(Reuters) - Mexican human rights activists want the International Criminal Court to investigate President Felipe Calderon, top officials and the country's most-wanted drug trafficker, accusing them of allowing subordinates to kill, torture and kidnap civilians.
Netzai Sandoval, a Mexican human rights lawyer, filed a complaint with the ICC in The Hague on Friday, requesting an investigation into the deaths of hundreds of civilians at the hands of the military and drug traffickers in Mexico, where more than 45,000 have died in drug-related violence since 2006.
"The violence in Mexico is bigger than the violence in Afghanistan, the violence in Mexico is bigger than in Colombia," Sandoval said.
"We want the prosecutor to tell us if war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Mexico, and if the president and other top officials are responsible."
Signed by 23,000 Mexican citizens, the complaint names Sinaloa drug cartel boss Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, who has a $5 million bounty on his head, as well as Public Security Minister Genaro Garcia Luna and the commanders of Mexico's army and navy.
The lawyers asked the ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes court, to open a formal investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Mexico.
A decision by ICC prosecutors on whether to launch an investigation could take months or even years, legal experts say. The ICC has investigated crimes including genocide, murder, conscription of child soldiers and rape, mostly in Africa.
The Mexican government has denied the accusations and said security policy cannot constitute an international crime.
"In our country, society is not the victim of an authoritarian government or of systematic abuses by the armed forces," the foreign ministry said in a statement in October, when the petition was made public.
"In Mexico, there is a rule of law in which crime and impunity are fought without exception," the statement said.
TICKING THE BOXES
The office of the prosecutor said in a statement to Reuters that it had received the request, would study it, and "make a decision in due course."
The ICC tries cases of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity in states that are unwilling or unable to prosecute these crimes on their own.
"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.
"It's possible ... but I think you want to be clear on what the challenges and obstacles are."
Several of those requirements have been met: Mexico has signed up to the ICC, the crimes fall within the ICC's time frame, and the case is not already being prosecuted in Mexico.
But in considering the case, 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.
"The prosecutor has been very focused on Africa. The pattern is, he stays within the comfort zone of the United States. Going after Mexicans for the war on drugs falls outside that comfort zone."
Activists claim that Calderon has systematically allowed Mexican troops to commit abuses against the civilian population since the military was deployed to fight Mexican drug traffickers in 2006.
More than 50,000 troops are currently battling drug cartels around the country, while the ranks of federal police have swelled from 6,000 to 35,000 under Calderon's watch.
Human rights activists say that Mexican troops and police are regularly violating the rights of citizens in their crackdown on the cartels.
A Human Rights Watch report has found evidence that Mexican police and armed forces were involved in 170 cases of torture, 24 extrajudicial killings and 39 forced disappearances in five Mexican states.
"We have known for five years that the Mexican army is committing sexual abuse, executing people, torturing people and kidnapping, and there have been no sanctions," Sandoval said, adding that he, like many other Mexicans, knows people who have lost family members in the drug-related violence.
Mexico's national human rights commission received more than 4,000 complaints of abuses by the army from 2006 to 2010. In the same period it issued detailed reports on 65 cases involving army abuse, according to Human Rights Watch.
(Editing by Rosalind Russell)
Reuters - Report on Internal Displacement in Mexico
There are currently several situations of internal displacement in Mexico. Possibly the largest has been caused since 2007 by the violence of drug cartels and the government's military response. This has caused displacement in the states of Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Durango, Guerrero, Sinaloa and Michoacan.
This displacement has been little documented, and more comprehensive studies of its scale and impact are needed. Three cases of mass displacement reportedly caused the displacement of some 3,000 people; otherwise the violence has caused gradual displacement which has been reported only rarely. However, a research centre which documented displacement in Ciudad Juarez found that up to 220,000 people had left their place of residence in the area over three years as a result of the violence, of which about half reportedly remained in the country as IDPs.
A private consultancy report cited by several media sources has suggested that the violence has internally displaced 1.6 million people in the last five years; however the report is not publicly available and the basis of the figure is unknown.
People fleeing drug-cartel violence have often not found security in their place of displacement. Another main challenge has been the physical and legal protection of their housing, land and property. Some IDPs have lost their identity documents as a result of their sudden displacement, and have subsequently been unable to access social services. While no proper assessments of IDPs' access to basic necessities have been conducted, it has been generally assumed that they support themselves or rely on extended family networks.
The longest-running situation of displacement was caused by the Zapatista uprising in 1994 in the state of Chiapas. Indigenous communities that support the Zapatista movement have continued to be displaced and have also caused the displacement of people not aligned with the Zapatista movement, and recent estimates have suggested that between 9,000 and 24,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) remain in protracted displacement.
In Chiapas and in the neighbouring states of Oaxaca and Guerrero displacement has also been caused by religious tensions within indigenous communities. Meanwhile, in Oaxaca, indigenous triqui communities have also been displaced by attacks by paramilitary groups. IDPs in all these states have limited access to livelihoods, and there have been no initiatives to restitute their land.
The government has recognised and taken some steps to address the protracted displacement following the Zapatista uprising. The other smaller situations in Chiapas and its neighbouring states of Oaxaca and Guerrero have received much less attention. In this context, an internal displacement bill proposed in 2011 by the government of Chiapas, and a decision by the Mexican senate to provide more funds to support indigenous IDPs, have been notable developments.