A report released in mid-June by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) found that an average of 54 undocumented Central and South American migrants are kidnapped each day in Mexico. The victims are subjected to physical and emotional violence during their captivity, and their families are contacted to pay ransoms for their release. Others are forced into slavery, prostitution, and other forms of exploitation. In a press conference on June 15, José Luis Soberanes Fernández, the commission’s president, said that the study identified 9,758 migrants who were kidnapped between September 2008 and February of this year, who represent a mere snapshot of a widespread and often ignored human rights issue.
The plight of through-migrants in Mexico en route to the United States has long been a concern for human rights groups in and outside of Mexico, given their vulnerability due to their unfamiliarity with their protections under Mexican and international law and an unwillingness to present themselves to Mexican authorities; and their chosen methods of transportation, particularly via cargo trains and trucks through remote parts of the country. The report by CNDH attempts to quantify the problem, and discuss its implications for human rights, public security, and the integrity of the criminal justice system.
CNDH interviewed migrants in shelters run by interested human rights groups and religious organizations over the course of the six month period, and also compiled complaints registered by the CNDH at its central and regional offices during the same time. In all, the investigation documented 198 “kidnapping events,” the vast majority of them on a large scale, where many migrants were rounded up at once. The report attributes 9,194 of the cases to organized crime, and the rest to Mexican law enforcement authorities, or a combination of the two. Of all the migrants that the report documents, 67 percent are from Honduras, 18 percent from El Salvador, and 13 percent from Guatemala. The report also documents claims from Nicaraguan, Ecuadorian, Brazilian, Chilean, Costa Rican, and Peruvian migrants. The southern states of Veracruz and Tabasco were the most heavily represented, with more than 2000 cases
each, while the border state of Tamaulipas accounted for more than 900. The report is clear in
highlighting its own limitations given the time constraints and the hidden nature of undocumented migrants, but points out that these investigative shortcomings only suggest that the numbers are higher.
The report also points to the financial gains made by organized crime and corrupt officials by way of kidnapping and extorting migrants. Based on its interviews, the CNDH found that ransoms demanded by kidnappers ranged from US$1500 to US$5000, with an average of US$2500. By that measure, the report calculates approximately US$25 million in illicit profit over the 6-month period. The report did not, however, clarify whether these numbers represented amounts ultimately collected.
The report concludes that there exist dire shortcomings at all levels of the justice system in protecting undocumented migrants, from prevention to punishment of crimes. Upon citing several protections offered to undocumented migrants under Mexico’s constitution, penal code, and international human rights treaties, the report points out that there still does not exist uniformity in punishing convicted kidnappers in Mexico. Minimum sentences have been left to individual states to define, and vary greatly – Campeche and Quintana Roo have established a minimum sentence of 5 years, while in Oaxaca and Guerrero the
minimum is 40. The report also denounces a systematic unwillingness of Mexican authorities to respond to reports of kidnapping and abuse of undocumented migrants, underscored by the numerous reports of officials perpetrating the crimes, or acting in complicity.
From the June Justice in Mexico Project’s Monthly News Report:
“Informe especial de la comisión nacional de los derechos humanos sobre los casos de secuestro en contra de migrantes.”
Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos Special Report June, 2009.
Ballinos, Víctor. “Registra CNDH 9,758 plagios de migrantes en sólo seis meses, conganancia de 25 mdd.” La Jornada June 16,