'Complete Labelling' and Domestic Prosecutions for Crimes against Humanity

32 Criminal Law Forum (2021) 473–509

37 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2022

Date Written: November 17, 2021


Fair labelling is an established principle of criminal justice that scrutinises the way that States use language in labelling criminal defendants and their conduct. I argue that “complete labelling” is a related but separate principle which has not received any explicit attention from commentators. Whereas fair labelling focuses, usually, on the protection of defendant’s rights, the principle of complete labelling explains and justifies whether the labels attached appropriately represent the nature and scale of the wrong done to the community. As a case study, I apply this lens in the context of regional (U.S./Mexican) criminal justice responses to crimes against humanity perpetrated by “drug-cartels” in the context of the Mexican Drug War. Successive administrations in Mexico and the U.S. have tended to charge cartel leaders (and/or their political supporters) with so-called “transnational crimes” (for example, drug-trafficking, money-laundering, bribery/corruption). This is despite the fact that many of the most powerful cartels have controlled territory, attacked entire towns, carried out acts of terror, and disappeared thousands of people. The principle of complete labelling is useful in normative terms because it helps in the critical examination of a State’s prosecutorial practices, exposing problems that might otherwise be missed. In relation to the case study discussed, for example, a focus on complete labelling helps to expose the regional prosecutorial policy as either an unjustified exercise in selectivity or, at worst, an expression of collective denial. After considering certain counteracting reflexions which speak to some of the foundational anxieties of international criminal justice, the article concludes that domestic prosecutions for crimes against humanity in the context of drug-cartels may, sometimes, be justified.

Suggested Citation

Eskauriatza, Javier, 'Complete Labelling' and Domestic Prosecutions for Crimes against Humanity (November 17, 2021). 32 Criminal Law Forum (2021) 473–509, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4269030

Javier Eskauriatza (Contact Author)

University of Nottingham ( email )

School of Law
Law and Social Sciences
Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD
United Kingdom

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