Since the outbreak of the drug war, Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez has been plagued by unfathomable levels of violence and corruption, leading to thousands of human rights violations and a lack of responsibility of culpable parties. The Inter-American Dialogue and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute recently hosted a discussion on the human rights situation in Mexico featuring Gustavo de la Rosa, one of the most prominent voices and actors on human rights in Mexico, who currently serves as the commissioner for human rights in the state of Chihuahua. De la Rosa comes from Ciudad Juárez, one of the cities most affected by the wave of criminal violence that has swept the country since 2006. He discussed trends in violence in his native Ciudad Juárez and principal challenges for justice and human rights reform in Mexico.
De la Rosa explained that before the emergence of the drug wars in Ciudad Juárez in 2008, there were approximately 200 homicides per year. Just two years later, that average was up to 3,050 a year. The activist described the subsequent period of extreme violence, kidnappings, extortions, and political corruption, as Ciudad Juárez’ “years of fear.” He pointed to 2008 as the year that the city abandoned any semblance of protecting human rights. The “collapse” of the city was made even more obvious by the frequent abandonment of homes and visible crime on the streets.
The problem is not the war itself, de la Rosa pointed out, but rather the lack of respect for, and application of, the rule of law. The police force of Ciudad Juárez has not only been infiltrated by criminals and cartels – it is entirely controlled by them. The corruption of law enforcement officials, both at the officer as well as the commander levels, prevents any kind of transparency. The same corruption and lack of responsibility can be said of the military officers who police the city. Words like “accountability” and “transparency” do not exist in Mexico, de la Rosa added. He said that the failure of the justice system to guarantee culpability and arrest officials points to the lack institutional capacity and control in Mexico.
De la Rosa stated that the main challenge facing the human rights movement in Mexico is getting government officials on board. The government and police force have struggled to find a strategy to confront the exploitation, impunity, and injustice that plague their country. De la Rosa finds that focusing on organizing citizens to address crime has been more effective, and he hopes to be able to unite the people and government because he believes this will help to accomplish the most.
De la Rosa said that positive changes projected on the future outlook for Ciudad Juárez. Homicides are decreasing, and in an unprecedented move, Mayor Enrique Serrano wants to be admitted onto the board of Security and Justice, showing the beginnings of government willingness to take steps toward accountability and transparency. The “war” in Ciudad Juárez alone has killed over 10,500 people thus far, and de la Rosa said he works to try to rescue the city for the sake of the nation.