From 8 to 11 June, ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger and Deputy Director of Forensic Sciences Adi Rizvic were in Monterrey, the capital of the state of Nuevo Leon in northern Mexico, to take part in a series of activities with the NGO, Citizens in Support for Human Rights (CADHAC).
CADHAC was founded in 1993 to help people who have been wrongfully imprisoned, and to offer assistance to families of the disappeared. It has developed an innovative operating method that brings together families of victims, civil society and the authorities. Over the last 20 years, CADHAC has been able to change the way the issue of the missing is viewed in Nuevo Leon – by the police, prosecutors, judicial authorities and the general public – and as a result more systematic and effective ways of investigating disappearances and prosecuting those responsible have been introduced.
Since 2014, ICMP and CADHAC have been preparing a missing persons initiative together with family groups and other NGOs and the Attorney General’s office in Nuevo Leon. During the June visit CADHAC and ICMP reviewed ways to cooperate in promoting the development of institutional capacities and activities that will sustain cooperation among government agencies, civil society and families of the missing in Nuevo Leon.
Ms Bomberger and Mr Rizvic participated in workshops to discuss the design and application of a database that will bring together all relevant information on missing persons (including genetic data). This database approach has been crucial in ICMP’s successful efforts to help the authorities in other countries account for large numbers of missing persons. ICMP’s unique Identification Data Management System (iDMS) can be adapted for use in different countries and circumstances. Both CADHAC and ICMP have developed an approach that stresses the need to empower families of the missing so that they can make their case effectively to the political authorities. ICMP has consistently argued that missing persons cases – including those involving very large numbers of people – must be viewed in a rule-of-law rather than a strictly humanitarian context, which means focusing energy on investigating disappearances and ensuring access to justice for the families of the missing.
Speaking at a press conference in Nuevo Leon, Ms Bomberger said the Mexican authorities could derive a number of benefits from cooperation with ICMP. “We have the experience and capacity to assist countries in identifying thousands of missing persons cases, and we maintain the highest standards of data protection.” She stressed that tackling the missing persons issue is not simply a case of comparing genetic data: it is a complex challenge that requires a complex solution. “Enforced disappearance has political, economic and emotional aspects; it’s not just a matter of establishing a laboratory for genetic identification. You have to facilitate identification and at the same time you have to secure the rights to justice and truth, and that means engaging the state.”
Ms Bomberger and CADHAC’s Director, Sister Consuelo Morales, expressed the hope that a successful missing persons pilot initiative in Nuevo Leon can establish operating procedures that could be applied throughout Mexico.
The need for such a process has been repeatedly pointed up in gruesome fashion in recent months as Mexico has struggled with a horrific upsurge in enforced disappearances. The abduction of 43 students in the state of Guerrero in September 2014 attracted worldwide attention. The case revealed a culture of close cooperation between the local political establishment and criminal gangs, apparently with the connivance of police. It has been viewed as a microcosm: more than 26,000 persons are estimated to have disappeared in Mexico in the last decade.
The treaty signed in Brussels last December, which granted ICMP the legal and administrative status of an International Organization in its own right, means that it now has greater latitude to operate in different parts of the world. “I believe ICMP’s cooperation with CADHAC in Mexico can establish a pattern that can be applied in other countries,” Ms Bomberger said. She added that ICMP is developing an online database function that will make it possible to register and process missing persons information from multiple geographical sources.