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Commissioners:  Tracy Robinson, Rodrigo Escobar Gil, Rosa María Ortiz, Felipe González, Elizabeth Abi-Mershed (Deputy Executive Secretary)

Petitioners:  Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos y Víctimas de Violaciones a los Derechos Humanos en México (AFADEM-FEDEFAM), Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos A.C. (CMDPDH), Ciudadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos A.C. (CADHAC), Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio en México (H.I.J.O.S. México), Fuerzas Unidas para Encontrar a Nuestros Desaparecidos en México (FUNDEM), Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Distrito Federal de México (CDHDF)

State:  Mexico

Photo Credit: Comision Interamericana de Derechos Humanos
Photo Credit: Comision Interamericana de Derechos Humanos

The Petitioners for this November 1, 2013 thematic hearing began by acknowledging that the topic of disappeared persons in Mexico is not new to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The Commission first formally identified the issue of disappeared persons in Mexico in its 1998 country report, and since then has issued precautionary measures, held further hearings on the topic, and conducted a country visit in 2011. The Petitioners argue that despite these efforts, the problem persists as the State has failed to adequately investigate cases, address the needs of the victims, and, in some instances, allegedly committed the disappearances themselves.

Noting the long history of disappearances in Mexico, starting with the Dirty Wars in the 1960s, the Petitioners claimed that the lack of a strong legal framework and intervention strategies to address the problem has led to the current situation, in which tens of thousands of persons have been disappeared as a result of the armed conflict that began in 2006. The Petitioners put forth numerous recommendations to the state to improve investigations and assist victims. One recommendation was to strengthen the independence of investigators in order to avoid cases where the investigators are from the same organization that has allegedly committed the disappearances. This is especially true with cases involving the military and police. Another recommendation was the rapid investigation of cases. The Commission actually made a similar recommendation following its 1998 country visit, but the Petitioners claimed it has gone unfulfilled, as there is a routine delay with investigating cases, leading to lost evidence and more suffering for victims. The Petitioners acknowledged the important step that the State took by creating a national database for missing persons, but added that its methodologies and procedures still need to be developed and that it hides the true magnitude of the problem. In conclusion, the Petitioners recognized that the issue of disappeared persons is a problem throughout the region and that many of the disappeared persons in Mexico are migrants from Central American countries. They called for the State to take a leading role in the region and for the Commission to establish a special rapporteur for this issue.

The State of Mexico responded by noting that they have been addressing this issue for years and that there are many challenges they face. The State indicated the need for frank dialogue between all parties, including the Petitioner civil society groups, to help address the grave but delicate issue of disappeared persons in Mexico. The State highlighted its agreement with the Red Cross from earlier in the year, which has successfully established a working group comprised of members from the Red Cross, the Attorney General’s office, and representatives from various governmental agencies. The working group has put forth initiatives to harmonize laws dealing with disappeared persons, better utilize technology for inter-agency communication and the establishment of the national database of missing persons, and improve investigation techniques to bolster the use of forensic technology and protect witnesses. Additionally, the working group has recognized the need to assist family members of the missing through protection and economic reparations. The State also highlighted its success in instituting an Amber Alert system for finding missing children and establishing a forensic science commission with domestic and international organizations to investigate three large mass grave sites in the states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. At the end of its remarks, the State reaffirmed its goals of investigating cases and finding the disappeared, assisting affected families, and working together with civil society to address this problem.

The Commissioners recognized the progress and steps taken by the State to address the ongoing issue of disappeared persons. The Commissioners noted, though, that many of the initiatives are in their beginning stages, notably the national database for missing persons and the forensic science commission. The Commissioners explained that the State must ensure that these initiatives are fully implemented, especially because citizens do not have much confidence in the State’s willingness to address this issue. The Commissioners also emphasized the duty of the State to protect and support those affected, especially in cases where the missing person was the breadwinner for the family. The Commissioners also encouraged the State to implement the adequate legal frameworks and protocols needed to address the current situation.

The hearing concluded with the Petitioners presenting a video of testimonies from citizens whose family members are currently missing.