THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Human rights organizations called on International Criminal Court prosecutors Monday to investigate atrocities allegedly committed by the Mexican military in a crackdown on drug crime in the Chihuahua region.
The rights groups presented a dossier to prosecutors documenting alleged slayings, torture, rapes and forced disappearances involving 121 victims during 2008-2010, saying they amounted to crimes against humanity.
The groups allege that military vehicles and facilities were used during the crimes and that the cases "reveal the existence of a clear organized policy by the authorities against the civilian population."
They want ICC action because of the "lack of independence and impartiality" of Mexican judicial authorities and the absence of "authentic national procedures," the groups said.
It is the third time the rights groups have sought ICC action on Mexico. Previously, they presented cases from Coahuila and Baja California.
The court has not yet opened a preliminary investigation into any of the cases.
Even so, activists see progress in some judicial reforms in Mexico since they began submitting their evidence to the ICC several years ago.
"When we started the work on submitting the communication, the issue of international crimes being committed in Mexico was not an issue," said Jimena Reyes, Director for the Americas for the International Federation for Human Rights. "So right now it is on the table, on the agenda."
However, she added when it comes to investigating allegations of atrocities leveled at the armed forces, "the state of Mexico is in complete denial. They don't want to hear about crimes against humanity."
The military has played a central role in the war on drug cartels since at least late 2006, when the then-newly installed President Felipe Calderon deployed soldiers across the country to fight the gangs. The militarized offensive has continued under current President Enrique Pena Nieto.
A study published last year by the Washington Office on Latin America concluded that the vast majority of human rights abuses allegedly committed by soldiers in Mexico's war on drug gangs go unsolved and unpunished despite reforms letting civilian authorities investigate and prosecute such crimes.
The study found there were just 16 convictions of soldiers in the civilian judicial system out of 505 criminal investigations from 2012 through 2016, a prosecutorial success rate of 3.2 percent. Moreover, there were only two "chain of command responsibility" convictions for officers whose orders led to abuses, it said. One was of an officer involved in a forced disappearance case in Chihuahua.
The ICC is a court of last resort, set up to prosecute the most senior perpetrators of serious crimes when local authorities cannot or will not take on cases.
"When it comes to responsibility of the armed forces, we have not had a single positive development. There is almost 100-percent impunity for the crimes by the (Mexican) armed forces," said Jose Antonio Guevara Bermudez, Executive Director of the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights.