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On November 1, 2016, the Open Society Justice Initiative and WCL’s War Crimes Research Office sponsored a panel discussion called Ayotzinapa and Beyond: Towards Accountability for Atrocity Crimes in Mexico.  The panel, moderated by Susana SáCouto, Director of the War Crimes Research Office, featured four speakers: Christian De Vos and Ina Zoon from the Open Society Initiative, Michael Chamberlain from the Diocesan Center for Human Rights Fray Juan de Larios, and Claudia Paz y Paz from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (IG).  The panel discussed the infamous Ayotzinapa case in which forty-three students disappeared two years ago in the Mexican state of Guerrero by police officers in complicity with organized crime.  The discussion was based on the Open Society Justice Initiative’s new report, Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Cries Against Humanity.  The report determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that widespread and systematic crimes, such as forced disappearances, torture, and murder by Mexican federal forces and drug cartels amounts to crimes against humanity.   Claudia Paz y Paz, a member of the IG, a group of experts functioning under the framework of precautionary measures of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, initiated the discussion.  Paz y Paz explained the role of the IG, its findings, and its recommendations based upon the investigation of the students’ disappearances.  Specifically, Paz y Paz explained that the students were not armed or infiltrated by criminal gangs.  She provided details on the participation of federal and state police on the disappearances and discussed the challenges experienced by the IG due to the manipulation and loss of evidence by the state and restricted access to evidence, witnesses, and involved military personnel.  Paz y Paz emphasized the importance of having the IG in the field and the importance of conducting this investigation in real time.   Christian de Vos and Ina Zoon engaged in a discussion on the report’s findings, reiterating that the violence described was “part of a broader crisis of impunity in Mexico.”  De Vos explained that for a legal analysis of the situation in Mexico, it is necessary to understand the crisis and analyze it within the international human rights framework.  Under international criminal law, it is necessary to examine criminal responsibility and chain of command responsibility.  Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, defines crimes against humanity as acts committed “as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.”  De Vos explained that the state policy of a “war on drugs” puts into effect overwhelming extrajudicial force against anyone accused of being involved and results in the use of excessive force and a lack of accountability. In addition, de Vos illustrated how state policy and patterns of behavior by members of the military demonstrate Mexico’s failure to regulate the use of excessive force and to investigate and prosecute the crimes by members of the federal government.  Zoon emphasized that Mexico tends to deny and minimize the crisis, and instead engage in a “continuous practice to criminalize victims” by saying that the disappearance is most likely a result of the victim’s links with organized crime.  Zoon also explained that the number of clandestine graves and the deficiencies in case documentation, the attacks against human rights defenders, the failure to investigate principal actors of the crimes, and the generalized acceptance of torture are all part of the complexity and challenges.   Adding a layer of complexity to Mexico’s situation, Michael Chamberlin discussed the role and prevalence of drug cartels throughout Mexico.  Chamberlin referred to Ayotzinapa as just the “tip of the iceberg.”  He emphasized the Zetas cartel’s strategy is to control various regions of the country where the government is not present to prevent violence.  Cartels are involved in the majority of disappearances and acts of extreme violence.  In addition, the Zetas cartel engages in practices such as the recruitment and kidnaping of vulnerable individuals for illegal and personal activities, including the harvesting of marijuana.  Chamberlain emphasized that other cartels now aim to imitate this model and expand the violence.  He concluded by saying that the number of victims are increasing, the existence of a human rights crisis is undeniable, and that it must be examined through the lens of international law.  Overall, the trend of impunity is the norm.  Based on the widespread and systematic nature of the violent crimes, coupled with the government’s failure to regulate the use of force and investigate and prosecute the crimes in Mexico, there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that the situation amounts to crimes against humanity, as defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.