Durbin Chairs Hearing on Mexican and Colombian Drug Enforcement and US Criminal Justice Assistance

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) today chaired the first ever Congressional oversight hearing on U.S. rule of law assistance to foreign drug enforcement efforts. The hearing was held before Durbin’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law.

The United States is working with Mexico and Colombia to develop strong and effective criminal justice systems that will allow each country to protect their citizens from human rights violations while investigating and prosecuting drug trafficking and the violence associated with drug networks in each country.  Improving the justice systems of each country is part of a long-term strategy to help address serious human rights abuses – including extrajudicial killings, torture, and illegal detentions – as well as drug-related violence and corruption.
“The United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, with little Congressional oversight, to improve respect for the rule of law in other countries,” Durbin said. “Combating drug trafficking and protecting human rights in Mexico and Colombia is vital to our national security and must continue. We also can’t ignore our own responsibility in fueling drug trafficking and violence in these countries.  Vigorous oversight is necessary to ensure we’re putting our resources into programs that work and don’t contribute to human rights abuses in the very countries we’re trying to help.”
Durbin highlighted the United States’ role in the violence in Mexico and Colombia. It is estimated that nearly $10 billion in drug money is shipped from the U.S. to Mexico each year as our insatiable appetite for illegal drugs continues to expand. Guns from the United States are also being used in violent, drug related crimes in Mexico.  The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reports that more than 90% of the guns seized in Mexico can be traced back to the United States.
The Justice Department and State Department have worked closely with the Mexican and Colombian governments as both countries transition to adversarial system and seek to develop justice systems that are fair, efficient, and respectful of human rights.  The U.S. government has provided training and technical assistance to over 100,000 judges, prosecutors, police, and investigators in areas such as forensic evidence, criminal law, interview techniques, investigation and prosecution strategy, trial techniques, and case management.
Drug-related violence has continued in Mexico over the past year, despite the presence of the Mexican military in many areas along the U.S.-Mexican border. In Ciudad Juarez alone, there were over 2,600 murders last year.
Earlier this year, the military handed over control of the city to elite federal police forces. Durbin said that military occupation is not a long-term solution to the problem of drug violence in Mexico, and that increased capacity to investigate and prosecute drug trafficking networks is key to stopping the violence.
According to a recent Justice Department report, Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations represent “the greatest organized crime threat to the United States.”  Cartels are active in at least 230 U.S. cities – up from roughly 50 in 2006.

In Illinois, the Justice Department found that three Mexican drug cartels – Federation, Gulf Coast and Juárez – are active in Chicago, East St. Louis and Joliet.  According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexican drug cartels supply the vast majority of the cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana distributed in the Chicago area and downstate. Law enforcement officials estimate that $10 to $24 million in drug proceeds are sent from Chicago to America’s Southwest border each month.


The U.S. and Colombian governments have partnered for over a decade to make significant security gains and disrupt drug trafficking operations.  Yet despite these extensive efforts, there are still significant challenges to developing an effective judicial system and preventing human rights abuses in Colombia.  Prosecutions of human rights defenders and alleged executions of civilians by the military being passed off as rebel casualties are some of the highest profile obstacles to success.

U.S. strategy in Colombia relies on extraditions of drug traffickers to the United States as a short-term measure to disrupt drug trafficking organizations.  Since 2002, Colombia alone has extradited over 900 suspects to the United States.  While extradition can be effective in the short-term, it is not a long-term solution to illegal drug trafficking.
Testifying at today’s hearing were: Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice; David Johnson, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Lawrence Wasden, Idaho Attorney General; Gary King , New Mexico Attorney General; José Miguel Vivanco, Director, Americas Division, Human Rights Watch; and María Elena Morera, Executive Director, Causa en Común of Mexico City, Mexico.
Witness testimony and a webcast of today’s hearing can be found here.