Engaging with Drug Lords: Protecting Civilians in Colombia, Mexico and Honduras

A. Bellal (ed.), The War Report: Armed Conflict in 2014, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2015, pp. 511-543

34 Pages Posted: 7 Oct 2017

See all articles by Chiara Redaelli

Chiara Redaelli

Diakonia International Humanitarian Law Centre

Date Written: September 1, 2015

Abstract

In recent years, some of the most lethal episodes of violence have taken place in countries vastly affected by organized crime, such as Mexico and Honduras. Criminal groups are primarily economical actors: they do not aim at constituting a parallel power system. However, they benefit from a weak state, unable to firmly control its territory, in order to create areas of impunity where they can operate undisturbed.

This chapter analyses the specific challenges of dealing with criminal organizations from an international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights perspective.

First, I discuss how the criteria to determine the existence of a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) apply to organized crime. Broadly speaking, criminal groups are not considered party to a conflict, despite the fact that they might engage in acts of violence against the government. Nonetheless, situations such as the one in Colombia, and arguably the violence in Mexico, would suggest that criminal groups operating in these countries could be considered party to a NIAC. These organizations do not limit themselves to take advantage of the instability and weakness of the government, but directly challenge its authority, seeking to create zones of impunity where they can pursue their criminal activities. Hence, they constitute an actual and serious threat to the state.

Second, the chapter focuses on the specific challenges of dealing with organized crime. Heinous crimes against civilians demonstrate that criminal groups are unlikely to respect domestic and international law. The responses adopted so far at national and international level have proved utterly unfit to face the challenges posed by criminal organizations. However, given organized crime’s devastating impact on civilians, it is desirable to at least find ways to engage with these groups. The greatest difficulty lies in their economical nature and motivation: unlike opposition groups, they do not aim at overthrowing the government. Therefore, they do not seek for international legitimacy and have thus fewer incentives to respect international legal obligations. The final part of the chapter thus suggests strategies to engage with criminal groups in order to improve the protection of civilians.

Keywords: international humanitarian law, non-international armed conflicts, criminal organization, drug cartels, Colombia, Mexico, Honduras

Suggested Citation

Redaelli, Chiara, Engaging with Drug Lords: Protecting Civilians in Colombia, Mexico and Honduras (September 1, 2015). A. Bellal (ed.), The War Report: Armed Conflict in 2014, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2015, pp. 511-543, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3048154 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3048154

Chiara Redaelli (Contact Author)

Diakonia International Humanitarian Law Centre ( email )

Jerusalem
Israel

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