Foreign Policy

Human Rights in Mexico: Casualty of Calderon's War on Drugs?

| by MyMADRE

The war on drugs has raged within Mexico for years and casualties now number in the thousands.  No citizen is safe from violence, and civilians are often caught in the crossfire.

Recently, President Felipe Calderon has asked for patience from the Mexican people. He has defended all past efforts of his military-led offensive and has pledged to not withdraw the thousands of soldiers and federal police battling gangs across the country. Many Mexican citizens remain doubtful as these same forces are widely regarded as corrupt and unable to address threats to civilian well-being.

The Mexican government has also failed to implement policy that addresses gender-based crimes. Specifically in Juarez, these crimes have resulted in the deaths and disappearances of hundreds of women.Juarez currently sustains a rate of 191 murders per 100,000 residents and was named the most violent city in the world in 2009.

What, then, explains the specificity of the crimes and torture and murder of so many women? As MADRE blogger Medina del Castillo noted, "Since 1993, more than 500 women between the ages of 12 and 22 years of age have gone missing." The gender-based nature of these crimes have been linked to a prevalence of violence against women produced through the direct challenge of gender roles. As Lien De Coster writes for The WIP:

Several factors influence the extreme sexist violence in Ciudad Juárez. This border town across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas has a flourishing economy. Not only is it an important transit point for illegal drugs and immigration into the United States, but many multinational companies from the USA have moved their factories over the border because of lower operating costs, including taxes and wages. A large number of the femicide victims in Juárez once worked in these factories under horrible labor conditions, including long shifts day and night . 35% of the inhabitants of Juárez are immigrants who either moved to Juárez or stayed awhile before heading to the United States. These factors have resulted in a constantly changing population and a lack of a social safety net. 


But it is a fact that the societal situation in Juárez is putting pressure on traditional gender roles. A lot of women working in Juárez reach a certain level of autonomy and are economically independent from men. On top of this, traveling to and from work, they systematically penetrate public space, even at night. In this way they don’t conform to the sociocultural gender codes of their society. This behavior sets off a reaction from macho men who don’t want to lose their power. Combined with the exceptional economic, political, and judicial situation in town this response too often manifests in its worst form; femicide.

Similarly, this culture of violence has extended to human rights defenders within Mexico. These activists are frequently the target of police aggression and intimidation. Activists working on cases linked to the drug war and to Indigenous Peoples' rights are particularly targeted.  Murders of human rights defenders, such as Beatriz Alberta Carino Trujillo, have become all too common.

International exposure, provided through the efforts of local groups, has led to the incorporation of the December 2009 decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights into the European Parliaments strategic plan for Latin American relationships. 

Defending the use of violence to stop violence Calderon described his anti-drug offensive as an effort to protect the human rights of all Mexicans against powerful criminals. Clearly, this anti-drug offensive has done very little to protect Mexican citizens. Reform of government and state policy must now be enacted with special attention to human rights. As, UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston stated, "Human rights must not be permitted to be a casualty in the fight against drugs and crime."