Two New Non-International Armed Conflicts in Mexico Involving the Sinaloa Drug Cartel

Map of the RULAC online portal with the pop-up window showing the NIACs in Mexico. Map of the RULAC online portal with the pop-up window showing the NIACs in Mexico.

10 March 2020

Over the last decades, Mexico has been affected by armed violence between the government and a number of cartels, as well as between such cartels.

In this context, our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) online portal concluded back in 2019 that Mexico and the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG, Jalisco Cartel New Generation) are parties to a non-international armed conflict (NIAC).

Further research conducted by the RULAC research team highlighted that the level of organization of the Sinaloa Cartel, as well as the intensity of the armed violence between this cartel and both the Mexican armed forces and the CJNG – the two criteria to assess whether a situation of armed violence amounts to a NIAC under international humanitarian law (IHL) – allow classifying these two situations as NIACs.

‘This classification implies that IHL applies – in addition to international human rights law – and that war crimes can be committed by members of the Mexican armed forces and of the Sinaloa Cartel. For countries that are not involved in these conflicts, this classification notably triggers arms control treaty regimes’ underlines Professor Marco Sassòli, Director of the Geneva Academy.

Classification as NIACs Triggered by the Level of Armed Violence and the Sinaloa Cartel’s Degree of Organization

In-depth research conducted into the armed violence between the Sinaloa Cartel and both the Mexican armed forces and the CJNG, and into the level of organization of the Sinaloa Cartel triggered this classification.

‘Classifying armed violence between cartels and Mexican armed forces can be challenging, especially with regard to information regarding the level of organization. Furthermore, while violence in Mexico is surely high, it is necessary to establish a nexus between episodes of violence and the conflict. Our research clearly showed that both the level of organization of the Sinaloa Cartel and the level of confrontations with the Mexican armed forces and the CJNG meet the IHL criteria’ underlines Dr Chiara Redaelli, Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

‘Although criminal organizations pursue mainly economic objectives, this does not imply that they cannot be a party to a conflict under IHL. However, even if a drug cartel is a party to a NIAC, not all its members are members of an armed group with a continuous combat function, but only the members of its armed wing. While in practice this distinction might be challenging, not every drug dealer is a legitimate target, even if they belong to a cartel that is a party to a NIAC’ she explains.

The Mexico entry of our RULAC website provides a detailed analysis and legal classification of these two new NIACs, including information about parties to the conflict, its classification as a NIAC and applicable international law.

About RULAC

The RULAC database is unique in the world in that it legally classifies situations of armed violence that amount to an armed conflict – international or non-international – under international humanitarian law (IHL).
It currently monitors more than 37 armed conflicts involving at least 52 states, providing information on the parties to these conflicts, and applicable international law.

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

View of the ICRC Headquarters News

LLM Students Develop Practical Cases for the ICRC on How IHL Applies in Armed Conflict

21 July 2020

Two students enrolled in our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights – Marishet Mohammed Hamza from Ethiopia and Virginia Raffaeli from Italy – developed for the ICRC online casebook How does Law Protect in War? 26 practical cases that show how IHL applies in contemporary armed conflicts.

Read more

News

The UN Secretary-General Refers to our Guidelines on Investigating Violations of IHL

22 May 2020

In his latest report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the UN Secretary-General refers to our Guidelines on Investigating Violation of IHL, co-published with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Read more

Mali,  Gao region, Ansongo cercle, Fafa. ICRC dissemination session about international humanitarian law for the army of Mali. Event

Thinking out of the (Tool)Box: Promoting Implementation of and Respect for International Humanitarian Law

11 November 2020, 18:00-19:30

This IHL Talk aims at shining light on the various ways of promoting respect for and implementation of international humanitarian law.

Read more

Yemen,  Sana'a, Faj Attan district. Destruction. Short Course

From Use of Force to Responsibility to Protect

16 April - 28 May 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, provides an overview of the evolution of the rules governing the use of force in international law, focusing on military intervention on humanitarian grounds and the creation of the United Nations collective security system. It then addresses the concept of the responsibility to protect.

Read more

Afghanistan, Parwan detention facility. Inside a room where detainees of the prison, separated by an acrylic glass, are allowed to meet with their families a couple of times per year with the help of the ICRC employees who facilitate the programme. Short Course

Preventing and Combating Terrorism

11 March - 1 April 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, discusses the extent to which states may limit and/or derogate from their international human rights obligations in order to prevent and counter-terrorism and thus protect persons under their jurisdiction.

Read more

Screenshot of the RULAC webpage Project

Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts (RULAC)

Started in May 2007

The Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts project (RULAC) is a unique online portal that identifies and classifies all situations of armed violence that amount to an armed conflict under international humanitarian law (IHL). It is primarily a legal reference source for a broad audience, including non-specialists, interested in issues surrounding the classification of armed conflicts under IHL.

Read more

A wheelchair completely destroyed after the bombing of a civilian area Project

Disability and Armed Conflict

Started in May 2016

This project aims to ensure better protection of and assistance for persons with disabilities in situations of armed conflict or its aftermath by identifying legal obligations to protect and assist persons with disabilities during conflict, and the policies and practices required to put these obligations into effect.

Read more

Cover page of the Annual Report 2019 Publication

Annual Report 2019

published on May 2020

Read more

Cover of the publication Publication

From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms

published on December 2019

Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard, Ezequiel Heffes

Read more