11/29/11- Last Friday, Mexican human rights lawyer Netzai Sandoval filed a petition with the International Criminal Court (ICC), the world’s war crimes tribunal, to open an investigation into the actions of the Mexican government and top cartel leaders over the past four years as crimes against humanity. The petition, filed by Mexican human rights activists, calls for an investigation into the deaths of hundreds of civilians at the hands of the military and drug traffickers in Mexico. “The violence in Mexico is bigger than Afghanistan, the violence in Mexico is bigger than Columbia”, Sandoval stated when explaining his reasoning for taking his complaints to the highest authority.
Sandoval and other activists claim that Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s offensive against drug cartels has resulted in 470 cases of human rights violations by the army and police through systematic torturing, kidnapping, and killing of citizens. Support for this claim has created a 23,000 person strong petition of the ICC to open a formal investigation into crimes against humanity in Mexico and specifically names drug kingpin Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, President Calderón, and Calderón’s top security chiefs.
The ICC can open and prosecute cases that countries or governments refuse to prosecute, and will have to decide what, if any, crimes qualify as war crimes or crimes against humanity. This is a lengthy process that can take years, but the political meaning behind this petition has made international headlines. Mexico is a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court, making this petition, at the very least, a powerful political statement.
President Calderón’s administration has condemned the claims and the petition as “absurd” and “slander” and is seeking legal action against the activists, citing that the ‘war on drugs’ and security policies are incomparable to war crimes committed by authoritarian states, and that the Mexican government is protecting citizens during the government crackdown on cartels. On Friday, Mexico’s Interior Ministry (Secretaría de Gobernación, Segob) issued a statement saying, “The public safety policy that has been implemented by no means constitutes an international crime…the Mexican government is not at war, and there is no generalized or systematic attack against civilians, nor any government policy in that direction”.