A group of attorneys and human rights activists are seeking to have Mexico’s president, other government officials and several top drug cartel leaders investigated for war crimes.

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The attorneys plan to file a complaint with the International Criminal Court naming Mexican President Felipe Calderón, Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and at least 8 other drug traffickers and government officials. At a press conference announcing the initiative, lead attorney Netzai Sandoval listed off specific crimes he wants the court to investigate in Mexico. It’s a long list.

SANDOVAL: “We are petitioning the court to investigate forced disappearances, the recruitment of children under 15 as hit-men, extrajudicial executions by soldiers, mutilation as a form of intimidation, attacks against the civilian population, forced displacements, the raping of women and girls, acts of torture perpetrated and tolerated by the army, attacks targeting drug rehabilitation centers, and the kidnapping, sale and enslavement of migrants by Mexican immigration authorities.”

Sandoval argues there are war crimes and crimes against humanity and thus, fall well within the ICC’s jurisdiction. Mexico’s organized crime groups have gained a reputation for brutality – and that’s well documented by the media. But reports of abuses by Mexican security forces receive less attention. Sanjuana Martínez is an investigative reporter based in the northern industrial city of Monterrey. She has extensively documented the violence in the border states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila.

MARTINEZ: “Mexicans are living in the middle of two types of violence – narcoviolence and state violence – which is perpetrated by the armed forces and federal police against the civilian population. In this country, we’re not used to speaking about state-sponsored violence. It’s not politically correct, particularly because the armed forces have a lot of power and impunity, so hardly anyone stands up to up to them.”

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón defends his military strategy, even if he admits it’s not perfect. Here’s what he said in a meeting with relatives of drug war victims, just days after plans for the ICC complaint were announced.

CALDERON: It is not the state that’s committing acts of repression and murder. Yes, we do have a responsibility – which I’ve recognized and apologized for – because the state hasn’t been able to fulfil its proper role by protecting its citizens from violence. But the state has not systematically murdered, mutilated or disappeared people, as was the case under the military dictatorships of Argentina and Chile – or like what happened in Bosnia and other countries.

Calderón has also pointed to the recent creation of a special office for crime victims to show that his government is making efforts to heal social wounds and strengthen government institutions. It’s too soon to judge the new agency’s performance, but many observers have expressed scepticism.

(Roll Loretta Ortiz clip, reporter interprets)

Law professor Loretta Ortiz, who supports the petition to the International Criminal Court, says the Mexican government has a history of creating special commissions when certain types of crimes become too big to ignore and that these special commissions produce few – if any – real results. Ortiz points to the failures of special panels set up to investigate the Ciudad Juárez femicides, or crimes against journalists.

Different estimates put Mexico’s criminal impunity rate at between 95 and 98 percent – meaning only a tiny fraction of crimes committed end up being punished through the courts. Attorney Netzai Sandoval says that’s part of the reason he’s filing the complaint with the International Criminal Court.

SANDOVAL: “We’re not fighting to have more drugs in Mexico and the world. Quite the contrary, we’re also naming in our lawsuit drug traffickers who are killing young people, recruiting children, and attacking our country’s way of life. What we’re hoping to bring about with this petition to the ICC is the end of impunity and human rights violations in Mexico.”

More than 17 thousand Mexicans have signed an online petition urging the International Criminal Court to open an investigation. Another 3 thousand have signed on paper. Sandoval’s legal team says this represents that largest show of popular support for a particular case in the court’s history. The attorneys will submit their petition to the ICC on November 25th.

 (Transcript of report produced for The World. Original audio here)

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