OAXACA DE JUÁREZ, MEXICO – Dawn illuminates broken glass along the streets of downtown Oaxaca de Juárez. the remains of broken windows from cars parked there overnight.
One evening, after leaving a dinner event, Sabrina Espinoza discovered her car with two broken windows and no cell phone, which she had left in the glove compartment. His mind clouded. He asked himself. “How would they know there was a cell phone in there?” While he and his friends were counting what happened, two police officers on motorcycles approached and explained. “They break the windows. They use an app to detect devices such as mobile phones, computers and cameras that people leave in their cars.” They also told Espinoza that he should report the incident to the prosecutor’s office and then left him alone with his thoughts.
But Espinoza decided not to risk going on his own or with one of his friends to file a report. First of all, he did not know the address of the nearest prosecutor’s office, nor the procedure for filing a report. For another, he felt unsafe going to an unfamiliar place at 2 am
Angel Serrano, an expert on security and justice in Mexico, explains that people often think that to file a report all that is needed is for a police officer to come to the scene and open a report. But it is not so. “Reporting in Mexico is very complicated. It is imperative to do this with any official of the prosecutor’s office, in their buildings,” he says.
Most crimes in Mexico go unreported. people have low confidence in the justice system. Experts and scholars are studying this situation in order to propose tools to reduce the high rates of impunity in the country.
In order to understand the number of unreported crimes, many countries started conducting victimization surveys in the 1970s. In Mexico, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography conducted its first such survey in 2011.
The term “dark figure” refers to the total number of unreported crimes; crimes that remained invisible, that were not found in the records of prosecutor’s offices. Data is vital to inform public policy on safety issues.
The results of the latest victimization survey, called the National Survey of Victimization and Public Safety Perceptions, conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography in 2022, showed that 93.2% of crimes committed in Mexico in 2021 were either unreported, or no investigation has been initiated. Only 1.1% of crimes committed in the country are reported, investigated and solved.
Irene Tello, who at the time of the interview was the director of Impunidad Cero, a civil organization that studies impunity in Mexico, explains: “We have very good laws, but they are not implemented. And when a crime happens, either the people don’t report it, or the authorities don’t follow up on investigative materials. And ultimately we have this feeling that in this country it is possible to commit a crime and there are no consequences.”
It’s a cycle that goes unbroken between unpunished crimes and the millions of people who don’t report them, creating a high level of impunity in the country, Tello says.
Graphics by Matt Haney, GPJ
Lorena Castellanos was robbed on the street near the wholesale market in Oaxaca de Juárez. The assailants stole her money and mobile phone, which she was unable to replace, but she did not report it. “Why should I report this? If nothing changes, no one will return my money or mobile phone, nor will they look for those who robbed me, I would just waste my time,” he says.
Tello explains that people’s lack of trust in the justice system is a matter of the authorities’ strategy and will. “The signals that the state sends and does not send from its criminal system are very important. If you investigate a case very well and solve it, you send a very clear signal that this is unacceptable and you build trust in people, so they come to report.”
Ana Fatima López, a lawyer who provides free counseling to abused women, says: “This level of dissatisfaction and bitterness, seeing that it doesn’t matter what you do, you feel like you don’t matter. to the authorities… of course it’s discouraging.”
Lopez explains that his relationship with the justice system has been stormy. “I promote it a lot, but it pains me to know that they can go on for up to eight hours without appearing in justice centers. But if 1 in 6 women comes out with a protective order after I suggest going, I know she has a tool that can serve her well in the future.”
Ita Biko Cruz is a lawyer at the Oaxaca Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, an autonomous government agency, where she specializes in gender equality and helping women who have been in violent situations. He says it has become common for people to face suspicion and discouragement when they go to the prosecutor’s office to file reports.
“It may seem like they don’t want people to report because of mistreatment. “When a reporter is mistreated or their information is questioned, they are revived,” he says. This means that the person is forced to relive a traumatic situation instead of receiving concrete and caring support that can facilitate investigation, he adds.
Even for those who file reports, information about the progress of the investigation is unavailable, Serrano said. “They give you an investigation case number, but there are no mechanisms to follow it up, to find out the status of the investigation, whether an arrest has been made or not. It is very difficult for people to have access to all that information,” he says.
“Law enforcement agencies are an obstacle to the fight against impunity,” explains Impunidad Cero in its 2021 report on the State Performance Index of Attorney Generals, an analysis that the organization has been conducting every year since 2017.
The justice system is made up of two major pillars: law enforcement (two types of attorney general’s offices: procuradurías or fiscalías) and administration (judges and magistrates). But there are other elements too, such as mediation and alternative means of conflict resolution.
Factors affecting the performance of law enforcement agencies, according to the Impunidad Cero report, range from the reduction of prosecutors’ offices per 100,000 inhabitants to the way state attorneys general are elected (Fiscalia or the Office of the State Attorney General). , is the institution that manages and organizes the offices of state-level prosecutors, called Ministerios Públicos). For the most part, state attorneys general are appointed by governors and local congresses, “opening up an opportunity for the executive branch to directly interfere with the decisions of state attorneys general’s offices, which are supposed to be autonomous departments, to prevent any kind of evasion. about corruption and impunity,” Tello explains.
Graphics by Matt Haney, GPJ
In August 2022, the state’s previous attorney general, Arturo Peimbert, explained during a hearing in the Oaxaca State Congress that law enforcement backlogs were inherited, making his efforts inadequate during his year and a half in office. In his view, the road to transformation remains long and the terrain tough because the dysfunction comes from decades of the justice system being used to keep those already in power in power. “The judicial system was not a tool of justice, but of political and economic power,” he said.
Peimbert, who headed Oaxaca’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman before becoming state attorney general, explains that from that position he was able to begin diagnosing the situation through various investigations at the state attorney general’s office. The Ombudsman’s office ultimately issued 15 recommendations. The investigations revealed such fundamental problems as “Inaction of the prosecutor’s office staff during the criminal investigation. the lack of legal technique and judgment in solving the investigations for which the prosecutor’s office is responsible, which led to the failure to complete the criminal case; abuse of authority by the staff of the same office of the state prosecutor’s office; lack of legal knowledge to integrate investigative documents among others”.
Senator, Chair of the Senate Justice Committee and former Minister of the Interior and Minister of the Supreme Court, Olga Sánchez Cordero, believes that two changes are important to eliminate the defects that hinder the implementation of the law. coercion and their remuneration should be at the level of those who give justice, which is much higher.
Former state attorney general Peimbert emphasizes the need for autonomy in the state attorney general’s office. “In the administrative sector, the budget is implemented through the Ministry of Finance, which can obviously become a control mechanism, when most of the employees directly or indirectly related to the investigation and criminal prosecution are actually employed in the Ministry of Administration. ” He says.
He also notes that of the 1,109 people who are officially counted as state intelligence officials, only about 600 are operating as operatives. The rest are either administrative workers or appear on the payroll due to not receiving a pension.
For Tello, reporting is a tool citizens have to raise awareness of crime and the means by which civil society can reduce the country’s high levels of impunity. “We don’t want to go around saying: “Submit a report.” But if one wants to do that, we have created the denuncia.org website. It uses plain language and people can review information about everything from where and what information to bring with you when you file a report with all prosecutors across the country, to ways to follow up on your investigation, to what violations may occur. and how to avoid them and redirect to state attorneys general by state, plus more.”
Various states have now set up web pages for filing preliminary reports online, but even after doing so, there is still a requirement to go to the prosecutor’s office, Tello explains.
Impunidad Cero launched denuncia.org in October 2020, and as of this past October, two years after its launch, the number of visits was 686,612, with an average of 940 visits per day.
Adriana Romo is a psychologist and founder of Red de Mujeres de La Laguna, an organization that supports abused women. She explains that they downloaded the guidelines that Impunidad Cero makes available online so they can navigate the system when accompanying women to file reports.
“We went with a woman to file a report with the prosecutor’s office, and while she was reporting, we were able to ask the official of the prosecutor’s office not to open a new case, but to add to the existing case, because this. It wasn’t the first time he made the same report,” Romo says. “Thanks to the guidelines, we understand that the office has an obligation to add reports to ensure ongoing investigations, and not to file a report as if it were the first.”