The abduction of 43 students in the state of Guerrero in southwestern Mexico on 26 September 2014 focused worldwide attention on Mexico’s missing persons crisis. The case of the kidnapped students, which revealed a culture of close cooperation between the local political establishment and criminal gangs, apparently with the connivance of police, has been viewed as a microcosm: more than 26,000 persons are estimated to have disappeared in Mexico in the last decade amid compelling evidence of involvement by state actors, including the army, the navy, and the Federal, state and municipal police.
The presidency of Felipe Calderon, from December 2006 to December 2012 witnessed an all-out war between the state, which deployed combat troops, and the country’s drug cartels, which had become powerful enough to challenge the civil authority. The ensuing violence led to a catastrophic rise in murder rates and in the number of unsolved disappearances. Calderon’s successor, Enrique Pena Nieto, promised to end the violence, but while the number of homicides has declined, there is little sign that the authorities have been able to restore the rule of law or make much progress in the struggle against the drug cartels.
On taking office in December 2012 Pena Nieto promised to establish a national missing persons database. This has not yet been done. A report published by the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances in February 2015 urged the Mexican authorities to enact legislation establishing enforced disappearance as a crime. “The information received by the committee shows a context of generalized disappearances in a great part of the country, many of which could qualify as enforced disappearances,” the Committee said. It voiced concern over “the near inexistence” of convictions in such disappearances.
Individual states, most prominently Nuevo Leon, have begun to make some progress in addressing the missing persons issue, largely in response to pressure from local human rights NGOs. Citizens in Support of Human Rights (CADHAC) led by Sister Consuelo Morales has brought together families of the missing to lobby the Nuevo Leon authorities, including the office of the Attorney General, to investigate missing persons cases.
ICMP visited Monterey, the capital of Nuevo Leon, at the beginning of 2014. As a result, the Attorney General of Nuevo Leon invited ICMP to assess potential measures to locate and identify the estimated 1,000 persons reported missing in the state. As part of these measures it is proposed that the Attorney General’s office and the Criminalistics Laboratory build capacity to create an accurate missing persons database and to make scientifically-based identifications with assistance from ICMP.
Progress made in resolving missing persons cases in Nuevo Leon could serve as a stepping stone to a broader process including other Mexican states.