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Humanitarian Law at Wits’ End: Does the Violence Arising from the “War on Drugs” in Mexico Meet the International Criminal Court’s Non-International Armed Conflict Threshold?

Part of the Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law book series (YIHL,volume 18)

Abstract

The determination of whether there is an actual non-international armed conflict (NIAC) in the context of the violence in Mexico among the drug cartels themselves and with Mexican governmental authorities is controversial. This paper reopens the debate as to whether the violence meets the Rome Statute’s NIAC threshold when assessed against the International Criminal Court (ICC) tripartite criteria of duration, organisation and intensity. It concludes that the violence generally regarded prima facie meets these criteria and that the ICC’s war crimes provisions would provide an opportunity for accountability for acts of criminality expressly proscribed by Article 8 of the Statute in relation to war crimes, but not expressly criminalised by Article 7 on crimes against humanity.

Keywords

  • Mexico
  • Armed conflict
  • NIAC
  • International humanitarian law
  • Applicability of IHL
  • Organised crime
  • War on drugs
  • Drug cartels

Carrie A. Comer was in no way involved in drafting the 2014 report by FIDH referenced in this article.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of either the FIDH or the STL.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term ‘war’ is employed here and elsewhere this paper in a loose metaphorical sense, rather than as a legal term, to abbreviate the totality of the violence involving drug cartels between themselves and with Mexican governmental authorities between 2005 and the present.

  2. 2.

    For a history on the Mexican drug trade, see Grillo 2012.

  3. 3.

    Bolton G (2012) Calderón’s Drug War: Was the juice worth the squeeze? http://www.coha.org/calderons-drug-war-was-the-juice-worth-the-squeeze/. Accessed 9 April 2016; Carpenter 2013, p. 163.

  4. 4.

    Vulliamy E (2014) Mexico: How arrest of the last don heralds ruthless new drugs era. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/05/mexico-war-on-drugs-hidden-story-joaquin-guzman-war-us. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  5. 5.

    Grillo 2012, p. 10.

  6. 6.

    Mirnoff N and Booth W (2013) Mexico’s drug war is at a stalemate as Calderon’s presidency ends. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/calderon-finishes-his-six-year-drug-war-at-stalemate/2012/11/26/82c90a94-31eb-11e2-92f0-496af208bf23_story.html. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  7. 7.

    Grillo 2012, pp. 109–130.

  8. 8.

    Ibid.

  9. 9.

    Agren D (2016) Mexico recaptures drug cartel kingpin El Chapo after humiliating prison escape. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/08/mexican-drug-lord-el-chapo-recaptured-president-says. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  10. 10.

    FIDH et al. (2014) Comunicación de acuerdo con el artículo 15 del Estatuto de Roma de la Corte Penal Internacional sobre la presunta comisión de crímenes de lesa humanidad, en México entre 2006 y 2012. https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/americas/mexico/16028-human-rights-groups-call-on-the-icc-to-proceed-with-the-preliminary. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  11. 11.

    Bolton, above n 3. FIDH estimates 70,000 deaths.

  12. 12.

    Rosenberg M (2011) Mexico’s Refugees: A Hidden Cost of the Drugs War. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/18/us-mexico-drugs-idUSTRE71H0EQ20110218. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  13. 13.

    FIDH et al., above n 10, p. 3.

  14. 14.

    Ibid.

  15. 15.

    Graham D (2014) Mass graves with charred victims found in southern Mexico. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/05/us-mexico-violence-idUSKCN0HT0QB20141005. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  16. 16.

    Mirnoff and Booth, above n 6.

  17. 17.

    Marquez J (2006) Decapitan a 5 en Uruapan tiran cabezas en un bar. http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/62434.html. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  18. 18.

    Alexander H (2013) Crimes of the Zetas—Mexico’s most notorious cartel. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/centralamericaandthecaribbean/mexico/10182412/Crimes-of-the-Zetas-Mexicos-most-notorious-cartel.html. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  19. 19.

    Vulliamy, above n 4.

  20. 20.

    FIDH et al., above n 10, p. 4.

  21. 21.

    Burnett J (2009) Mexican Drug Cartels Recruiting Young Men, Boys. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102249839. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  22. 22.

    Seelke C and Finklea K (2014) U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41349.pdf. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  23. 23.

    Guevara 2013, p. 133: “Mexican drug cartels have actively sought to transform the Mexican populace with their intense forms of propaganda as they use violence, introduced the ‘narco’ concept, the narco-culture, narco-saints, intimidation tactics, and intent to control the media. Their use of propaganda is also intended to create immense fear among rivaling cartels and public/elected officials, defend their plazas, and provide a warning sign for those who dare cross their path.”.

  24. 24.

    Human Rights Watch (2011) Neither Rights Nor Security: Killings, Torture and Disappearances in Mexico’s “War on Drugs”. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2011/11/09/neither-rights-nor-security-0. Accessed 9 April 2016; Wright J (2012) Women Under Siege Project- Conflict Profiles: Mexico. http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/conflicts/profile/mexico. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  25. 25.

    FIDH et al., above n 10, p. 4.

  26. 26.

    UN General Assembly (2014) Human Rights Council: Informe del Relator Especial sobre la tortura y otros tratos o penas crueles, inhumanos o degradantes, UN Doc. A/HRC/28/68/Add.3, para 23.

  27. 27.

    FIDH et al., above n 10, p. 9.

  28. 28.

    Nobel Women’s Initiative and Just Associates (2012) From Survivors to Defenders: Women confronting violence in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. http://nobelwomensinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Report_AmericasDelgation-2012.pdf. Accessed 9 April 2016, p. 9.

  29. 29.

    Carlsen L (2014) Impunity and Mass Disappearance in Ayotzinapa. https://nacla.org/news/2014/10/29/impunity-and-mass-disappearance-ayotzinapa-0. Accessed 9 April 2016; Peralta E (2015) Mexico Officially Declares 43 Missing Students Dead. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/28/382103750/mexico-officially-declares-43-missing-students-dead. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  30. 30.

    BBC (2014) Mexico mass grave found near Iguala after protests. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-29493797. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  31. 31.

    Malkin E (2014) Mexican Official Links a Mayor to Missing College Students. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/world/americas/mexican-official-links-a-mayor-to-missing-college-students.html?_r=2&gwh=DA2F5BDA18F742E1028E27FB2F53D26F&gwt=pay&assetType=nyt_now. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  32. 32.

    Hernandez A and Fisher S (2014) Iguala: la historia no oficial. http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=390560. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  33. 33.

    Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Internacionales (2015) Informe completo Ayotzinapa. http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/Informe.pdf. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  34. 34.

    Schoichet CE (2012) Vanishing victims: The ‘open wounds’ of Mexico’s drug war. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/01/16/world/americas/mexico-disappeared. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  35. 35.

    UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (2015) Concluding Observations Version Avanzada no Editada, 8th Session, 2-13 February 2015. http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=972&Lang=en. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  36. 36.

    FIDH et al., above n 10.

  37. 37.

    Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, opened for signature 17 July 1998, 2187 UNTS 90 (entered into force 1 July 2002) (Rome Statute), Article 17.

  38. 38.

    Associated Press (2011) Mexican Activists File War-Crimes Complaint Against President Calderon And Drug Lords. http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/group-files-war-crimes-complaint-against-calderon. Accessed 9 April 2016; See also the Guardian (2011) Activists accuse Mexican president of war crimes in drug crackdown. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/nov/26/mexican-president-war-crimes-drug. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  39. 39.

    Ibid.

  40. 40.

    On this point, the authors take a different position from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) whose view is that although AP II does not apply to all situations of NIAC, there are not two different types of NIAC. The ICRC considers that there are two criteria for determining whether a situation of violence qualifies as a NIAC: organization of the armed group(s) involved and intensity of the violence. See ICRC (2008) How is the Term “Armed Conflict” Defined in International Humanitarian Law? https://www.icrc.org/eng/assets/files/other/opinion-paper-armed-conflict.pdf. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  41. 41.

    Emphasis added.

  42. 42.

    UN Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court (1998) Report of the Preparatory Committee on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, UN Doc. A/CONF.183/2/Add.1, p. 22. See Kritsiotis 2010, pp. 288–289; Cullen 2008, pp. 428–429.

  43. 43.

    UN Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court (1998) Committee of the Whole: Summary Record of the 35th Meeting, UN Doc. A/CONF.183/C.1/SR.35 (UNConf), p. 2. See also Kritsiotis 2010, pp. 288–289; Cullen 2008, p. 429.

  44. 44.

    UNConf, above n 43, para 8. See also Cullen 2008, p. 432.

  45. 45.

    ICTY, Prosecutor v Duško Tadić a/k/a “Dule”, Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction, 2 October 1995, Case No. IT-94-1-AR72 (Tadić), para 70. Emphasis added.

  46. 46.

    For an overview of the debate concerning the Article 8(2)(f) threshold, see Cullen 2008, pp. 435-445.

  47. 47.

    ICC, Prosecutor v Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Judgment Pursuant to Article 74 of the Statute, 14 March 2012, Case No. ICC-01/04-01/06-2842 (Lubanga 2012), para 536; ICC, Prosecutor v Germain Katanga, Jugement rendu en application de l’article 74 du Statut, 7 March 2014, Case No. ICC-01/04-01/07-3436 (Katanga), para 1185.

  48. 48.

    Lubanga 2012, above n 47, para 536; Katanga, above n 47, para 1185. It should also be noted that the Katanga Trial Chamber included the necessity of being able to implement IHL as a condition for being sufficiently organised. However, if able to meet other requisite standards, it is the authors’ view that a group would also be capable of implementing IHL.

  49. 49.

    Lubanga 2012, above n 47, para 538; Katanga, above n 47, para 1187.

  50. 50.

    International Committee of the Red Cross (2012) Internal conflicts or other situations of violence—what is the difference for victims? https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/interview/2012/12-10-niac-non-international-armed-conflict.htm. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  51. 51.

    Lubanga 2012, above n 47, para 538, quoting ICTY, Prosecutor v Vlastimir Đorđević, Public Judgment with Confidential Annex—Volume I of II, 23 February 2011, Case No. IT-05-87/1-T, para 1522. However, see ICC, Prosecutor v Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Judgment pursuant to Article 74 of the Statute, 21 March 2016, Case No. ICC-01/05-01/08-3343 (Bemba 2016), para 139, where the Court states that “the concept of ‘protracted conflict’ has not been explicitly defined in the jurisprudence of this Court, but has generally been addressed within the framework of assessing the intensity of the conflict”.

  52. 52.

    Lubanga 2012, above n 47, para 536. See also Katanga, above n 47, para 1186.

  53. 53.

    ICC, Prosecutor v Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Decision Pursuant to Article 61(7)(a) and (b) of the Rome Statute on the Charges of the Prosecutor Against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, 15 June 2009, Case No. ICC-01/05-01/08-424 (Bemba 2009), para 235. Emphasis added.

  54. 54.

    Contrary to the suggestion by Fleck 2008, p. 611.

  55. 55.

    For the view that the NIAC referred to in Article 8(2)(f) has the same threshold of applicability as Common Article 3 and that the Statute did not intend to infer a different trigger, see Pejic 2011, p. 193.

  56. 56.

    Tadić, above n 45, para 70. Emphasis added.

  57. 57.

    Cryer et al. 2008, pp. 237–238.

  58. 58.

    Lubanga 2012, above n 47, para 536.

  59. 59.

    Katanga, above n 47, para 1185.

  60. 60.

    ICC, Prosecutor v Callixte Mbarushimana, Decision on the Confirmation of Charges, 16 December 2011, Case No. ICC-01/04-01/10-465-Red (Mbarushimana), para 103.

  61. 61.

    IACommHR, Case 11.137 Juan Carlos Abella (Argentina), Merits, 30 October 1997, Report No. 55/97, Doc No. 38, No. OEA/Ser/L/V/II.97.

  62. 62.

    Dinstein 2014, p. 34.

  63. 63.

    Bemba 2009, above n 53, para 235.

  64. 64.

    See for instance the Trial Chamber’s analysis of the facts in Lubanga 2012, above n 47, paras 523–567, particularly at para 563 where the Court appears to adopt a general analytical approach. See also Bemba 2016, above n 51, para 140, where the Court states that the intensity and “protracted armed conflict” criteria do not require the violence to be continuous and uninterrupted.

  65. 65.

    Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (2015) Conflict Barometer 2014. http://www.hiik.de/en/konfliktbarometer/. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  66. 66.

    Ibid., p. 100.

  67. 67.

    Dinstein 2014, p. 30.

  68. 68.

    ICTY, Prosecutor v Ljube Boškoski and Johan Tarčulovski, Judgment, 10 July 2008, Case No. IT-04-82-T (Boškoski and Tarčulovski), para 197.

  69. 69.

    ICTY, Prosecutor v Milan Lukić and Sredoje Lukić, Judgment, 20 July 2009, Case No. IT-98-32/1-T, para 880.

  70. 70.

    ICTY, Prosecutor v Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, Judgment, 3 April 2008, Case No. IT-04-84-T, para 64.

  71. 71.

    Mbarushimana, above n 60; ICC, Prosecutor v Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Décision sur la confirmation des charges, 29 January 2007, Case No. ICC-01/04-01/06-803, para 234; Bemba 2009, above n 53, para 233.

  72. 72.

    Lubanga 2012, above n 47, para 537; Katanga, above n 47, para 1136.

  73. 73.

    Lubanga 2012, above n 47, para 537.

  74. 74.

    Mbarushimana, above n 60, para 104.

  75. 75.

    ICC Office of the Prosecutor (2013) Report on Preliminary Examination Activities. https://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/press%20and%20media/press%20releases/Documents/OTP%20Preliminary%20Examinations/OTP%20-%20Report%20%20Preliminary%20Examination%20Activities%202013.PDF. Accessed 9 April 2016, para 215.

  76. 76.

    For more detailed guidance on how to judge a level of organisation within an armed group, see the complete discussion in Boškoski and Tarčulovski, above n 68, paras 199-204, which include, for example, the ability to authorise military action, assign tasks to individuals, issue political statements, the existence of a headquarters, internal regulations, the capacity to control territory, the effective dissemination of orders, the ability to recruit new members, the providing of military training, etc., which may be useful in determining NIAC status. See also Grillo 2012, p. 211.

  77. 77.

    See, for example, Sánchez 2013, p. 485.

  78. 78.

    Bergal 2011, p. 1071.

  79. 79.

    Grillo 2012, p. 211.

  80. 80.

    Grillo I (2016) Why Cartels are Killing Mexico’s Mayors. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/opinion/sunday/why-cartels-are-killing-mexicos-mayors.html?_r=0. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  81. 81.

    Felbab-Brown 2009, p. 5.

  82. 82.

    Bunker and Sullivan 2010.

  83. 83.

    Bemba 2009, above n 53, para 236.

  84. 84.

    Bunker and Sullivan 2010, p. 3.

  85. 85.

    See, for example, NPR (2009) Snapshot of 2007 cartel territory: Mexico Drug Cartel Territory. http://www.npr.org/news/graphics/2009/mar/mexico-cartels/. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  86. 86.

    Kerr 2012, p. 203.

  87. 87.

    Bergal 2011, p. 172.

  88. 88.

    Grillo I (2011) Mexico’s Drug Lords Ramp Up Their Arsenals with RPGs. http://world.time.com/2012/10/25/mexicos-drug-lords-ramp-up-their-arsenals-with-rpgs/. Accessed 9 April 2016; Bergal 2011, p. 172.

  89. 89.

    Bloom 2012, pp. 345 and 370.

  90. 90.

    Rodriguez R (2009) Army desertions hurting Mexico’s war on drugs. http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/03/11/mexico.desertions/. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  91. 91.

    Ibid.

  92. 92.

    Lubanga 2012, above n 47, para 538.

  93. 93.

    ICTY, Prosecutor v Fatmir Limaj, Haradin Bala and Isak Musliu, Judgment, 30 November 2005, Case No. IT-03-66-T, para 90.

  94. 94.

    ICTR, Prosecutor v Alfred Musema, Judgment and Sentence, 27 January 2000, Case No. ICTR-96-13-T, para 248.

  95. 95.

    See, for example, Dahl and Sandbu 2006, pp. 369–388.

  96. 96.

    ICC Office of the Prosecutor, above n 75, para 217; ICC Office of the Prosecutor (2012) Interim report on Colombia. https://www.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/3D3055BD-16E2-4C83-BA85-35BCFD2A7922/285102/OTPCOLOMBIAPublicInterimReportNovember2012.pdf. Accessed 9 April 2016, para 126.

  97. 97.

    ICC Office of the Prosecutor, above n 75, para 217.

  98. 98.

    Sullivan J and Elkus A (2010) Cartel v. Cartel: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency. http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/cartel-v-cartel-mexicos-criminal-insurgency. Accessed 9 April 2016, p. 1.

  99. 99.

    Human Rights Watch, above n 24, p. 4.

  100. 100.

    US Department of state (2015) Merida Initiative. http://www.state.gov/j/inl/merida/. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  101. 101.

    Current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has claimed to redirect this strategy, focusing on institution-building and a new, more efficient 10,000-strong paramilitary force, 8000 of which will be members of the armed forces. Ince C (2013) President Peña Nieto and Mexico’s On-Going War on Drugs. http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/president-pe%C3%B1a-nieto-and-mexico%E2%80%99s-ongoing-war-on-drugs. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  102. 102.

    Stratfor Global Intelligence (2008) Mexico Security Memo: Feb. 11, 2008 https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/mexico-security-memo-feb-11-2008. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  103. 103.

    Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, above n 65, p. 100.

  104. 104.

    Meiners S and Burton F (2009) The Role of the Mexican Military in the Cartel War https://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20090729_role_mexican_military_cartel_war. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  105. 105.

    Ibid.

  106. 106.

    Ibid.

  107. 107.

    The most widely recognised cartels are the Beltrán Leyva Cartel, Gulf Cartel, Juarez Cartel, La Familia Michoacán, Los Zetas, Sinaloa Cartel and the Tijuana/Arellano Felix Cartel. Other important cartels, such as the Knights Templar and Guerreros Unidos have also gained prominence at times. See, for example: CNN (2016) Mexico Drug War Fast Facts. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/02/world/americas/mexico-drug-war-fast-facts/. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  108. 108.

    Washington Times (2009) 100,000 foot soldiers in Mexican cartels. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/mar/03/100000-foot-soldiers-in-cartels/?page=all. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  109. 109.

    BBC (2014) Q&A: Foreign forces in Afghanistan. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11371138. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  110. 110.

    Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, above n 65, pp. 15 and 85.

  111. 111.

    Ibid., p. 85.

  112. 112.

    Ibid., p. 100.

  113. 113.

    Ibid.

  114. 114.

    Ibid., p. 89.

  115. 115.

    James F (2010) Obama Rejects Hillary Clinton Mexico-Colombia Comparison. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2010/09/09/129760276/obama-rejects-hillary-clinton-mexico-colombia-comparison. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  116. 116.

    Ibid.

  117. 117.

    International Displacement Monitoring Centre (2015) New Humanitarian Frontiers: Addressing criminal violence in Mexico and Central America. http://www.internal-displacement.org/publications/2015/new-humanitarian-frontiers-addressing-criminal-violence-in-mexico-and-central-america. Accessed 9 April 2016.

  118. 118.

    Burnett, above n 21.

  119. 119.

    Lubanga 2012, above n 47.

  120. 120.

    Rome Statute, above n 37, Article 68.

  121. 121.

    Ibid., Article 75.

  122. 122.

    Grillo I (2013) The Mexican Drug Cartels’ Other Business: Sex Trafficking. http://world.time.com/2013/07/31/the-mexican-drug-cartels-other-business-sex-trafficking/. Accessed 9 April 2016.

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Acknowledgment

The authors sincerely thank Prof. Dino Kritsiotis for his comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Any errors, however, remain entirely the authors’.

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Comer, C.A., Mburu, D.M. (2016). Humanitarian Law at Wits’ End: Does the Violence Arising from the “War on Drugs” in Mexico Meet the International Criminal Court’s Non-International Armed Conflict Threshold?. In: Gill, T. (eds) Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law Volume 18, 2015. Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law, vol 18. T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6265-141-8_3

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