Disappearances have been a scourge of Mexican society since the student unrest that led to violent confrontations with police in 1968, and the incidence of disappearances has grown significantly with Mexico’s War on Drugs. More than 26,000 persons are estimated to have disappeared in Mexico in the last decade. According to Human Rights Watch, there is compelling evidence of involvement by state actors, including the army, the navy, and the Federal, state and municipal police, in forced disappearances. The issue of the missing, therefore, is very much at the heart of the current debate in Mexico over democratic accountability, the rule of law and the prospects for a return to social peace and cohesion.
On taking office in December 2012 President Enrique Pena Nieto promised to establish a national missing persons database. This has not yet been achieved.
Individual states, most prominently Nuevo Leon, have begun to make 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, in January 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 of Nuevo Leon. 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.
In addition, ICMP assists CADHAC and the families of the missing to ensure that the process of accounting for missing persons is transparent. CADHAC’s strategy is to create a web-based, interactive missing persons database using ICMP’s specialized online missing persons database (fDMS) that would be accessible to families and could be used to monitor progress in individual cases.
Progress made in resolving missing persons cases in Nuevo Leon could serve as a stepping stone for a broader process including other Mexican states.