Assessing the potential of civil organizations within regions affected by organized crime to hold state institutions to human rights-based development

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: School of Language and Literature

Abstract

Although scholars and analysts suspect that civil society has the potential to mitigate the effects of criminal violence, few have conducted substantial research on the topic, and they have focused mainly on national (and international) civil organizations. We propose to focus on civil organizations based in the affected regions themselves, specifically within the west-central Mexican states of Michoacán and Jalisco, a region with high levels of criminal violence.

It is increasingly recognized that treating organized crime as a matter of security is insufficient and can even exacerbate the problem, and that organized crime must be addressed through holistic strategies that include development consistent with human rights, providing opportunities for a dignified economic, social and political life outside the sphere of criminal organizations. In the state of Michoacán, for example, after "self-defence" vigilante groups ousted local police accused of serving organized crime in 2014, the federal government established a Commission for Security and Integral Development promising to deliver equitable and participative development to the region.

Yet holistic strategies are notoriously difficult to execute when, as often in Mexico, state institutions in the affected regions are captured, wholly or partially, by the same criminal organizations and their associates. In these contexts, criminal organizations can for example use their hold over local (and state) government to frustrate the designs of national government, as well as of international agencies.

Researchers and policy-makers suspect that civil society has an important role to play in these contexts. Civil society can monitor the actions of state institutions, insist on participating in development projects, resist development that hurts or fails to benefit vulnerable groups, and advocate strategies that do meet the needs of the broader population, thus helping to offset the hold of criminal organizations overhose institutions, as well as creating alternative livelihoods for the population. However, although there have been some studies of the role of national (and international) civil society in holding state institutions to account, the potential role of civil organizations within the regions themselves is little studied. This is our focus.

The few studies conducted, and initial research by the applicants, suggest that civil society organizations are often themselves hemmed in by organized crime, and find it difficult to resist penetration by organized crime, much less to advance an agenda contrary to its interests. This helps to account, indeed, for the reluctance of many researchers to conduct sustained fieldwork in these contexts.

Despite the forbidding panorama, the project will use comparative ethnography, following strict protocols designed to mitigate risk to researchers and research subjects, to identify and explain positive examples of organizations which have played an effective role in holding state institutions to a human rights agenda, and specifically one designed to offset the noxious effects of organized crime activities.

Project outputs will include an academic monograph co-authored by Guerra (CIDE), Maldonado (Colegio de Michoacán) and Stack (Aberdeen), and a volume edited by Stack to include papers from an international conference in London and others chapters co-authored by the applicants with the postdoctoral RAs.

Unusually for an academic research project, we have chosen to put the policy outputs on an equal footing with the academic outputs. To this end, we have incorporated 2 policy analysts Domingo (ODI) and Jesperson (RUSI) as Co-Investigators. We have followed their instructions from the outset to ensure that the data collection and analysis will be adequate to the task of producing a series of well-grounded policy briefs, applicable to other regions of Mexico (and the world) affected by criminal violence.

Planned Impact

The project is geared primarily to benefit a) development actors concerned about the effects of criminal violence on development policies, and b) security actors looking to develop a holistic strategy to address criminal violence. It will also be of benefit to civil organizations a) within regions affected by criminal violence (such as the organizations on which we focus), and b) outside those regions (national and international) but with an interest in supporting the work of organizations within the regions. By benefiting those organizations, it will also benefit Mexican citizens and especially those living within the regions affected by criminal violence, as well as being applicable to the many other regions of the world in which criminal violence is of increasing concern to development and security actors.

In order to achieve this ambitious goal, and unusually for an academic research project, we have chosen to put the policy outputs on an equal footing with the academic outputs. To this end, we have incorporated 2 policy analysts Domingo (ODI) and Jesperson (RUSI) as Co-Investigators. We have followed their instructions from the outset to ensure that the data collection and analysis will be adequate to the task of producing a series of well-grounded policy briefs. The briefs should be applicable not only to the other regions of Mexico affected by criminal violence, but also to the other regions of the world where criminal violence is obstructing the development that is supposed to mitigate it.

To ensure that the briefs will be applicable elsewhere, and because the chosen region of west-central Mexico is highly diverse, Domingo and Jesperson have asked the academic researchers to compare a significant number of sub-regions within the broader region. This will also help to ensure that the briefs are context-sensitive. The briefs will draw on the comparative data to demonstrate in what ways the potential role of civil organizations can vary even within a single region, and advise development and security actors how to tailor their strategies for civil organizations to specific sub-regional contexts. We have therefore agreed to include 7 sub-regions within the study, to be studied by the applicants Guerra, Maldonado, Stack and 4 postdoctoral RAs.

As well as ensuring that the briefs are applicable, Domingo and Jesperson have set out an agenda for ensuring that the briefs are suitable for and taken up by the relevant development and security actors, as well as the local, national and international civil organizations:
1. We will consult thoroughly on Domingo and Jesperson's drafts of the briefs by a) re-interviewing members of region-based civil organizations to seek their views on the draft briefs, and b) debating the drafts with a range of development actors and civil organizations at a policy-makers' workshop in Mexico City. The prominent Mexican think-tank Fundar, A.C. has expressed an interest in hosting the workshop.
2. We will follow up on the briefs by a) returning to the sub-regions to encourage the civil organizations to consider the final recommendations, and b) Domingo and Jesperson will be responsible for publicizing the briefs to development and security actors, through the channels of their institutions (ODI and RUSI), as well as to national and international civil organizations.

Finally, several of the applicants have experience in writing for media audiences, and all the researchers will be expected to disseminate findings through these channels in 2018. In addition, once the policy briefs have been confirmed, the Aberdeen-based RA will be tasked with setting up a website with social network functionality, gearing the information toward a variety of web audiences.

Publications

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Title Entrevistas con miembros de la sociedad civil en Michoacán 
Description The database consist of 95 interviews with member of civil society of Michoacan, Mexico. This database is the result of the field work accomplished in 2018. The database will be translated to english and published in the UK. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This database will be public once the project will be finished. This is significant because it would help to bring closer information about civil society in violent contexts to investigators around the world. 
 
Description Activismo, violencia y fragilidad institucional: Repensando el papel de la sociedad civil y la ciudadanía frente a la violencia. (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, Sede Santa Fe) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The main purpose of the meeting was to rethink about the main problems of the discourse and the practice of the civil society and the citizenship in contexts of violence and institutional fragility. There were presented the results of two research projects that address this problematic: "Assess the potential of civil organizations within the regions affected by criminal violence so that state institutions meet the goal of development based on human rights" and "Co" The construction of security provisions in Mexico: a methodology and a plan of action of the communities to the state ".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Foro Interdisciplinario: Para pensar el futuro de México 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Participation in the panel "Human Rights, Violence, Insecurity and Justice System" to discuss challenges and opportunities in the development of this topics to national level. There was a debate between experts in the security and human rights and developed proposed to changes in public policies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Hacia la justicia cuando escasean las garantías: el activismo en contextos de violencia y fragilidad institucional 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The event was an international conference on a topic related to the project. I was invited to give paper in a session on the topic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.colmich.edu.mx/coloquioXXXIX/
 
Description La capacidad de la sociedad civil para construir justicia en contexto de violencia en México 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Conference conducted in the framework of the "Ciclo de Seminarios sobre Antropología Jurídica" organized by the "Grup de Recerca en Antropología Jurídica (GRAJ)". This helped us to spread advances of the field work and to fed back.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Repensando la participación ciudadana en la construcción de políticas públicas de seguridad y justicia: foro para organizaciones, funcionarios y público en general (Morelia, Michoacán) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Forum of analysis and reflection on the terms of citizen participation in the construction of public security and justice policies,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Repensando la participación y colaboración ciudadana en la seguridad pública y la impartición de justicia: foro para organizaciones, actores gubernamentales e investigadores. (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, Sede Santa Fe) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The objective of the forum is twofold: on the one hand, how the concepts "Citizen Security" and "Human Security" are integrated into the public debate, especially in contexts of distrust towards institutions and social responsibility. Here, we could ask ourselves what are the limits and limits that exist between perspectives and how to apply participatory processes to define models of public security? For: the other, to discuss the role of civil society and citizens in contexts of violence and institutional fragility and to problematize definitions of common sense: what kind of citizen initiatives? How is civil society understood and organized?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Seeking justice in difficult contexts: comparing pro-justice initiatives across the state of Michoacán, Mexico 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited to give talk in weekly research seminar of Institute for the Americas at Universit College London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ucl.ac.uk/americas/ia-events/archive2017-18/activism-violence-michoacan