On August 30, the International Day of the Victims of Forced Disappearances was commemorated. The Day was designated by the UN General Assembly in 2010, due to the growing number of forced or involuntary disappearances in several regions of the world, as well as the increase in complaints of harassment’s acts and intimidation towards witnesses or relatives of the disappeared persons.1 This anniversary, in addition to remembering the victims of this global scourge, also aims to highlight its existence and make the tireless struggle of thousands of family members in their search for truth, justice, comprehensive reparation and measures of non-repetition more and more visible.2
In Mexico, the commemoration was marked by the initiative by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, through the Ministry of the Interior, for the approval by the Senate of the declaration that will allow the acceptance of jurisdiction by the Committee against Disappearances Forced by the UN (CED), approval that was given unanimously last Tuesday, September 1 by the Mexican Senate, and that can be considered as a lever to pressure Mexico to resolve cases of forced disappearance, as well as to move forward in the search for truth, justice and in the fight against impunity.3 Indeed, the UN Committee will then be able to intervene by investigating and examining a case that has exhausted national remedies and dictating measures to the State, both for the specific case and for structural measures.4
The news seems even more outstanding if the data are considered: the National Search Commission registered from March 15, 1964 and until August 30, 2020, more than 75 thousand disappeared and not located people due to the action of the military and police forces, as well as groups of private interests. These people represent 41% of the 180,000 missing persons in the country since 1964.5 The government decision came after a decade of social and legal struggle by the relatives of the victims; since 2010, the year in which Mexico ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and with greater effort since 2018, the year of the arrival of the current government, civil society was pressuring the executive to allow the possibility that the UN could intervene directly, even though reconnaissance visits in Mexico, on a phenomenon that has been increasing in numbers since the so-called guerra al narcotráfico (war on drug trafficking) that began in 2006.6
In this context, it is worth mentioning the great commitment of the Paso del Norte AC Human Rights Center, an organization accompanied by PBI since 2012, which on August 30 took part in a demonstration to commemorate the International Day of the victims of Forced Disappearance, along with the families of the victims that the human rights center follows at the legal level.7 The event, organized by the group Familias Unidas por la Verdad y la Justicia, took place in front of the Attorney General's Office in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, a State that ranks sixth in terms of the number of missing persons, according to evidences from the National Registry of missing and not located persons (RNPDNO).8 The demonstration witnessed the participation of dozens of people, mainly mothers of victims of this scourge, and a statement was made in which it was vehemently emphasized that “As a society we cannot give in to indifference. It is a great cause for life and freedom, its demands are a sacred legacy that we must embrace and make it our own. It is a matter of social ethics, of humanity in people. The call we make today is to unite, collectives, organizations, activists, to form a permanent network of complaint and demand. The symbol would be a knotted net that becomes strong, that is capable of containing and resisting”.9
Despite the important advances that have taken place in the country in recent weeks, we cannot forget to mention that the phenomenon of forced disappearance in Mexico is not new, or has only taken place in recent years; according to experts in the field, forced disappearance is a practice that was carried out with great intensity during the 60s, 70s and 80s, in the period known as the Guerra Sucia (Dirty War) and that continued to occur during the period of the Zapatista conflict in the ninety.10
In this regard, it is important to recall the emblematic case of Rosendo Radilla, father of human rights defender Tita Radilla of the AFADEM organization, accompanied by PBI México since 2003, in his courageous fight for the disappeared and their families in the Mexican state of Guerrero. Rosendo was a prominent social leader who served as Municipal President of Atoyac de Álvarez, Guerrero, one of the regions of the country most interested in the Guerra Sucia. Because of his work for peasant causes and for the health and education of his people, he was illegally detained at a military checkpoint and disappeared in 1974.11 The Radilla case represents the first case in which the Inter-American Court condemned the Mexican State for serious violations Human Rights (2009), ordering a series of reparation measures. Despite having been ruled by the Inter-American Court, the case has gone unpunished for 46 years.12
As PBI Mexico we support organizations of both the Movement for Our Disappeared in Mexico and the National Campaign against Forced Disappearance, who fight for the issue of forced disappearance in Mexico to be recognized and for the voices of the victims to be heard and included in the design of public policies on the subject. We highlight the need for their recognition and protection as human rights defenders, and we express our solidarity with the important work they do every day.
We join the call of human rights organizations so that the recognition of the competence of the CED is an engine through which Mexican institutions fulfill their duties to the complete reparation of the damage, which goes from the search for the disappeared persons, compensation for families, protection of whistleblowers and guarantees of non-repetition.
10 Guevara y Chavez, “La impunidad en el contexto de la desaparición forzada en México”, 2018. http://www.cmdpdh.org/publicaciones-pdf/cmdpdh-la-impunidad-en-el-contexto-de-la-desaparicion-forzada.pdf