26 November 2021
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances ends its visit to Mexico today. This is our first country visit under article 33 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearance.
The Committee is a collegiate body composed of 10 independent experts, appointed by the States parties to the Convention. Its role is to monitor the implementation of this treaty.
For the purpose of this visit, the Committee appointed four of its members present here today: Juan Pablo Albán Alencastro; Juan José López Ortega; Horacio Ravenna and myself, Carmen Rosa Villa Quintana. We were accompanied by two members of the Committee's Secretariat: Albane Prophette-Pallasco and Sergio Giuliano. Our delegation was also supported by the Office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Committee underlines the importance of Mexico's acceptance of this visit, which is a clear expression of the State's openness to international scrutiny and support.
The report of the present visit will be discussed and adopted by the plenary of the Committee during its 22nd session, which will take place in Geneva between 28 March and 8 April 2022. We trust that the recommendations adopted will be implemented and that they will contribute to solving the scourge of enforced disappearances in Mexico. We reiterate the Committee's full readiness to support this process.
We express our gratitude for the cooperation and facilities provided by the Mexican State before and during the visit, which has allowed us to meet with various authorities related to the issue of enforced disappearance, both at the federal and State levels. In this context, we visited 13 States: Chihuahua, Mexico City, Coahuila, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Mexico State, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Veracruz. We have held 48 meetings with more than 80 authorities, and 33 meetings with hundreds of victims, and dozens of victims' collectives and civil society organisations from almost every State.
We accompanied exhumations and search days in the States of Morelos, Coahuila and the State of Mexico. We also visited the Human Identification Centre in Coahuila. We further went to several federal, state and migrant detention centres in order to verify the compliance of official records with the obligations contained in the Convention.
This morning, we met with the Undersecretary for Human Rights, Alejandro Encinas, and other federal authorities, as well as with senior officials of the armed forces. We shared with them a preview of the first impressions of our visit.
Without prejudice to the future adoption of the Committee's report, we would like to highlight some general aspects that we noted during our stay in Mexico from 15 to 26 November 2021.
Firstly, we welcome the recognition of the competence of the Committee to examine individual complaints, as well as the decision of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation that recognizes the binding nature of the Urgent Actions issued by the Committee.
We have also noted the legislative and institutional advances that have taken place in the past years. As we stated in our concluding observations in 2018, we highlight the importance of the adoption of the General Law on Enforced Disappearance of Persons, Disappearance committed by Private Individuals and the National System for the Search for Persons, as well as the General Law on Victims.
We also recognise the adoption of the Homologated Search Protocol and the Additional Protocol for the Search for Children and Adolescents, as well as the establishment of search commissions at the state level, the National Register of Disappeared and Disappeared Persons, the Extraordinary Forensic Identification Mechanism (MEIF), and the Regional Centre for Human Identification in Coahuila.
We also wish to highlight the most recent actions: the creation of the Commission for Access to Truth, Historical Clarification and the Promotion of Justice for serious human rights violations committed between 1965 - 1990; the creation of the Transnational Mechanism for Access to Justice for Migrants and the Search Table for Disappeared Migrants within the National Search System.
All these norms and mechanisms constitute tools with great potential, whose effective implementation should be a priority in the fight against enforced disappearances.
Notwithstanding the above, we regret that the phenomenon of disappearance continues to be widespread over much of the territory of the State party in the face of which, as we have stated in the past, “impunity and revictimization prevail”.
Although the authorities have informed us of a reduction in the number of records of disappeared persons, we cannot ignore the need for Mexico to adopt a national prevention policy to eradicate disappearances, which involves all authorities, and which gives effect to the rights of victims to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition. It is not only about the victims, as enforced disappearance is a problem for everyone: Mexican society as a whole and humanity at large.
During the visit, we received worrying information, both from authorities and victims, about varying patterns in the commission of enforced disappearances in different regions of the country, which operate simultaneously and evidence scenarios of collusion between State agents and organised crime. In addition to this, some enforced disappearances are committed directly by State agents.
Furthermore, we note with concern that several of the recommendations made by the Committee to Mexico in 2015 and 2018 are still pending implementation.
Already at that time, we stressed the importance of putting in place as soon as possible the registers and tools provided for in the General Law en Enforced Disappearances. Some actions remain pending that are essential to have reliable data.
In this sense, we stress that disappearances are not only a phenomenon of the past, but still persist. According to official figures, as of today, the National Register of Disappeared and Disappeared Persons indicates a figure of 95121 disappeared persons, out of which more than a hundred were allegedly disappeared during our stay. At the same time, the effort to keep this register up to date allows us to get closer to a real dimension of the problem of disappearances in Mexico.
Within this information, we must highlight the notable increase in the number of disappearances of children, adolescents and women. We regret to note that this trend worsened in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic.
Migrants are also a group particularly vulnerable to disappearances. The massacres in San Fernando, Cadereyta and Camargo are just a few examples. We have received information of people who started their migratory route and ended up in clandestine graves. Others are illegally deprived of their liberty without communication with the outside world, situation that potentially converts them into disappeared persons.
The lack of coordination between authorities and the limited powers of the National and State Search Commissions prejudice the search for disappeared persons while they are still alive, and the removal of bodies from the places where they were found, among other procedures.
As the victims insistently repeat: "Alive they were disappeared, alive we want them back". Search under the presumption that the disappeared person is alive is a priority. There are several protocols for action, in particular the Homologated Search Protocol. This protocol is a model instrument, but its proper implementation is still necessary. In this connection, we stress the importance of joining all efforts to make proper use of the tools provided by this protocol, which is a fundamental instrument to clarify the fate and whereabouts of disappeared persons.
During these two weeks, the victims with whom we spoke conveyed the image of a society overwhelmed by the phenomenon of disappearances, the systemic impunity and their powerlessness in the face of the inaction of some authorities. They pointed out that day by day, in their search for answers and justice, they suffer the indifference and lack of progress. They have vehemently expressed to us their pain and that disappeared persons are not numbers, but human beings. The search, the investigation, the establishment of responsibilities, the uncovering of the truth and comprehensive reparation are not always a priority for some of the authorities.
Each of these cases is an indescribable human drama. Their dimensions are such that they are leaving deep and irreparable marks for the victims, but also for society at large.
In the face of this reality, the root causes of disappearances have not been addressed. The security approach that has been adopted is not only insufficient, but also inadequate.
In this context, the fight against impunity cannot wait. As we all know, and as the Committee and other international and regional human rights mechanisms have already highlighted in their concluding observations, impunity is almost absolute.
This structural impunity favours the reproduction and concealment of enforced disappearances. As one victim told us: "Human beings live on faith and hope, but when there is injustice, our soul never rests".
Overcoming impunity requires a comprehensive State strategy to address its multiple causes, including:
- ineffective investigation of these crimes;
- a distorted understanding of the autonomy of the Prosecutor's Offices, as a kind of discretion that leads them to deny cooperation in the search process;
- the transfer of responsibility for investigating and providing evidence to the victims;
- a criminal procedure system that retains some of the inertia of the past.
In addition, several factors hinder access to justice:
- the limited legal assistance provided to victims to advance their cases;
- the geographical, linguistic and discriminatory obstacles faced by groups of the population, such as indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, migrants and LGTBI+ persons;
- the frequent non-application of mechanisms provided for in the domestic legal system, such as the amparo buscador, which by their purpose and nature should be simple and accessible to any person.
To this we must add the often passive attitude of judicial institutions in the face of such a serious phenomenon as the disappearance of persons, that all spheres of public power have the responsibility to attend.
This results in a notable lack of confidence in the system by the victims. During the visit, many victims expressed their frustration for a variety of reasons, such as:
- the delay and lack of results in investigations;
- the fragmentation and insufficient articulation between search and investigation entities;
- the refusal of some authorities to provide information;
- the lack of follow-up to the requirements and provisions issued in the framework of investigations;
- the frequent omission of due diligence standards applicable in this type of cases, such as the immediate search, the differentiated approach and the context analysis;
- the absence of effective accountability mechanisms.
Victims’ lack of confidence is exacerbated by the very low number of indictments brought, of arrest warrants executed, and of sentences issued in cases of enforced disappearance, as well as by the encouraging effect that impunity has on perpetrators.
We are further concerned by the risks faced by those involved in search and justice processes, not only victims and their defenders, but also State officials, especially in view of the limited effectiveness of protection mechanisms. Unfortunately, the recent murder of several searchers and the disappearance of one evidence this situation. Added to this are the high levels of violence by organised crime, often assisted, according to the information provided, by State security forces.
Additionally, we are concerned about the stereotyping and stigmatisation of disappeared persons and their relatives, often used as an excuse to "justify" poor State action. This creates a chilling effect and a culture of non-reporting due to fear of reprisals, which contributes to the invisibility of many disappearances.
Progress in forensic matters is obscured by a serious crisis, whose starkest demonstration is the more than 52,000 unidentified dead bodies. The undignified treatment and the lack of adequate support for relatives in the identification and return processes only aggravate this situation.
For disappearances in Mexico to cease being the paradigm of the perfect crime, the response to all these factors is urgent, both for cases that began in the past and for those perpetrated recently.
It is also necessary to break the cycle of re-victimisation: people disappear, but also located bodies and even files. With all this, hope for justice disappears. The victims’ desperate cry is heart-breaking and requires immediate intervention.
In this sense, it is particularly important to adopt measures of care and comprehensive reparation for the victims, with a gender and multicultural approach. In addition, it is a priority to take into account the aggravated impacts of disappearances on the children of the victims.
As we conclude our visit, we cannot fail to highlight and applaud the fundamental role of women in the fight against this crime, which has been key to making them visible at a global level and to achieving the legal and institutional advances that have been made.
We must also recognise the commitment and empathy with the victims that certain federal and state officials have shown, and their remarkable efforts to recognise and address this critical situation. Their impetus to the search or the instances of dialogue with victims are efforts that we highlight. We hope that their conduct will serve as an example. It is imperative that all State officials act with the same responsibility and commit themselves to all the families who today await the return of a loved one.
We strongly condemn the vandalising of a memorial site in Guadalajara following the Committee's conversation with victims' groups. The solidarity and empathy of society with the victims is fundamental. We recall that no one who has participated in the conversations or contributed information to the Committee shall be subject to reprisals.
The challenge is immense, we recognise it. No system or mechanism can succeed without political will, effective participation of victims, sufficient financial resources and sufficient staff that is properly trained, competent and committed to carry out the search for disappeared persons and the required investigations into their disappearance.
We hereby restate that our guiding goal is not only to document the situation, but to identify ways of working with the authorities, victims and other actors to eradicate and prevent enforced disappearances. As we said at the beginning of our visit: "By working together, we can conclude lessons learned, and identify ways to contribute to the eradication and prevention of enforced disappearances in the country".
The Committee reiterates its unwavering commitment to continue to support all victims of enforced disappearance, while urging the State to comply with its obligations under the Convention.
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