Monterrey, Mexico, 16 March 2021 – The Office of the Prosecutor in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon (FGJNL) this month received a donation of laboratory equipment and software that strengthens its capacities to make DNA-based identifications of challenging missing persons cases. The donation by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) is part of a USAID-funded project that helps the state enhance its capacity to account for missing persons.
Scientists at the Nuevo Leon state prosecutor’s laboratory will use the equipment to establish a dedicated missing persons DNA workflow that includes a new laboratory that will use advanced methods to extract DNA from challenging post mortem samples related to missing persons cases. A new unit will be established to analyse forensic data and to support the matching of victims’ DNA with that shared by the families of the missing.
“State- of-the-art DNA identification of the missing is a highly specialized undertaking. Sensitive methods for DNA extraction and detection in the laboratory are needed, as are complex statistical analyses, and integration with specialized DNA databases storing data from families of the missing,” said Thomas Parsons, ICMP Director of Science and Technology.
“When this exacting work flow is added on top of the routine cases encountered by a crime DNA lab, efficiency can be compromised. Nuevo Leon’s new dedicated, specialized laboratory will permit a focus on missing persons that should significantly increase the number and type of missing persons cases that can be resolved.”
In Mexico as a whole, more than 83,000 persons have been reported missing, according to the National Search Commission. More than 4,000 of these were reported in Nuevo Leon, where several mass graves containing burned remains have been found in recent years. The large scale of the problem and the condition of the mortal remains create complex operational challenges for the authorities both in locating and identifying the remains of missing persons.
The donation, worth about USD 73,000, is part of a USAID-funded project implemented by the civil society organization Citizens in Support of Human Rights (CADHAC) in partnership with ICMP. The project also includes technical and scientific level collaboration with local experts in the fields of forensic genetics, archaeology, anthropology and in the development of specialized data management systems. During a scientific exchange held as part of the project, Nuevo Leon forensic experts participated in trainings at the ICMP DNA Laboratory in The Hague to strengthen their skills in DNA extraction and genetic testing methods.
The Nuevo Leon state prosecutor’s office will complement the donation with reagents needed to extract DNA from victims´ remains.
The donation was formalized in an online event held on 2 March with the participation of the Nuevo Leon Prosecutor General Gustavo Adolfo Guerrero, ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger, USAID Mexico Director Bruce Abrams Mexico’s Under-Secretary for Human Rights, Migration, and Population, Alejandro Encinas, CADHAC Director General Ana Luna Serrano as well as family associations AMORES, Eslabones Nuevo León for Human Rights and Buscadoras Nuevo León.
Guerrero said: “The establishment of the DNA laboratory for bone remains and the Unit of Human Identification is part of a strategic plan to modernize the Prosecutor Office. This plan recognizes the central function of science and technology to fulfil the rights of families of the missing to effective investigations. We are bound to conduct prompt, exhaustive, impartial and thorough investigations that determine the whereabouts of the victims, the cause and manner of death of those not found alive, and to ensure that those responsible for disappearances are held accountable.”
Bomberger said: “Over the years, Nuevo Leon has adopted measures to form the basis of a sustainable missing persons process. This will not only bring answers to the families of the missing, but could also serve as a model for other states in Mexico. We look forward to continuing our partnership to face the enormous missing persons challenge.”
Abrams added that USAID prioritized cooperation with the Mexican government on missing persons and added: “We consider these efforts a collective endeavor, and therefore we support the civil society organizations and victims’ associations that perform extraordinary work in this area. ”
Serrano added: “The establishment of the specialized laboratory is a significant step in the long path towards the search of justice, truth and reparation for families of the missing, a path that is underpinned by the collaboration of families, civil society, and international agencies such as ICMP with the Prosecutor General.”
AMORES General Coordinator Socorro Ramírez, whose son Mauro Leal Ramírez disappeared in 2015, said: “We have high expectations and demands, and we recognize the efforts of the Prosecutor and the forensic experts. We wish them success and fast results, as we dearly depend on them.”
ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so. It is the only international organization tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons.