeping constitutional reforms. Critics argue that the draft reforms made public in January 2020 run counter to and undermine the 2008 reforms and subsequent implementation in 2016 of the Accusatorial Criminal Justice System (Sistema de Justicia Penal Acusatorio, SJPA). 

Still, the bills seek to address Mexico’s record-breaking levels of crime and violence. In 2019 alone, there were 34,582 murders – an all-time high – according to data reported by Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). The proposals would aim to reduce impunity and recidivism, writes Human Rights Watch, which is desperately needed in a country where only 2% of all crimes are resolved, according to a 2018 report by the United Nations. Attorney General Gertz added that they would also seek to address corruption and crime.

The bills are still in draft form, having not yet obtained the final approval from the Attorney General’s Office. They were expected to be presented in full to Congress in February, but there is no indication of when exactly that will be.

Main Concerns

Nevertheless, there are several key proposals put forth within the reforms that have created considerable pushback.

Arraigo

Justice in Mexico’s 2015 report, “Detention Without Charge.” Photo: Justice in Mexico.

Perhaps the most controversial change would be the expansion of the already fraught procedure of arraigo, a form of preventive detention. Under current Mexican law, suspects in organized crime cases can be held for up to 40 days without being charged while investigations unfold, and extend it to 80 days at the prosecutor’s request. In either case, prosecutors are required to obtain judicial authorization to detain a suspect under these conditions. The proposed reforms seek to expand upon this initial 40-day holding period by allowing “prosecutors to seek prolonged pre-charge detention for any crime, without bringing charges,” explains Human Rights Watch. This would also expand the current law that only allows arraigo in cases involving organized crime to now cover any crime.

Critics argue that this change would set the nation back in terms of the judicial and social reforms enacted the past few decades, specifically with the inauguration of the SJPA in 2016. Outspoken political analyst Denise Dresser commented on the proposals in an OpEd titled, “The Fourth Inquisition,” a play on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s movement, the Fourth Transformation. “If the authoritarian regression that he has in mind continues, the López Obrador government will return to a judicial and criminal system built on incarcerating innocents, manufacturing the guilty, and creating injustices,” she said. “The contrarreforma wants to do away with control judges that today value the legality of detention and care for the rights of the victims and the accused.”

Read more about arraigo in Justice in Mexico’s 2015 special report, “Detention Without Charge.”

Admissibility of Evidence

A second change put forth would make it easier for evidence obtained through illicit (e.g., torture, wiretapping) means to be used in courtroom proceedings. If ratified, the Mexican Constitution would shift from barring evidence obtained through the “violation of human rights” to now allowing judges the final say in whether or not to admit such evidence. As Human Rights Watch precisely notes, this amendment would undermine and effectively undo all of the change made to protect individuals’ human rights as part of Mexico’s 2017 General Law on Torture. While recognizing the law has not been implemented as quickly as was hoped, the progress made would still effectively be undermined by the proposed changes by making evidence received through torture more viable and utile in the courtroom.

Emilio Álvarez, a Mexican Senator and a rights activist, spoke out on the measure. “It is an extraordinarily regressive reform that seriously threatens human rights and processes given as basic, such as presumption of innocence.”

Mexico’s National Criminal Code and the New National Code of Criminal Procedures

Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero. Photo: Línea Directa.

The Constitutional Initiative (Iniciativa Constitucional) would amend 14 articles of the Mexican Constitution to allow for the changes expressed here (e.g., arraigo, admissibility of evidence, freedom of expression). It would also create a new National Criminal Code (Código Penal Nacional, CPN). Attorney General Gertz acknowledged the latter, announcing the proposal to create a uniform, singular criminal code, which would replace already-existing codes at the state and regional levels. Another part of the proposals would put in place a new National Criminal Procedural Code (Código Nacional Procesal Penal, CNPP).

In a January 2020 publication, “La Nuevo Iniciativa de Reforma Procesal Penal,” Michael Mandig, attorney at law in Arizona with extensive legal work in Latin America, cautioned against installing a new CNPP, the current version of which was entered into force in 2016. “Procedural changes of such proportions require cultural transformations, economic inversions, professional commitments, and societal acceptance; it cannot be implemented over night.” Mandig also commented on the proposal to eliminate the “intermediary stage” in criminal proceedings, thereby eliminating the division of responsibilities among judges and specifically that of the Control Judge (juez de control). This was a critical pillar in the creation of the SJPA, as Mexico moved towards a more accusatorial judicial system, as opposed to an inquisitorial model. By blending the judges’ roles together once again through the proposed CNPP reform, it will render the courts partial, argues Mandig.

Freedom of Expression

Another concern raised is the potential undermining of freedom of expression put forth in the reforms. According to Mexico’s Regional Director Leopoldo Maldonado of Artículo 19, an international human rights organization, the reforms would criminalize freedom of expression through charges of defamation, slander, and libel. “This is not only about journalism,” he said. “It is about any person’s right to exercise freedom of expression in this country, thereby running the risk of being charged with this type of crime.”

Next Steps

It is believed that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s party, the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA), backed the leaked reforms. The president, however, denied being involved in or knowing about the draft reforms during one of his daily addresses to the nation. “I have not seen [the law]; I do not know of it. Therefore,” he said, “it has nothing to do with us.”

The full package of finalized reforms is supposed to be released in February, at which point Mexico’s Congress will take up the review.

Sources:

Deaton, Janice and Octavio Rodríguez. “Detention Without Charge.” Justice in Mexico. January 2015.

Human Rights Council 37th Session. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders on his mission to Mexico.” United Nations. February 12, 2018.

Mandig, Michael. “La Nueva Iniciativa de Reforma Procesal Penal – ¿Solución a la Impunidad o Receta para Desigualdad Procesal y Parcialidad Judicial?” No Volver al Sistema Inquisitorio. January 18, 2020.

Dresser, Denise. “La Cuarta Inquisición.” Diario de Yucatán. January 21, 2020.

Oré, Diego. “Critics warn sweeping Mexican judicial reform threatens human rights.” Reuters. January 23, 2020.

“Mexico: Justice System Proposals Violate Fundamental Rights.” Human Rights Watch. January 30, 2020.

“Defensores de derechos humanos combatirán ‘contrareforma’ judicial en México.” El Diario. February 1, 2020.

Justice in Mexico Director Provides Testimony on Capitol Hill

Dr. David Shirk, Maureen Meyer, and Richard Miles (from left to right) spoke on January 15, 2020 at the Committee on Foreign Affairs’ subcommittee hearing, Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico. Photo: YouTube.

01/27/20 (written by kheinle) — Justice in Mexico Director Dr. David Shirk recently provided expert testimony on Capitol Hill. On January 15, 2020, the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade, which falls under the House of Representative’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, held a hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” Dr. Shirk spoke alongside two other distinguished experts in the field, Maureen Meyer with the Washington Office on Latina America and Richard Miles with the Center for Strategic & International Studies. The written remarks submitted for the hearing can be found on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee Repository site.

The Resurgence of Violence

Dr. Shirk’s presentation looked specifically at the public security in Mexico. He began by contextualizing today’s historic levels of violence, which have been on the rise the past decade despite a brief lull from 2012 to 2014. While final figures are still being tabulated by the Mexican government’s National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), the number of homicide cases reported for 2019 increased to a record of more than 34,000 victims, up from the previous peaks of 33,341 victims in 2018 and the 28,734 in 2017.

There have also been several high-profile displays of extreme violence this past year, noted Dr. Shirk, including the November 4, 2019 killing of nine women and children with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship in two ambush attacks by an organized crime group in Northern Mexico. The botched catch and eventual release of Ovidio Guzman, son of notorious Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in October in Culiacán was also highlighted, which showcased the serious levels of corruption ingrained in Mexico. Thirteen individuals were also killed during that incident. Read more about the record-breaking levels of violence in 2019 here.

Contributing Factors

The presentation then turned to outlining several systemic factors that contribute to this violence. Dr. Shirk first noted the impact of market shifts and innovations in the production of illicit drugs. Changes in the market for illicit psychotropic drugs (including the proliferation of synthetic drugs, like methamphetamine and fentanyl), have led to a restructuring of Mexican drug production and trafficking networks, resulting in newfound competition and violence.

Second, he pointed to the unintended consequences of counter-drug measures. The policy targeting high level leaders for arrest, known as the “kingpin strategy,” has long been questioned by security experts. It often fails to dismantle the mid-level organizational structures and ancillary support that allow organized crime groups to thrive in Mexico. This leads to newfound competition and violence.

Third, one must consider the changing strategic dynamics among organized crime groups, he said. The last few years have seen greater competition, splintering, and diversification among Mexico’s organized crime groups seeking profitability through extortion, kidnapping, robbery (including fuel theft), and local drug dealing.

Finally, Dr. Shirk called attention to the impact of the changes in Mexican government and policy, which has had disruptive effects on existing organized crime and corruption networks, thus leading to greater violence. He specifically highlighted President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s election in December 2018, as well as the unprecedented number of Mexican federal, state, and local offices that also turned over that year. In addition, the president had promised a new, more benevolent approach than his predecessor’s militarized security strategy, dubbing his plan “hugs, not gunfights” (“abrazos, no balazos”). With President López Obrador’s first full year in office as the most violent on record, the effectiveness of the government’s security strategy has certainly been called into question. 

Dr. Shirk concluded his testimony with ten key recommendations for U.S. authorities:

  1. Promote better monitoring and analysis of Mexico’s rule of law challenges;
  2. Assist Mexico in enhancing police and prosecutorial agencies;
  3. Aid Mexico’s fight against corruption;
  4. Strengthen controls to prevent illegal exports of firearms to Mexico;
  5. Establish better controls on money laundering and DTO financial operations;
  6. Strengthen cross-border cooperation and liaison mechanisms;
  7. Prevent blowback from U.S. deportations of criminal aliens;
  8. Allow Mexico to focus its scarce law enforcement resources on domestic security;
  9. Develop explicit performance measures for the fight against organized crime; and
  10. Evaluate alternatives to current counter-drug policy.

Other Observations and Recommendations

Maureen Meyer, WOLA’s Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights, also shared her expertise testimony on security and rule of law in Mexico. Her presentation focused more on justice in Mexico, specifically looking at the country’s “weak rule of law.” She covered topics including human rights violations, the National Guard, criminal justice reforms, the autonomy of justice institutions, government collusion, and the role of U.S. engagement in Mexico.

Richard Miles, the Senior Associate of the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Americas Program, spoke about the 2008 Merida Initiative – the shared agreement between the United States and Mexico that seeks to decrease violence and curtail drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. Although the Merida Initiative has failed to reach its goal, he argued, it has certainly improved bilateral security cooperation. This in turn has led to further commitments from the U.S. government to continue supporting Mexico’s security and stability – commitments that he recommended need to be dutifully “tracked and measured.”

Conclusion

The three expert testimony witnesses approached the question of strengthening security and rule of law in Mexico from their own lens: Dr. Shirk emphasizing patterns of crime and violence, Maureen Meyer focusing on the weak rule of law and judicial angle, and Richard Miles noting the need to evaluate and reinvigorate efforts under Merida Initiative. Yet there was strong consensus in the hearing on the idea of “shared responsibility” between the United States and Mexico. There was also general agreement that recent discussion about designating Mexican organized crime groups as “terrorist” organizations were misplaced and could lead to an unnecessary diversion of funds from current U.S. counter-terror efforts. When asked why the U.S. government should not deploy all available tools to fight the cartels, Dr. Shirk noted that it is unwise to try to fix a cell phone with a hammer.

Moreover, there was general agreement that the approaches taken by the U.S. and Mexican governments to reducing violence in Mexico have not worked. This includes the failure to address systemic challenges like southbound firearms trafficking coupled with high demand for illicit drugs (United States), the kingpin strategy and “hugs, not gunfights” strategy (Mexico), and the Merida Initiative (bilateral). Given Mexico’s deadliest year on record in 2019, it is clear there is a long road ahead to strengthening the country’s security and rule of law.

Sources:

“Homicides and Disappearances Reach New Levels in 2019.” Justice in Mexico. January 14, 2020.

Meyer, Maureen. Testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affair’s Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. January 15, 2020.

Miles, Richard. Testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affair’s Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. January 15, 2020.

Shirk, David A. Testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affair’s Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. January 15, 2020.

Website. Committee Repository. “Hearing: Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. Last updated January 15, 2020.

Washington Office on Latin America. “WOLA’s Maureen Meyer Testifies to House Subcommittee of Rule of Law, Security in Mexico.” YouTube. January 16, 2020.

Homicides and Disappearances Reach New Levels in 2019

A relative holds a photo of her missing loved one during a protest in front of the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Demonstrators presented a petition with 102 thousand signatures to demand that the disappeared be found and identified. Photo and Caption: The Associated Press, Marco Ugarte.

01/14/20 (written by kheinle) – The last year of the decade was one of Mexico’s most violent years on record. Homicides and disappearances played critical roles in driving up the numbers.

Homicides

When looking at homicides, several of the year’s top headlines and prominent stories emerge. Perhaps most important, more homicides occurred in Mexico in 2019 than in any other year in the country’s modern history. Additionally, Mexican journalists were particularly at risk, as they were more than three times as likely to be killed than journalists in any nation worldwide. The country also grappled with several high profile displays of violence, particularly in the second half of the year. This included when 27 individuals were burned to death at a strip club in Veracruz in August, as well as the catch and release of Ovidio Guzmán in October that left at least 13 people dead in Culiacán. The murder of nine dual U.S.-Mexican Mormon citizens in Sonora in November caught international headlines, and the year came to a close with more homicides (127 dead) registered on one day in December than any other day throughout 2019. 

Disappearances

At the beginning of the new year, violence in the news then turned to the topic of Mexico’s staggering number of disappeared persons. On January 6, Mexico’s Undersecretary of Human Rights, Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, announced at a conference that 9,164 individuals were disappeared in 2019, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB). Including the 2019 data, 147,033 persons have thus been disappeared since 1964, said Karla Quintana, the director of Mexico’s National Search Commission (Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda de Personas). Of these, more than half (58%) have been found, meaning the remaining 42% of persons (61,637 individuals) are still missing. This is significantly higher than the estimated 40,000 disappeared persons that the government reported in early 2018 leading many to question the underreporting in previous years.

Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, Mexico’s Undersecretary of Human Rights, presents on disappearances at a conference on January 6, 2020. Photo: Reforma.

Demographics of the Disappeared

Many of these cases of missing persons are linked to organized crime and drug cartel violence. In fact, 97% of all those registered since 1964 came after 2006 when then-President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched his aggressive campaign against drug trafficking and organized crime. There are thus are several commonalities among the victims.

First, just over half (53%) of the 61,637 victims were between the ages of 15 and 34 years old when they were disappeared, reported Quintana. Over 13% were in their early twenties (20-24), another 13% in the late twenties (25-29), and 11.7% early thirties (30-34). Second, almost three-quarters are men. However, when considering all 147,033 persons documented since 1964, women between the ages of 10 and 24 actually have the highest rate of disappearance. Third, there are also geographical tendencies among the disappeared, as they have mostly been registered in just ten specific states (in descending order): Tamaulipas, Jalisco, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex), Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Sinaloa, Coahuila, Puebla, Guerrero, and Veracrúz.

Head of Mexico’s National Search Commission, Karla Quintana. Photo: El Economista

Mass Graves

Not only did the number of disappearances increase in 2019, but so, too, did the discovery of mass graves containing many of said missing persons. Mexico’s National Search Commission located 873 clandestine graves housing 1,124 bodies since it began its focused search in late 2018. As the Associated Press reports, Tamaulipas has often been home to such graves, although that has come to include Jalisco with the Commission’s new findings. In fact, a discovery was made outside Guadalajara, Jalisco in early January of 26 plastic bags containing miscellaneous body parts. In addition, the states of Sinaloa, Veracruz, and Colima collectively accounted for nearly a third of all 1,124 bodies located by the Commission since its launch.

“These are data of horror,” lamented National Search Commission Director Quintana. She continued, “there are many painful stories from families both in Mexico and of migrants,” alluding to the serious dangers migrants face as they become easy targets while they make the journey north to the United States.

National Search Commission Efforts

Quintana’s Commission will continue to focus efforts and resources on unearthing mass graves and burial pits in 2020. In addition, the Commission also released a one-stop website in November 2019 to streamline reporting of a missing loved one. Mexico’s Ministry of the Interior developed the portal with the Commission as a means for family and friends to submit information if someone goes missing.

Sources:

“Homicide rates on pace for record-breaking year.” Justice in Mexico. August 8, 2019.

Linthicum, Kate. “Extreme acts of violence in Mexico are on the rise: 27 burned to death at a strip club.” Los Angeles Times. August 28, 2019.

“The Capture and Release of Ovidio Guzmán in Culiacán, Sinaloa.” Justice in Mexico. November 5, 2019.

Franco, Marina E. “Ante la crisis por desaparecidos, México presenta un portal para reportar nuevos casos.” Telemúndo. November 8, 2019.

Secretaría de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas reportadas por delito de homicidio.” Gobierno de México. December 1, 2019.

“Mexico homicide record: 127 deaths reported in a single day.” Al Jazeera. December 3, 2019.

“Municipal police chief arrested over Mexican Mormon massacre.” Reuters. December 27, 2019.

Franco, Marina E. “Son datos del horror’: México revela que hay más de 60,000 desaparecidos en el país.” Telemúndo. January 6, 2020.

González, Isabella. “Registran 9 mil desapariciones en 2019.” Reforma. January 6, 2020.

“Mexican missing persons search effort finds 873 burial pits.” The Associated Press. January 12, 2020.

Villegas, Paulina. “A New Toll in Mexico’s Drug War: More than 61,000 Vanished.” The New York Times. January 6, 2020.

Ordaz Díaz, Arturo. “Jóvenes mexicanos, los que más han desaparecido en 6 décadas.” Forbes. January 7, 2020.

“26 bags of body parts found in western Mexico ravine.” The Associated Press. January 9, 2020.

Website. Portal de Desaparecidos. Secretaría de Gobernación, Comisión Nacional de Búsquedas de Personas. Last accessed January 12, 2020.

Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System Garners Mixed Reactions in 2019

There were 127 homicides reported on December 1, 2019 in Mexico, the deadliest day of the year. Source: Gobierno de México.

01/12/20 (written by kheinle) – Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) continues to garner mixed reactions from the public, government officials, judicial system operators, academics, and beyond, almost four years after it was implemented. In 2019, support and critiques were leveled throughout the year, some coming from higher-profile figures, as discussed below.

Background on the NSJP

Former President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) rang in the system’s official launch on June 18, 2016, in Mexico City. This ended the judicial system’s eight-year implementation period stretching from 2008 to 2016 that was inaugurated by former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). Read more about the NSJP in Justice in Mexico’s special report, “Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016.”

The life of the NSJP has spanned multiple presidents’ sexenios. It has been more than 11 years since the launch of its implementation in 2008, and three and a half years since the end of the implementation period in 2016. Unprecedented amounts of resources (financial, capacity building, academic, infrastructure, etc.) have been poured into the NSJP’s development and significant progress has been made. States continue to implement and fine tune the NSJP despite the setbacks and challenges each face in doing so. As Mexico faces its deadliest year on record, and most recently its deadliest day of 2019, it is critical that the federal, state, and local governments continue to strengthen its adversarial criminal justice system.

Critics of the NSJP

Alejandro Martí

México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.
México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.

Human rights activist Alejandro Martí, head of the organization México SOS, has been a critic of the overhauled justice system, arguing that it plays a role in perpetuating impunity in Mexico. “The fundamental problem of the [NSJP] is the corruption,” he said in June 2019. “And corruption produces this terrible impunity, which I have said for years. Impunity is a result of all the wrongs of Mexico.” A recent study by México Evalúa found that more than 90% of crimes committed in 31 of Mexico’s 32 states and federal entities were left unresolved. In seven states, impunity rates top 99%.

Martí also called out elected officials – particularly governors – and the police for the pervasiveness of corruption within their systems. He reminded the media with which he spoke that “half of the group of kidnappers who killed my son were police,” referencing his son’s murder in 2008 that led him to become an activist. Martí leveled his criticisms during a press conference that was promoting Mexico’s 8th National Forum on Security and Justice (“8° Foro Nacional de Seguridad y Justicia”) held June 7-8.

Elected Officials

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum speaking at her swearing in ceremony in December 2018. Photo: STR/AFP.

Former Mayor of Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CDMX) Miguel Ángel Mancera also voiced his concern that the New Criminal Justice System is responsible for higher levels of insecurity in the nation’s capital. In an interview with Ciro Gómez Leyva in June 2019, Mancera argued that the NSJP led to the early release of nearly 15,000 formerly incarcerated individuals to the streets of Mexico City in 2014 as part of the legal reforms. The NSJP is therefore, he reasoned, partially to blame for the kidnappings and assaults that now occur.

Mancera did acknowledge that Mexico City has long dealt with challenges related to drug trafficking and criminal activity, but that they were being addressed. Mancera’s comments came in response to criticism from current Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, who said the actions of former government administrations are responsible for today’s crime.

Support for the NSJP

Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldívar

A strong supporter of the New Criminal Justice System, however, is the president of Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN). Justice Arturo Zaldívar, who joined the bench in 2009, came to the justice system’s defense.

Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldívar. Photo: Notimex.

“With the unfortunate situation our country encounters with high levels of insecurity and impunity, there is no shortage of voices that claim the new [justice] system is responsible for these ills,” said Justice Zaldívar. “What is certain is that the new criminal justice system is neither the cause nor the effect of that problems that we face. More likely, it is the probable solution to them.” He continued, emphasizing that a strong and effective criminal justice system is critical to achieving peace and justice. “If we want a better country, if we want a country in which laws are respected, if we want a country where we live in harmony with peace and justice,” he said, “we should advance on the path on which we’ve come, we should perfect the accusatorial criminal system, [and] we should respect and value the richness of due process, the presumption of innocence, and the right to defense.”

His comments came as part of the bilateral conference, “Diálogos sobre el Sistema de Justicia Penal con el Reino Unido,” held August 12-15, 2019, in Mexico City. It is an annual meeting between the United Kingdom and Mexico that started in 2015. Each year, justices from both countries gather to exchange experiences and best practices, host mock courtroom hearings, and learn from one another, writes Excélsior. Despite operating different styles of criminal justice systems, the conference offers an opportunity for judges, public defenders, prosecutors, and law students to convene. This year’s topic focused specifically on oral trials, a pillar of Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System.

Roberto Hernández

Roberto Hernández of Presunto Culpable. Photo: Sopitas.

The co-director and co-producer of the popular documentary, “Presunto Cupable,” Roberto Hernández, also voiced his support for the NSJP. As reported by El Heraldo de Tabasco, Hernández commented in December that the adversarial system has made positive changes over the years, which were reinforced by the new system in place.

He drew his comments from a recent survey he helped conduct of more than 58,000 people. It was done in collaboration with the World Justice Project and Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI). The results showed that people thought the quality of justice in Mexico had advanced, in part due to the implementation of oral trials. Additionally, the quality of evidence collection and sentencing also improved. Still, Hernández acknowledged the additional work that needs to be done to bring the NSJP to its full capacity. In particular, he pointed to voids in police reform and police training that need to be addressed, as well as a raise in police salaries to help root out corruption.

These are but a few of the many examples of mixed support leveled towards Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System and its role in crime, violence, justice, and accountability nationwide. Justice in Mexico has explored both these topics throughout the years, which can be read about here.

Sources:

Rodriguez, Octavio and David A. Shirk. “Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016.” Justice in Mexico. October 2015.

Cortes, Nancy G. et al. “Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What Do Its Operators Think?” Justice in Mexico. April 2017.

Zaldívar, Arturo. “Cambio cultural y nuevo sistema de justicia penal.” Milenio. November 14, 2017.

Dávila, Patricia. “Corrupción en Nuevo Sistema de Justicia produce esta terrible impunidad’: Martí.” Proceso. June 2, 2019.

“Atribuye Mancera inseguridad a Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal.” Excélsior. June 12, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Más del 90% de los delitos denunciados en el país no se resuelven, muchos los ‘congela’ el MP.” Animal Político. August 7, 2019.

“Violencia que vive el país no es responsabilidad del sistema penal: SCJN.” Noticieros Televisa. August 12, 2019.

“Defiende Zaldívar nuevo sistema penal.” Reforma. August 13, 2019.

Robertson, Corin. “México y el Reino Unidos: tres años de compartir experiencias en la impartición de justicia.” Excélsior. August 19, 2019.

“Tercera Edición, 2019.” Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación. Last accessed August 30, 2019.

Secretaría de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas reportadas por delito de homicidio.” Gobierno de México. December 1, 2019.

“Mexico homicide record: 127 deaths reported in a single day.” Al Jazeera. December 3, 2019.

Guadalupe Pérez, José. “Avanza sistema de justicia en México.” El Heraldo de Tabasco. December 16, 2019.

Román Gallegos, Juan. “Necesario capacitar a policías y Ministerios Públicos en cuanto a corrupción.” Diario Presente. December 17, 2019.

“Around the States: Updates on the New Criminal Justice System.” Justice in Mexico. December 29, 2019.