Homicide Rates and Clandestine Graves Highlight Mexico’s Systemic Challenges

06/26/19 (written by kheinle) — The first six months of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s sexenio (2018-2024) have proven to be the most violent such period for a president in Mexico’s recent history. Mexico’s ongoing struggles to combat crime and violence were highlighted of late with the release of data on the increasing homicide rates and clandestine graves throughout Mexico.

Intentional Homicide Rate Continues to Rise

Map of homicide victims by municipality in 2018

This map depicts the distribution of homicide victims by municipality in 2018, as reported by the National Public Security (SNSP). Source: Justice in Mexico, 2019.

According to Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP), 17,498 people were murdered between December 2018 and May 2019; an average of almost 3,000 per month. Despite a slight drop in the number of intentional homicides reported in April (2,724 homicides) compared to previous months, May saw an increase to the highest tally yet for 2019 with 2,903 killings, or the equivalent of 96 per day. February, however, continues to have the highest number of homicides per day on average in 2019 (102 homicides/day) thanks to similar numbers reported (2,877 homicides) over fewer days in the month (28 days).

The mid-year data also revealed that just over half of Mexico’s 32 state and federal entities saw increases in the number of homicides registered since the start of the López Obrador administration. According to SESNSP’s data, when compared to the same period of time the year before (December 2017 – May 2018), the most significant or “worrisome” increase in homicide rates occurred in Nuevo León. As reported by Animal Político, Nuevo León’s homicide rate increased from 5.3 homicides per 100,000 individuals to 9.2 homicides per 100,000 individuals. The 72% increase far surpassed the rises in Tabasco (50.7%), Mexico City (43.2%), Sonora (43.1%), and Morelos (42.5%). Meanwhile the states with the largest decreases in homicide rates during that time period were Baja California Sur (78.3% reduction), Nayarit (69%), and Guerrero (30.8%).

Map of Mexico and violence

Photo: El Universal.

The media’s role in disseminating information on homicides is also of note. A recent report by El Universal with support from Google News Initiative found that the Mexican media in ten different states have decreased the amount of coverage given to homicides reported in 2019 compared to previous years. In particular, Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, and Nayarit have published the least information proportional to number of homicides committed in 2019. The states of Aguascalientes, Colima, Guerrero, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Puebla, Quinata Roo, Tamulipas, and Zacatecas round out the list of ten. The authors looked at official homicide data spanning from 2005 to 2019 vis-à-vis the press’ reporting on such killings.

Justice in Mexico’s annual report released in April 2019, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2018,” also took an in depth look at SNSP’s 2018 data. The authors found, for example, that although Baja California had the highest number of intentional homicide cases in 2018 (2,805), Guanajuato had the largest annual increase in total homicides, nearly doubling its recorded number from 2017. To read more about Mexico’s crime and violence at the federal, state, and local levels in 2018, check out Justice in Mexico’s full report here.

Clandestine Graves and Desaparecidos

In addition to Mexico’s record-breaking levels of homicide, the nation continues to grapple with the existence of clandestine graves and associated disappearances (desaparecidos).

Forensic experts move a body found in a clandestine grave on a farm in Guadalajar, Jalisco in April 2019. Photo: Francisco Guasco, EFE.

Forensic experts move a body found in a clandestine grave on a farm in Guadalajar, Jalisco in April 2019. Photo: Francisco Guasco, EFE.

In mid-June, researchers with Mexico City’s Universidad Iberoamericana confirmed the existence of 1,606 clandestine graves throughout Mexico. According to their report, “Violence and terror: findings on clandestine graves in Mexico 2006-2017” (“Violencia y terror: hallazgos sobre fosas clandestinas en México 2006-2017”), the states in which the most sites were located were Guerrero, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Zacatecas. The graves documented are from 2006 and 2017, a period of time that spans almost two presidents’ full sexenios (Felipe Calderón, 2006-2012; Enrique Peña Nieto, 2012-2018). According to the Associated Press, the graves found “may just scratch the surface of the true numbers behind what the [Universidad Iberoamericana] study called a ‘building phenomenon.’”

The reported graves contained nearly 2,500 bodies, of which the predominant majority are tied to the ongoing battles between drug-trafficking organizations (DTO) and organized crime groups (OCG). The researchers also clarified that their data was not comprehensive because eight of Mexico’s 32 states and federal entities did not submit data or documentation to their research project, claiming that no graves had been found within their entities during the specified timeframe.

Contextualizing the data, the report out of Universidad Iberoamericana emphasized the role that Mexico’s high levels of impunity have in perpetuating the existence of secret graves. “It is reflective of the level of social decay and dehumanization that the country has reached,” the researchers wrote. Jan Jarab, representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Mexico, also weighed in on the findings. “This horror map of clandestine graves can only be combatted with strategies addressing impunity,” he said.

Such disappearances like the victims’ remains found in the graves have long been a critical issue in Mexico. According to the government’s national search commission, there are more than 40,000 persons estimated missing in Mexico.

Impunity vis-à-vis the NSJP

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.

Mexico’s systemic challenges with crime, violence, impunity, and the ways in which they manifest themselves in society (i.e., clandestine graves) were recently at the center of criticism leveled by human rights activist Alejandro Martí toward the government. According to Martí, who is the head of the organization México SOS, Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) carries some of the responsibility in perpetuating impunity. “The fundamental problem of the [NSJP] is the corruption,” he said. “And corruption produces this terrible impunity, which I have said for years. Impunity is a result of all the wrongs of Mexico.”

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 promoting Mexico’s 8th National Forum on Security and Justice (“8° Foro Nacional de Seguridad y Justicia”) held June 7-8.

Whether the New Criminal Justice System does indeed bear some of the responsibility, as Martí alleges, it is clear nonetheless that the López Obrador Administration faces systemic challenges when addressing Mexico’s notorious levels of crime and violence. Homicide rates, clandestine graves, disappearances, and impunity are but a few.

Sources:

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2018.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

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

Román, Esteban. “En 10 estados guardan silencio sobre homicidios.” El Universal. June 13, 2019.

Krumholtz, Michael. “Researchers confirm 1,600 secret graves in Mexico since 2006.” Associated Press. June 20, 2019. 

“México enfrenta abismo de desinformación para encontrar a sus desparecidos.” Agencia EFE. June 20, 2019.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas de Delitos de Fuero Común 2019.” Centro Nacional de Información. June 20, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Con 17,500 asesinatos, el primer semestre de AMLO es el más violento de los últimos sexenios.” Animal Politico. June 21, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. June 21, 2019.

Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos. “Violencia y terror: hallazgos sobre fosas clandestinas en México 2006-2017.” Universidad Iberoamericana. June 2019.

Mexico’s crime and violence vis-à-vis the New Criminal Justice System

Map of Mexico with Baja California highlighted

Crime and violence in Baja California increased in 2018. Source: Justice in Mexico.

01/10/19 (written by kheinle) — Mexico experienced another record-breaking year in 2018 with high levels of crime and violence. According to data from the National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), 27 of Mexico’s 32 states and Federal District saw increases in crime and violence, particularly homicides, in 2018 from 2017. That does not include data from December, notes Vanguardia. Including estimates for December’s projected results, however, SNSP predicts 2018 will close with 34,000-35,000 homicides nationwide. This punctuates the end of former President Enrique Peña Nieto’s sexenio (2012-2018) and the transition to new President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2018-2024) on December 1, 2018.

Several states saw particularly high levels of violence in 2018, including Guanajuato, Quintana Roo, and Baja California. In the latter, homicides were largely focused in Tijuana, the border-city that has seen dramatic rises in murders the past few years. Initial estimates for 2018 show Tijuana having experienced 2,500 homicides, making it the city’s most violent year on record. As Vanguardia calculates, this equates to seven homicides every 24 hours. In 2017, Tijuana also surpassed Acapulco as the most violent municipality in Mexico, reported Justice in Mexico. This is largely because of an 85% increase in homicide cases over the course of that year. Whereas Tijuana saw 871 homicide cases in 2016, the number rose to 1,618 cases in 2017. Now with the estimated increase to nearly 2,500 homicides in 2018, it is expected to remain one of, if not the most violent municipalities in Mexico.

The New Criminal Justice System

Causes and effects of systemic issues like crime and violence are layered. One factor that plays a role, though, is the criminal justice system that a State has in place. Mexico made historic advances with the approval (2008) and implementation (2016) of the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). Although the goal of the NSJP was not to reduce crime and violence, it was and is expected to do so over time. As the judiciary is fortified and judicial processes become more efficient and effective, it is anticipated to have a positive ripple effect on public security.

Supreme Court

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

Several voices, however, have recently questioned the NSJP’s role in unintentionally perpetuating insecurity. Attorney José Luis Nasar Da pointed out that the modernization of the public security sector did not parallel that of the justice system. The justice system advanced quickly, while public security has not, creating a gap between the two systems. Justice lags when police and prosecutors’ ability to execute an investigation in a case does not also respect and uphold one’s presumption of innocence. Meanwhile Attorney Carlos Ordaz Rodríguez noted that criminals are able to take advantage of the holes in the justice system. He specifically pointed to the freedom and liberties many accused persons are granted while awaiting investigation and judicial processing, which are tied in with the Attorney General’s limitations in opening and expediting cases.

This connects back with the reporting on increased homicides in Tijuana, Baja California, and Mexico as a whole. As Vanguardia reports, “State and municipal authorities [in Baja California] attribute 80% of homicides to drug trafficking cases and to the New Criminal Justice System.” It continues, “[This] creates a revolving door because it allows the accused to go free even when they were detained in possession of fire arms.”

Response to Critics

In a post from May 2018 titled, “Responses to the Critics of the Judicial Reform in Mexico,” Justice in Mexico discussed the counterarguments to such criticisms leveled against the new system. Quoting Karen Silva from the Center of Investigation for Development (Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo, CIDAC), “The [adversarial] system is not the problem; the problem is the lack of capacity among institutions.” Rather, she argues that the rise in violence can be attributed to a lack of knowledge and skill among criminal justice operators, including police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges, which perpetuates high levels of impunity. In turn, impunity reinforces a precedent that violent crimes will go unpunished and not be investigated, and it deteriorates citizens’ faith in the judicial sector.

Hence, states across the country, including Baja California, have and continue to make significant advances in the procurement of justice under the new system. This includes the construction of new court rooms, the education and training of justice system operators, and the modernization of judicial procedures, among others to build the capacity of the institutions tasked with implementing justice.

Sources:

Gallegos, Zorayda. “Las autoridades mexicanas, incapaces de adaptarse al Nuevo Sistema de justicia.” El País. April 11, 2017.

Sánchez Lira, Jaime Arredondo et. al. “The Resurgence of Violent Crime in Tijuana.” Justice in Mexico. February 2018.

Calderón, Laura et. al. “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis through 2017.” Justice in Mexico. April 11, 2018.

“Responses to the Critics of the Judicial Reform in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. May 21, 2018.

“Registra fallas el nuevo sistema de justicia penal.” El Diario de Coahuila. December 8, 2018.

“En el gobierno ya no hay ‘golondrinas en el alambr’: López Obrador.” Informador. December 19, 2018.

Animal Político. “Homicidios crecieron en 27 estados y en 15 alcanzaron niveles récord en 2018.” Vanguardia. December 28, 2018.

La Jornada. “Baja California vivió su año más violento: 2,500 muertos sólo en Tijuana.” Vanguardia. December 31, 2018.

“Usan los delincuentes hueco en código penal.” El Diario de Coahuila. January 3, 2019.

Portal de Obligaciones de Transparencia. “Estadísticas generadas.” Poder Judicial de Baja California. Last accessed January 6, 2018.

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.

Justice in Mexico released its most updated data on crime and violence in Mexico

Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, created in 2016 a Data Center to make publicly available data and analysis to evaluate trends related to crime, violence, drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico.

Updated data on crime and violence in Mexico.

Data used in the 2017 special report entitled, “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2016,” and other datasets, such as the Justice barometer series are now available for download.

 

To visit the data click here: Visit the Data Center

 

 

 

 

 

“Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015” special report

Drug Violence in Mexico 2015 cover image

On Friday, April 29, 2016, Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released its 2016 special report entitled, “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015.”

Drug Violence in Mexico (2016 Special Report)

Thanks to the generous funding of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, this is the project’s seventh annual study on organized crime and violence in Mexico. As in previous years, this report compiles the latest available data and analysis to evaluate trends related to drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico.

This year’s report builds on past findings and seeks to provide new insights into Mexico’s recent security situation. The authors draw on the latest available data from multiple sources, with a focus on the rise in organized crime-related homicides in Mexico that reverses a three-year declining trend, as well as the emergence of cartelitos—smaller, fragmented cartel branches—in Mexico’s shifting drug trafficking landscape, and the Peña Nieto administration’s missteps and tone-deaf responses in a series of human rights tragedies and scandals in recent years. In fact, President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) saw the public’s lowest approval rating and highest dissatisfaction rating not just for his first three years in office, but also surpassing that of his predecessors, Presidents Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012).

Sources: INEGI, SNSP, Reforma, milenio, Lantia, CNDH.

Sources: INEGI, SNSP, Reforma, Milenio, Lantia, CNDH.

 

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2013. Global Study on Homicide 2013: Trends, Context, Data. Vienna: UNODC.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset. Map generated by Theresa Firestine.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset. Map generated by Theresa Firestine.

Among the study’s most important findings is the increase in homicides in Mexico in 2015, up 8.1-8.7% from the number of homicides registered in 2014. The authors also found that between a quarter and a half of all homicides in Mexico in 2015 were attributed to organized crime groups. Meanwhile, there were increases in cases of intentional homicides registered in all but a handful of states, with the highest increase in Guerrero jumping from 1,514 cases in 2014 to 2,016 cases in 2015.

“Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015” was co-authored by Kimberly Heinle, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk.

To read the full report, click here.