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Handa Center Reps Continue Discussions on Crimes Against Humanity in Mexico at Conference in Mexico City

Eleven adults pose for picture in front of glass entrance to a building
May 4 2015

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Rule of Law and Accountability

Following a workshop convened at Stanford in January, representatives of the WSD HANDA Center for Human Rights and International Justice travelled to Mexico City in April to continue investigations into potential crimes against humanity committed in Mexico under the parameters of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The April 16 conference and workshop were hosted by the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) with Case Matrix Network (CMN), the Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CMDPDH) and the Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos (FIDH).

More than 30 students, academics, and practitioners from several countries gathered to analyze the scale and scope of violence in Mexico – with particular focus on killings, torture, and enforced disappearances – within the legal definitions set out in the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding document. (The public portion of the April 16 conference at CIDE can be viewed here.)

Professor Darryl Robinson of Queen’s University offered the keynote address on “Crimes Against Humanity – Clarifying the Limits.” From a legal perspective, he weighed the thousands of killings, cases of torture, and enforced disappearances occurring in the context of Mexico's “war on drugs” against the definition of crimes against humanity set out by the ICC.  After picking apart the meaning of acts committed “as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population” in furtherance of “a State or organizational policy,” Robinson advocated a more organic and less bureaucratic understanding of the word “policy” in establishing State participation or complicity in crimes against humanity, meaning such policies should not have to be expressly written or formalized, but can be inferred by patterns and linkages to the State apparatus.

In addition to looking at past and ongoing investigations at the ICC, Robinson drew on jurisprudence from national and international legal proceedings concerning crimes in Mexico, Peru, Argentina, and the former Yugoslavia.

A roundtable on the case of crimes against humanity in Mexico followed, featuring relevant experts José Antonio Guevara (CMDPDH), Paulina Vega (FIDH), Ximena Medellín (CIDE), Javier Dondé (INACIPE), and Emilie Hunter (CMN). Panelists outlined the trajectory of communications a consortium of Mexican and international human rights NGOs has had with the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC, with specific focus on the opening of a preliminary examination into the Mexican case.

Guevara expressed the feeling that a higher bar has been set for Mexico in demonstrating the commission of crimes against humanity, citing staggering statistics of 70,000 killings on the war on drugs, official recognition of 23,000 disappearances since 2006, and 4,000 claims of torture since 2006.

Medellín emphasized the need to give further consideration to the causes and impacts of the violence in Mexico, cautioning that international judicial mechanisms are not a panacea and temptations to evaluate mass atrocities around the world against one another should be avoided.

Hunter outlined the relevance of technological toolkits in supporting the investigation of core international crimes, drawing on CMN’s expertise in working across the globe to help document and analyze such violations in places that might not otherwise have the capacity to respond systematically.

In the afternoon, a smaller group convened a closed-door session to discuss issues in the Mexican case that merit additional attention, as well as to identify sources of support in the quest to initiate a preliminary examination at the ICC.

Three recent developments were highlighted as potentially useful in this endeavor:

The group agreed to continue its collaboration and hopes to reconvene in the fall.

The Handa Center would like to thank the Mexico Initiative at the Freeman Spogli Institute for its support of the Center’s participation in this workshop.