Justice in Mexico XV Anniversary Celebration

Justice in Mexico: An Agenda for the Years Ahead at USD

Justice in Mexico: An Agenda for the Years Ahead at USD

Justice in Mexico: An Agenda for the Years Ahead

August 11, 2017

University of San Diego, Hahn University Center

Reception-5:00pm          Dinner- 6:30pm

Please join us for a special reception and dinner to recognize binational efforts to advance the rule of law, combat corruption, and promote human rights in Mexico.


Guests of Honor

Amb. Miguel Basáñez (former Ambassador of Mexico to the United States)

Dr. Wayne Cornelius (former Director of the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego)

Justice José Ramón Cossío Díaz (Mexican Supreme Court)

Dr. Denise Dresser (professor of ITAM, political analyst and journalist)

Dr. Edna Jaime (Director, México Evalúa)

Ticket Prices

Ticket prices before 7/7/17: $65 for dinner and $85 for reception and dinner

Ticket prices after 7/7/17: $75 for dinner and $95 for reception and dinner


Please register using the following link: 



Impunity in Mexico: A Rising Concern

Written by Jose Luengo-Cabrera & Tessa Butler, Institute for Economics and Peace.

The failure or inability to penalize criminals in Mexico is a widespread phenomenon. In 2016, it was estimated that only 9 out of every 100 crimes resulted in convictions. Amid growing concerns over impunity, citizens need to feel confident that their government can protect them and that they can trust the authorities in the enforcement of the law. The government’s efforts, however, continue to fall short of citizens’ expectations.

The percentage of citizens reporting impunity as their most worrisome issue has been on the rise in Mexico.  Despite insecurity and unemployment being worrisome for a higher percentage of citizens, the number of those concerned about impunity more than doubled between 2012 and 2016, overtaking narco-trafficking at a time when the trend for corruption has also been on the rise.

Gauging the degree of impunity in Mexico remains elusive. This is largely due to the fact that the collection of data on crimes is hampered by the high levels of underreporting – itself a consequence of distrust in the authorities’ ability to respond to crimes. Underreporting has been exacerbated by a lack of transparency in the methods of statistical collection, with major discrepancies identified across the 32 states, as explored in the ‘Verifying Mexico’s Official Crime Data’ subsection of the 2017 Mexico Peace Index. Consequently, any data-driven estimates are bound to generate inferences that provide only a partial diagnostic of the true magnitude of violence, not to mention the extent to which the authorities are responding to it.

The problem of underreporting

The most significant indication of this challenge comes from the Encuesta Nacional de Victmización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública (ENVIPE), Mexico’s annual victimisation survey carried out by the national office of statistics (INEGI). In its 2016 iteration, it showed that 93.7 percent of crimes in 2015 were either not reported to the authorities, or went uninvestigated. Dubbed as the cifra negra (black figure), 2015 saw the second highest percentage of underreporting since 2010. When broken down by type of crime, levels of underreporting have been the highest for cases of extortion, reaching a peak of 99 percent in 2014.

The cifra negra phenomenon is a symptom of the state of Mexico’s criminal justice system. Indeed, the 2016 ENVIPE results show that 63 percent of citizens did not report a crime for reasons attributable to the authorities. Thirty-three percent of citizens who did not report a crime stated that it was due to perceiving it as a waste of time, while 17 percent claimed it was the result of distrust in the authorities. Moreover, 50.4 percent of the citizens that did report a crime claimed that treatment by the authorities was ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.

This reality is compounded by results that shed light on the levels of citizen trust and perceptions of corruption across public security authorities. According to the 2016 ENVIPE results, an average of 45 percent of citizens reported to have ‘little’ or ‘no trust’ in the public security authorities – namely police, judges, state attorney generals and the public ministry. The average figure was 64.4 percent for those who perceived the same entities as corrupt.

The latest available data from 2014 shows that citizen trust in the enforcement of the law was pervasively low across states. The highest percentage was recorded in Chiapas, where no more than 14 percent of citizens perceived that criminals were being penalized. Nationally, close to 11 percent of the population reported the belief that criminals were never punished, with just over five percent believing it was always the case. Seventy-two percent reported it as sometimes being the case. In addition, out of the total crime investigations initiated in 2015 by the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público), 45.9 percent of them were either left unresolved or where no action was taken, with 25.9 percent remaining in process. Reparations were made in only eight percent of cases.

A nationwide phenomenon

The failure or inability to penalize perpetrators of crime in Mexico can be considered nationally ubiquitous. According to the 2016 Global Impunity Index (GII), the average score for the 32 Mexican states was 67.42 points on a scale of 0-100, where 0 represents a total absence of impunity. It placed Mexico 58th out of a total of 59 countries under study.

The impunity variance across states was small; 24 states were within ten points of the worst score of 77 recorded in Quintana Roo. This is an indication that impunity in Mexico is a nationwide phenomenon, especially when considering that three quarters of state impunity scores were within approximately six points of each other.

Mexico’s poor international ranking in the GII highlights the country’s structural weaknesses in addressing impunity, as explored in section four of the 2017 Mexico Peace Index. For example, the national average of magistrates and judges per every 100,000 people in Mexico was estimated at 3.5. The average for countries included in the GII was 16, or 4.5 times the level in Mexico. Moreover, there were 20 penitentiary officers for every 100 inmates in Mexico. The average across countries included in the GII was more than double that amount, 47 officers per every 100 inmates. In addition, according to the latest available data, Mexico’s prisons were found to be 12 percent over capacity, with some states facing prison overpopulation rates as high as 164 percent.

A barrier to peacefulness

High levels of impunity imply that the rule of law is not being fully enforced and that state governments are failing to provide adequate funding for the provision of justice. Notwithstanding, some notable progress has been made. For example, the investigation rate for torture complaints carried out by the office of the Federal Attorney General improved by four-fold between 2013 and 2014 alone, increasing from 17 percent to 67 percent.

This sudden increase could be attributable to better prosecution and investigation procedures. However, it could also be the result of rising political pressure to investigate human rights violations in the wake of the 2014 enforced disappearance (Desaparición Forzada) of 43 students in Iguala – where police officers were arrested for having tortured 17 suspects.

Moreover, the high level of impunity for violence against journalists undermines efforts to disseminate information on crime and the activities that support it. This is particularly telling considering that the number of media professionals murdered was three times higher in 2016 than in 2002, despite a downward trend since a peak of 143 murders in 2012.

Mexico has made and continues to make significant strides in improving the rule of law and the quality of governance. The rule of law and the provision of justice are two critical aspects of the well-functioning government domain of Positive Peace. Where impunity remains high, it stands as a barrier to peacefulness. Better legal processes for filing citizen complaints, tracking the instances of human rights violations, and investigating cases can reduce impunity and improve peace.

Mexico Peace Index 2017 Presentation

Mexico Peace Index 2017 Presentation at USD

Mexico Peace Index 2017 Presentation at USD

04/04/17-The Justice in Mexico Project, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), and the U.S.-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership are pleased to host a discussion for the release of the 2017 Mexico Peace Index on the challenges and opportunities for building a more peaceful society in Mexico.

Discussing Trends of Violence in Mexico

The Mexico Peace Index (MPI), produced by IEP, provides a comprehensive annual measure of peacefulness in Mexico, aggregating and verifying available data. This year marks the MPI’s fourth edition, which analyzes trends in violence from the height of the drug war in 2011 through 2016, and calculates the economic cost of violence. The report aims to identify the key trends and drivers of peace, while highlighting policy opportunities.

The presentation of the report will be held at:

Executive Classroom (MRH 102)
School of Leadership and Education
Thursday, April 13th 10am-12pm

The presentation of the findings will be followed by a discussion and Q and A.

Speakers for this event include:

Michelle Breslauer, Director of Americas Program for the Institute for Economics and Peace

Michelle holds a master’s degree in Urban Studies from The London School of Economics and a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the American University of Paris.

David A. Shirk, Director of Justice in Mexico, Associate Professor and Director of the M.A. program in Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego.

David holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego.

Andy Carey, Executive Director of U.S.-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership

Andy completed his master’s degree in Latin American Studies and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Foreign Language at Purdue University.

The Mexico Peace Index 2017 is available at the website “Vision of Humanity” (visionofhumanity.org) or you can download it here. Download



Octavio Rodríguez Discusses Mexico’s Violence in International Journal

12/5/16 – (Written by Rita Kuckertz) In October of this year, the International Journal of Conflict and Violence featured an article by Justice in Mexico Program Coordinator Octavio Rodríguez that explores the complexities of Mexico’s recent upsurge in violence. The article, entitled “Violent Mexico: Participatory and Multipolar Violence Associated with Organised Crime,” examines the six-year period from 2007 to 2012 during which Mexico experienced a significant increase in extreme violence. As Rodríguez notes, more than 120,000 deaths were recorded and intentional homicides increased by over 200 percent during this timeframe.

Mexico as an Extremely Violent Society

In order to characterize this wave of violence in all of its complexities, Rodríguez employs Christian Gerlach’s “extremely violent societies” (EVS) methodology —a descriptive framework that may be used to understand violence where multiple groups, including the state, participate in and become victims of said violence. As Rodríguez explains, in an EVS, various social groups participate in the violence due to a wide array of motives or interests. Additionally, a society that is characterized as an EVS often experiences high levels of state imposed violence and organized crime.


Rodríguez first contextualizes Mexico’s current violence by presenting a brief overview of past violence that has occurred throughout Mexico’s recent history. For instance, he describes armed conflicts such as the Mexican Revolution that characterized the first half of the twentieth century as well as state-generated violence (SGV) of oppositional social movements in the latter half. However, as Rodríguez explains, following a series of economic crises in the 1980s and 1990s, the nature of violence began to change. Robbery and theft increased, and by the mid-1990s violent crimes such as rape and assault also began to increase.


During this time, new organized crime groups (OCGs) were also coalescing following state-run counter narcotic measures that led to the dismantling of the once hegemonic Guadalajara cartel. As a result, many of these restructured organizations began to compete amongst each other for control of certain territories and drug routes. In response to this violence, President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) intensified militarized efforts to dismantle OCG leadership structures. This strategy, however, seemed to only exacerbate the problem of OCG violence by breaking existing OCGs into smaller, unpredictable, and more violent organizations.


Rodríguez argues the resulting violence occurring from 2007 to 2012 is uncharacteristic of past violence in Mexico. While past upheaval may be traced to ideological, religious, or ethnic conflicts with identifiable actors, the violence that characterized the period from 2007 to 2012 was “participatory and multipolar”; that is, it was perpetrated by many different groups for many different reasons against many different people. Thus, traditional terms or concepts used to characterize incidents of mass violence are not applicable here. For instance, the term “war” is not an accurate characterization in this case, as it implies that all violence is state generated and that its victims are combatants. However, as Rodríguez points out, there are numerous other actors that engage in this violence, including OCGs and even the citizenry, who indirectly perpetuate OC practices or directly participate in them.


Rodríguez argues that the EVS framework is useful in making sense of Mexico’s multipolar violence, as an EVS is marked by various actors, including the state, that engage in violence for a variety of reasons. For instance, while a large portion of Mexico’s recent violence is believed to be related to OC activity, it is estimated that there has also been a substantial increase in non-OC related intentional homicides.


This methodology is also helpful in explaining the wide range of victims involved in Mexico’s recent violence. In an EVS, the majority of the violence that occurs is directed toward several groups of people, rather than just one. Similarly, Rodríguez observes that while violence in Mexico is often directed against OC members, it has also increasingly targeted public officials, journalists, media workers, police, and members of the armed forces.

Geographic “clusters”, as identified by the author using INEGI Data. Source: Rodríguez 2016.

Geographic “clusters”, as identified by the author using INEGI Data. Source: Rodríguez 2016.

Furthermore, Rodríguez observes that the phenomenon is dispersed geographically throughout Mexico. He identifies seven geographic regions, or “clusters”, that feature similar patterns of violence using data compiled by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI). Rodríguez offers a separate explanation for the violence occurring in each cluster, pointing to conflicts between regional cartels and state-led security operations intended to reduce OC. While the violence in these regions is often associated with OCG fracturing and state intervention, Rodríguez maintains that the causes of violence in each cluster are independent of one another—a phenomenon that is characteristic of an EVS.


Rodríguez concludes that there is no existing narrative that properly characterizes the violence that has occurred and continues to occur in Mexico. The author’s final recommendation is to avoid attempts to define the problem as a whole and instead focus on understanding the various forms of violence that are occurring simultaneously throughout Mexico. He emphasizes that there is no “one size fits all” solution to this widespread problem, and as a result, the state and civil society must address each component of this problem individually when considering possible actions. Rodríguez concludes that Mexico must “[consider] the different actors, the different “violences” and their motifs independently, but comprehensively.”





Rodríguez Ferreira, Octavio. “Violent Mexico: Participatory and Multipolar Violence Associated with Organised Crime.” International Journal of Conflict and Violence. Vol. 10 (1). 2016.

Dr. David Shirk Receives University of San Diego 2016 International Impact Award

Dr. Shirk receives the 2016 International Impact Award. Source: USD News Center

Dr. Shirk receives the 2016 International Impact Award. Source: USD News Center

11/29/16 (written by Rita Kuckertz) — On Monday, November 14, 2016, the University of San Diego (USD) celebrated national International Education Week by hosting a luncheon to honor all USD faculty and staff who were nominated by their students and colleagues to receive the 2016 International Impact Award. USD’s Office of International Affairs awards this honor on an annual basis to USD faculty and staff who have made significant contributions to USD’s international education goals through their work to promote global education and understanding.

A panel of five international faculty members selected the award recipients from a pool of campus nominations. This year, of the eleven faculty and staff that were nominated, two faculty members were the recipients of the 2016 award— Justice in Mexico’s Dr. David Shirk and Dr. James Bolender (Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry).

Dr. Shirk, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, has demonstrated a profound commitment to international education and collaboration, particularly in his role as the Director of USD’s Justice in Mexico program. Dr. Shirk first created the Justice in Mexico project in 2001 at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and transitioned the program to USD in 2005. As such, this year marks the fifteen-year anniversary of Dr. Shirk’s international work through Justice in Mexico.

Dr. David Shirk receives this honor just as he publishes Justice in Mexico’s landmark study on operators of the Mexican judicial system, along with USD alumna Nancy Cortés and Justice in Mexico Program Coordinator Octavio Rodríguez. The 2016 Justiciabarómetro study examined judicial sector operators’ self-reported perspectives on Mexico’s new system of justice and their role in its operation.

Dr. Shirk continues his international work with a multi-million dollar grant awarded to him through the U.S. Department of State’s International Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). This grant funds Justice in Mexico’s Oral-Adversarial Skill Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS), a program in collaboration with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM) Law School that provides international courses on litigation skills for UNAM Law School faculty and students.


Blystone, Ryan. “USD Award Rewards Professors’ International Impact.” USD News Center. November 16, 2016.