Mexico Named Second Deadliest Conflict Zone After Syria

Mexico has surpassed Iraq, Afghanistan and several conflict-ridden African countries as the second deadliest zone after Syria, according to a new report on the global armed conflict. The 2017 Armed Conflict Survey, released on Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), showed the number of fatalities as a result of cartel conflicts rose to 23,000. The number of murders also increased in 22 of Mexico’s 32 states. The report noted that the “violence grew worse as the cartels expanded the territorial reach of their campaigns, seeking to ‘cleanse’ areas of rivals in their efforts to secure a monopoly on drug-trafficking routes and other criminal assets.”

IISS director general John Chipman said the results were all the more alarming because “Mexico is a conflict marked by the absence of artillery, tanks or combat aviation.” Almost all of the fatalities were the direct result of portable firearms. Most homicides were committed in Mexican states that are “key battlegrounds for control between competing, increasingly fragmented cartels.”

Despite a distinct lack of media attention compared to other violent conflicts, the results corroborate findings from Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission in May 2016, which reported that 35,433 civilians had been internally displaced across the country since 2007. Of these, approximately 90% were forced to abandon their homes due to the ongoing violence.

However, the Mexican government objected to the findings on several grounds, stating that the report “reflects estimates based on uncertain methodologies,” and that “the existence of criminal groups is not sufficient criteria to speak of a non-international armed conflict. Neither is the use of the armed forces to maintain order within the country.”

Over the past decade, since the Mexican government declared a war on organised crime, 200,000 people have been murdered and more than 30,000 reported as disappeared.

On Wednesday, reports surfaced that Miriam Rodriguez, founder of a non-governmental group of more than 500 families who worked together to find disappeared relatives, was shot dead in her home in a revenge attack regarding her activism on bringing cartel members to justice for kidnaps and murders. Rodriguez’s 14-year-old daughter Karen was abducted and murdered in 2012, and Rodriguez launched her own campaign to bring the killers to justice. Her experience is not unlike many families living amongst violent smuggling routes in Mexican states.

While the Mexican government and several academics can question the viability of this latest survey, there is no doubt that there is much more to be done in order to protect civilians living in these conflict zones.