Mexico and disappearances: special report by Human Rights Watch

February 21, 2013

Mexico’s security forces have participated in widespread enforced disappearances, Human Rights Watch said in a special report released on 20 February 2013.  Virtually none of the victims have been found or those responsible brought to justice, exacerbating the suffering of families of the disappeared, Human Rights Watch found. The 176-page report, “Mexico’s Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored,” documents nearly 250 “disappearances” from December 2006 to December 2012. In 149 of those cases, Human Rights Watch found compelling evidence of enforced disappearances, involving the participation of state agents. HRW_logo

President Peña Nieto has inherited one of worst crises of disappearances in the history of Latin America,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “While his administration has announced some important measures to assist victims, it has yet to take the steps necessary to ensure that those responsible for these horrific crimes are brought to justice.

Human Rights Watch found evidence that members of all branches of the security forces carried out enforced disappearances: the Army, the Navy, and the federal and local police. In some cases, such as a series of more than 20 enforced disappearances by Navy personnel in June and July 2011 in Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, the common modus operandi of the crimes, the scale of the operations, and the inconsistent accounts by the Navy suggest the crimes may have been planned and coordinated. In over 60 cases, Human Rights Watch found evidence that state agents collaborated directly with organized crime groups to “disappear” people and extort payments from their families. For example, evidence indicates that local police in Pesquería, Nuevo León arbitrarily detained 19 construction workers in May 2011 and handed them over to an organized crime group. The men have not been seen since…..

In none of the 249 cases documented by Human Rights Watch have the people responsible been convicted for carrying out disappearances.  The inept or altogether absent investigations exacerbate the suffering of the families, for whom not knowing what happened to their loved ones is a source of perpetual anguish. Making matters worse, families of the disappeared may lose access to basic social services that are tied to the victim’s employment, forcing them to fight slow, costly, and emotionally draining battles to restore essential benefits such as child care.

Human Rights Watch urged the Mexican government to:

  • Establish comprehensive, accurate national databases of the disappeared and of unidentified human remains;
  • Reform the Military Code of Justice to ensure that all alleged human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, committed by military personnel against civilians are investigated and prosecuted in the civilian justice system;
  • Revise the definition of enforced disappearance in federal and state laws to ensure that it is consistent across Mexico and in line with international human rights law; and
  • Issue an executive order mandating the immediate presentation of all detainees before the public prosecutor’s office and making clear that under no circumstances may detainees be taken to military installations, police stations, or illegal detention facilities.

The  report is also available in:

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