Mexican President Felipe Calderon has been president since December 2006.

Story highlights

President Felipe Calderon speaks at an event marking five years of his presidency

"We are going to continue defending the citizens until the last day of my term," he says

The president warns that drug cartels are "threatening democracy"

He says his government has captured or killed 21 of 37 most wanted criminals

Mexico City CNN  — 

Mexico’s president defended his drug war strategy Sunday, pledging to continue his fight against organized crime.

“The first obligation of a government is to guarantee the security and the rights of the citizens,” President Felipe Calderon said. “We have done that, and we are going to continue defending the citizens until the last day of my term.”

Calderon spoke at an event marking five years of his presidency. He declared a crackdown on cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006, deploying thousands of troops into some parts of the country.

With one year left in his term, Calderon’s remarks Sunday came as political campaigns heat up among candidates hoping to be his successor. Mexico’s security situation, and the government’s tactics for dealing with drug cartels, are likely to figure heavily in debates leading up to next year’s elections.

In his remarks Sunday, Calderon warned that drug cartels were already “threatening democracy” by attempting to manipulate election results.

Calderon praised his government’s crime-fighting record, noting that 21 of 37 criminals on the nation’s most wanted list earlier in his term had been captured or killed.

He vowed to continue efforts to stamp out corruption and strengthen judicial institutions.

“The country needs to be able to count on honest, dependable police that are serving the citizens and not the criminals,” he said.

Calderon also said his government was committed to human rights, and said he had reacted swiftly when any violations of rights were reported.

Criticism has mounted over Mexico’s drug war strategy and the country’s human rights record.

Last month, a group of activists filed a 700-page complaint with the International Criminal Court in the Hague, the Netherlands, alleging more than 470 cases of human rights violations against women and children.

“What we are denouncing are behaviors that are becoming systematic in the Army and Armed Forces such as rape, forced disappearances, killing of civilians and cover-ups of these killings. A series of a disturbing number of violations against international humanitarian laws lead directly to Felipe Calderon’s responsibility,” Netzai Sandoval, a lawyer representing the activist group, told

Calderon’s office released a statement describing the allegations as “false and slanderous.”

“In the instances where, unfortunately, it has become known that violations of human rights were committed, the government not only has condemned such actions, but also has judicially proceeded against those responsible before the appropriate tribunals,” the statement said.