Mexico: Massive Civil Lawsuit at ICC Seeks Drug War Justice

This post is part of our special coverage Mexico's Drug War.

On November 25, 2011, Mexican human rights lawyer Netzai Sandoval filed the biggest civil lawsuit ever presented to the International Criminal Court (ICC), demanding a probe for those responsible for systematic human rights abuses and crimes against humanity during the Drug War launched by President Felipe Calderon five years ago, at the beginning of his administration.

The complaint was signed by 23,000 Mexican citizens on paper and through an online petition [es]. The petition demands an investigation on both sides involved in fighting the drug war in Mexico: the heads of the cartels, like ‘El Chapo Guzmán‘ and the government of President Felipe Calderon, including the president, commanders of the army and the Secretariat of Public Security.

President Felipe Calderón at International Forum on Latin American Security 2011 by Organización Demócrata Cristiana de América, under and Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

President Felipe Calderón at International Forum on Latin American Security 2011 by Organización Demócrata Cristiana de América, under and Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

The lawsuit doesn't mean that the ICC will take the case or even go forward; first they need to analyze if there are conditions to take the case.

However, the group representing the 23,000 Mexicans argue the government does not have the will to prosecute drug war crimes. Most of these crimes, like recruiting children as sicarios (hired assassins), are not considered a crime in Mexico.

The blog AmericanThinker compiled some of Sandoval's declarations:

We are petitioning that the court investigate forced disappearances, the recruitment of children under 15 as hit-men, extrajudicial executions by soldiers, mutilation as a form of intimidation, attacks against the civilian population, forced displacements, the raping of women and girls, acts of torture perpetrated and tolerated by the army, attacks targeting drug rehabilitation centers, and the kidnapping, sale and enslavement of migrants by Mexican immigration authorities.


Action by the Court is only justified when a state cannot or will not institute a criminal action to punish certain crimes defined in the Rome Statute … Neither of these two premises applies in this case,

The complaint prepared for the ICC includes more then 400 documented abuses committed by the Mexican army, some already exposed by Human Rights Watch in the report ‘Neither Rights, Nor security‘, presented November 9, 2011.

Reuters featured some important considerations regarding this lawsuit:

“There are a large number of boxes that the prosecutor would need to check off before he could actually open an investigation,” said Richard Dicker, an international justice expert with Human Rights Watch. […]

ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo will have to decide if the crimes presented in the activists’ complaint, such as the torture of criminal suspects, qualify as crimes against humanity.

“The crimes would have to be widespread or systematic, carried out by a state or organization in attacks on a civilian population,” Dicker said.

“It's certainly very arguable,” said William Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University.

Law Professor John Ackerman (@JohnMAckerman), involved in promoting this case, published in Proceso [es]:

Moreno Ocampo solamente podría negarse a dar entrada a la denuncia si la petición fuera “frívola” o “motivada políticamente”. Aquí es importante señalar que los que promueven la iniciativa son exclusivamente académicos, periodistas, artistas y abogados de la sociedad civil. A los políticos no les interesa el tema, porque saben perfectamente que una investigación de la CPI podría revelar la profundidad de la interrelación entre la clase política entera y el crimen organizado.

Chief prosecutor Moreno Ocampo could only refuse to take on this lawsuit if the petition were “frivolous” or “politically motivated”. Here it is important to note that those who promote this initiative are exclusively academics, journalists, artists and lawyers of civil society. Politicians are nor interested in the subject, because they know that an ICC investigation could reveal the depth of the collusion of the political class with organized crime.

Opinions are divided, like the country itself. Many citizens consider this a “political move” of the left to shame Calderón. However, many with no particular political party affiliation or sympathy for the institutional political forces also signed the petition.

Victor Beltri (@Vbeltri) [es] calls the complaint a “manipulation”:

El #JuicioaCalderón, notoriamente improcedente, busca más crear ruido político en México que una solución real a la violencia. Manipulación.

The #trialforcalderon, is obviously unfair, it seeks to create political noise in México rather than a real solution for the violence. Manipulation.

Others, like @thinkmexican, consider it a step forward in changing the country:

Let no one ever says Mexicans are doing nothing to fix Mexico. Todays suit with the International Penal Court ends that argument!

Netzai Sandolval @Netzai_Sandoval [es] tweeted after filing the suit in the ICC at The Hague today:

Se nos reclama no ser propositivos, pero la propia denuncia ante el fiscal CPI señala los temas que hay que corregir en Mx #juicioaCalderon

Some say that we are not being purposeful, but the complaint presented to the ICC chief prosecutor points out the issues that must be corrected in Mexico #calderontotrial

On his Twitter timeline he listed at least 10 priorities the law suit considers, like the need to typify war crimes [es], such as forced rendition, in all states in Mexico.

A few weeks ago, Daniel Hernández, prominent blogger and up-and-coming journalist on Mexico's Drug War conflict, wrote at the Los Angeles Times blog World Now:

The plan is certainly bold, but is it even plausible to take a sitting Mexican president to face war-crimes charges at The Hague?

ISP News, the Toronto Star and Reforma [es] published reports on this complaint which represents civil society's outcry for the justice the Mexican government is not providing.

All the information about the trial that 23,000 Mexican citizens are seeking at the ICC can be found in the blog Juicio Penal Internacional a Calderón [es].

This post is part of our special coverage Mexico's Drug War.

Image: President Felipe Calderón at International Forum on Latin American Security 2011 by Organización Demócrata Cristiana de América, under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

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