Jan. 6, 2022

Congratulations to Alem Cherinet

Winner of the UCalgary Political Science 2020–21 Best MA Thesis Prize!
Cherinet in the mountains

Best Political Science Master’s Thesis Prize is for the best Master’s thesis defended in the Department of Political Science, open to any area of Political Science

Alem Cherinet’s thesis was written under the supervision of Dr. Pablo Policzer.


Dr. Policzer, tell us a bit about what made Alem’s thesis stand out.

Alem’s thesis asks a deceptively simple and straightforward question, namely what explains Mexico’s 2017 General Law on Forced Disappearances, the country’s first major legal effort to address the problem. A widely held view is that the Law was a direct response to the shocking 2014 massacre of 43 students in Ayotzinapa. But based on extensive field interviews and rigorous analysis, Alem argues that Ayotzinapa was at best a proximate but not the ultimate cause. She shows how through years of stubborn work, Mexican civil society activists and policymakers laid the groundwork for the General Law. Alem’s thesis belongs in a rich body of literature on how this kind of slow, cumulative hard work by activists and policymakers is essential to tackling a hard problem such as insecurity and violence, whether in Mexico or elsewhere.

Cherinet Headshot

Alem, what was your thesis’ title and main findings or arguments?

My thesis was entitled Violence, Causality, and the Emergence of Mexico’s General Law on Forced Disappearance and it examines the contexts, challenges, and development of policy to deal with Mexico’s phenomenon of missing persons amidst rising insecurity.

Enactment of the General Law came after eleven years of extreme violence and tens of thousands already disappeared. Its advent followed the explosive events of the Ayotzinapa tragedy in 2014, which blatantly exposed the state-crime nexus and detonated an absolute political crisis. I asked whether there was a causal relationship at play, between Ayotzinapa and the Law’s passage.

The thesis demonstrates, through process tracing and counterfactual analysis, that while Ayotzinapa was an important political and cognitive mechanism, the Law is actually the result of other critical background efforts that might otherwise go unseen. Punctuated by Ayotzinapa, this milestone legislation is the hard-earned achievement of civil society and its allies over more than a decade, culminating in a landmark lawsuit against the Mexican State.

What did you find the most rewarding about working on your thesis?

I was very fortunate to have done fieldwork for this thesis. It consisted of first-hand interviews with federal law and policymakers, civil society actors, and security scholars in Mexico. I was able to learn directly from those who were a part of the Law’s process, which gave me perspectives I would not have had, otherwise. Those insights shaped the thesis with impact and most importantly, allowed me to incorporate important voices within the literature on forced disappearance in Mexico. That was paramount for me and for the project.

So, what’s next for you after the thesis?

I am now a project manager for an international unit focused on policy, research, advising, and capacity-building in extractive and natural resources. We take on global projects in petroleum, mining, energy, climate, and sustainability. I look forward to continued engagement with complex policy and security issues here, supporting principles of partnership and dialogue, and collaborating to advance good governance.


Congratulations to Alem Cherinet on your 2020–21 UCalgary Political Science Best Thesis Prize!


To find out more about our paper prizes and past prize winners,  please visit the Political Science website.