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Activists seek international charges against Mexico's president

October 12, 2011 |  9:27 am

Felipe calderon provictima opening notimex

REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- A group of human-rights activists and journalists says it will attempt to seek charges at the International Criminal Court against President Felipe Calderon, members of his cabinet and Mexico's most-wanted cartel leader for soaring deaths and widespread abuses in the country's drug war.

The legal scholars, journalists and academics who are preparing the case said Tuesday that the government's strategy against powerful organized crime groups routinely violates the rights of citizens and must be addressed in an international forum.

"We need to do something. No one outside the territory is going to do it for us," said Miguel Baldillo, director of the news magazine Contralinea, during a news conference at the Journalists Club in downtown Mexico City.

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

Netzai Sandoval, an up-and-coming human-rights lawyer in Mexico City who is among those spearheading the effort, said the ICC should seek information directly from Calderon's government about the effects of its policies against the cartels.

At least 40,000 people have died since the beginning of the president's term in December 2006. Thousands more remain missing, and an estimated 230,000 have been displaced in the conflict, various sources claim. While most of the dead are probably traffickers, gunmen and security forces, a growing number of civilians have been killed.

The group says they've gathered 20,000 signatures on paper during months of large demonstrations seeking an end to the violence. They are collecting more signatures online (link in Spanish) to support a push to try Calderon, cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and others at the ICC for scores of alleged human-rights abuses and generalized impunity.

Mexico is a signatory of the 2002 Rome statute establishing the court, yet the ICC primarily takes up cases from states lacking strong enough internal structures to tackle such serious claims as genocide. Thus, the court has mostly handled claims from war-torn countries in Africa. (Mexico has also faced charges at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in recent years, but this court examines claims against regional governments, not individuals.)

The Mexican Foreign Ministry, in a long statement in response, said the federal government's commitment to the protection of human rights was "undeniable" and added:

"If the administration had not acted with the determination it has shown from the start, many families in communities across the country would be at the mercy of criminals. ... In our country, society is not the victim of an authoritarian government or of systematic abuses by the armed forces."

A day earlier, Calderon appeared at the opening of a new social ministry for crime victims, Provictima, which is meant to address the "double victimization" of people who seek help from authorities after suffering a crime. Calderon defended the use of the military and federal police to take on the cartels.

"Violence grows because of organized crime, and on that mark, the presence of the federal forces is not part of the problem but part of the solution," the president said (link in Spanish).

In the end, the petition against Calderon might merely reflect the persistent desperation felt by many citizens in Mexico. George W. Grayson, a Mexico scholar at the College of William and Mary, characterized the claim as "an effort by the left to embarrass Calderon and to gain some publicity," but he added that the outrage over drug-related violence is understandable.

"It's more likely for an iceberg to form in the Sonoran desert than it would be to successfully bring charges against Calderon at the International Criminal Court," Grayson said in an interview. "The truth is, the average Mexican has no way to influence the behavior of incumbents. But that reflects Mexico's extremely opaque political system."

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-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: President Felipe Calderon of Mexico speaks at the opening of the Provictima social ministry in Mexico City. Credit: Notimex via Milenio.com

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