Crime and Violence · Human Rights and Civil Society

United Nations Questions Role of Mexican Army in the Fight against Drug Cartels

04/08/11 – A United Nations report released April 1 by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) has asked the Mexican government to reconsider its use of the military to fight drug trafficking. Members decided to pursue the report in response to abuse claims that have risen since the Mexican army was first deployed four years ago to fight drug traffickers. According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, about 1,500 abuse claims against the National Defense Ministry have been reported within the last year, compared to the fewer than 200 claims reported in 2006. The military and government forces are more often being linked to cases of disappearance and other violent crimes, crimes that can no longer be blamed on organized crime alone. Since 2006, there has been a large increase in cases involving rape, torture, disappearances, and arbitrary shooting by members of the military.

Members of the WGEID traveled to various cities including Acapulco, Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez, and México City, for two weeks in order to complete the report. Members observed that victims and families of enforced disappearances often doubt the efficiency of the judicial system, police and armed forces. They also highlighted their shared recognition that there is a lack of coordination among government authorities, which the WGEID attributes to Mexico’s federalist system and the presence of federal, state and municipal police departments combined with the lack of a federal law regulating what each must do regarding the phenomenon of forced disappearances. Ariel Dulitzky, a member of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, stated that the growing number of violations by the army is partially due to the fact that “the military is not trained to do public security tasks but to confront armed forces.”

The Mexican army’s role in fighting narco-trafficking has become a controversial issue for a number of reasons. According to the UN, most cases involving alleged abused by troops go unpunished because soldiers are tried in military courts instead of civil courts for rights abuses when committed on duty. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “while President Calderón has sent a proposal to Congress that would try cases of torture, rape, and disappearance in civic courts, watchdogs say it is too limited because the Army can easily avoid civil trials by reclassifying torture crimes as abuse while extrajudicial killings at checkpoints are not on the list.”


Cattan, Nacha. “UN questions Mexican Army’s role in drug war.” The Christian Science Monitor. 01 April, 2011.

“Impunity a major issue as Mexico addresses enforced disappearances – UN experts.” UN News Centre. 01 April, 2011.

“United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disapperances concludes visit to Mexico.” United Nations Human Rights. 31 March, 2011.

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