UCSD Hosts Security and Human Rights Conference

Scholars and policymakers gathered at UCSD to discuss the human rights issues attached to the unprecedented violence in Mexico and Central America during a two-day conference on Jan. 15 to 16. The conference — “Citizenship, Security and Human Rights in Mexico and Central America” — is the first major one of its kind to take place since the 2014 Iguala mass disappearance and President Obama’s recent announcement on plans for immigration reform.

The Center for U.S. — Mexican Studies at the IR/PS and Eleanor Roosevelt College’s Human Rights Programs organized the conference. International House, the Center on Global Justice, Blum Cross-Border Initiative and Scholars Strategy Network also co-sponsored the conference.

It began on Jan. 15 by showcasing student work regarding the issues, which included fieldwork and poster presentations. The event then transitioned into a discussion about security at the intersection of citizenship and human rights in Mexico.

Following that, the conference hosted a book panel to examine the politics and communities of violence and crime in Latin America. The two main subtopics were extralegal violence and its justifications and crafting criminals to legitimize violence.

Authors and scholars Pablo Piccato (Columbia University); David Carey, Jr. (Loyola University Maryland); Gema Santamaria and Luis Herran (The New School for Social Research) served as panelists. Associate professor of history at Boston University Jeffrey Rubin moderated a questions & answers session with the panelists directly after.

The first day of the conference ended with a roundtable discussion in Spanish, focusing on the consequences of the 2014 Iguala incident in which the criminal organization Guerreros Unidos abducted and allegedly massacred the students, likely in coordination with local government and police forces. The speakers discussed how the incident has produced an overwhelming civil society response in Mexico and across the world, calling for an end to impunity for the violators of human rights.

Carlos Vilalta (Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas) moderated the discussion with Maria Teresa Sierra (Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social), Abel Barrera Hernandez (Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Montana), Alberto Diaz-Cayeros (Stanford University) and journalist Marcel Turati (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas) serving as speakers.

Dean of the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies Peter Cowhey thinks Latin American citizens are becoming increasingly desperate for the violence to cease.

“Increasing crime in Mexico and Central America has made life in these countries more precarious and insecure, causing citizens to become more willing to approve the state’s use of force and even to take matters into their own hands,” Cowhey said.

On the conference’s second and final day, a panel gathered to examine human rights and transnational violence, focusing on those who have borne the largest brunt of the violence. The panel also discussed the gendered, generational and racial nature of violence in response to the trends of femicide and domestic violence, as well as the discoveries of mass graves of Central American migrants and the continued detention and deportation of youths.

Associate professor of sociology David FitzGerald delivered an introduction and moderated a questions & answers session with the panelists — Lynn Stephen (University of Oregon), Shannon Speed (University of Texas, Austin) and UCSD associate professor of communication Elana Zilberg.

The conference ended with a roundtable discussion debating transnational policy responses. Everard Meade moderated the discussion with Rafael Fernandez de Castro (Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico) and Maureen Meyer (Washington Office on Latin America) serving as speakers.