Home » Notes » A Complementarity Conundrum: International Criminal Enforcement in the Mexican Drug War

A Complementarity Conundrum: International Criminal Enforcement in the Mexican Drug War

PDF · Spencer Thomas · Jun-8-2012 · 45 VAND. J. TRANSNAT'L L. 599 (2012)

Drug-related violence in Mexico has claimed over 34,000 lives since Mexican President Felipe Calderón initiated his crackdown on Mexico’s drug cartels in 2006 with the deployment of military troops to Michoacán. Somewhat surprisingly, Mexico’s drug war has garnered rather little attention from the international community, despite a wealth of headlines in popular media. This Note takes up the question of international criminal enforcement in Mexico against Los Zetas, widely considered Mexico’s most violent drug cartel. By setting up a hypothetical—but possible—International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecution of Los Zetas cartel leader Heriberto Lazcano, this Note demonstrates that the ICC Prosecutor could likely show sufficient evidence of Lazcano’s liability for Crimes Against Humanity for the purposes of obtaining an arrest warrant from the Pre-Trial Chamber. However, assuming Mexico would in fact prosecute Lazcano domestically, significant admissibility issues would arise given that Mexico lacks a domestic codification of Crimes Against Humanity, the relevant ICC crime. This presents a unique situation to analyze whether a concurrent domestic prosecution for “ordinary crimes” could lead to a finding of “unable to prosecute” under Article 17 of the Rome Statute, which would result in the admissibility of the case before the ICC despite concurrent state action. The ordinary crimes analysis with respect to Mexico’s inability (or ability) to prosecute this potential case has broad implications for the nature of the ICC’s complementarity regime as an effective guardian of state sovereignty.

Leave a Reply

ExpressO Top 10 Law Review


We are pleased to announce the 2013-2014 VJTL New Members

Coming up:

The Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law hosted a symposium called “The Role of Non-State Actors in International Law” at Vanderbilt University Law School in February 2013.

The October issue of the Journal will showcase articles by distinguished symposium guests including:

  • Mr. Ian Smillie, “Blood Diamonds and Non-State Actors”
  • Professor Jean d’Aspremont, “Cognitive Conflicts and the Making of International Law from Empirical Concord to Conceptual Discord in Legal Scholarship”
  • Professor Peter J. Spiro, “Constraining Global Corporate Power: A Very Short Introduction”
  • Professor Suzanne Katzenstein
  • Professor Peter Margulies
  • Professor Harlan G. Cohen


Explore Other Vanderbilt Law Resources