05/18/2021 (written by rramos) – On April 27, Jalisco’s State Human Rights Commission (Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, CEDH) published a map that highlighted the 30 municipalities in the state with the highest numbers of reported missing persons. According to the CEDH map, a significant portion of reported disappearances were concentrated in certain regions of the state. Jalisco’s capital city of Guadalajara and its surrounding suburbs had the largest total numbers of disappearance cases. Guadalajara led with 4,136 missing persons reported, followed by the neighboring municipalities of Zapopan (2,136 disappearances), Tlajomulco de Zúñiga (1,844), San Pedro Tlaquepaque (1,599), Tonalá (1,004), and El Salto (797).
Outside of the Guadalajara metropolitan area, other regions of Jalisco also drew particular concern. The Highlands (Los Altos) region in the northeastern portion of the state suffered from high numbers of disappearances, with municipalities like Lagos de Moreno and Tepatitlán de Morelos reporting 478 and 321 missing persons respectively. Disappearances were also found to be concentrated in various towns in the Ciénega region, such as La Barca, Ocotlán, and Jocotepec, all of which are situated near Lake Chapala and the state border with Michoacán. Several municipalities along Jalisco’s Pacific coast also featured in the map, most notably the resort city of Puerto Vallarta with 474 disappearances and Cihuatlán with 124. According to the federal Interior Ministry (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB), these regions of Jalisco in which disappearances have been concentrated are “characterized by the operation of organized crime groups” (author’s own translation), suggesting a correlation between the presence of criminal actors and higher levels of disappearances.
Policy Recommendations for Local Governments
In a press release that accompanied the map’s publication, the Jalisco State Human Rights Commission (CEDH) issued a series of policy recommendations to all of Jalisco’s 125 municipalities in light of the growing number of unresolved disappearances throughout the state. The commission noted with particular concern the widespread absence of specialized municipal agencies or programs focused on preventing disappearances, as well as municipal governments’ general lack of coordination with relevant federal and state authorities. The CEDH stated that these factors contributed to a generalized failure to adequately address the problem of disappearances in Jalisco.
The recommendations put forward by the CEDH concentrated on the areas of prevention, building institutional capacity, and assistance to victims. Regarding prevention, many recommendations focused on ways to obtain more reports and tips from the general public in the hope of acquiring actionable information that could enable authorities to quickly locate missing persons after their disappearance is reported. These included calls to work with federal and state agencies to develop public alert systems and to implement public awareness campaigns in schools targeted toward young people.
To strengthen municipal governments’ ability to respond to disappearances, the CEDH recommended the creation of specialized units and groups dedicated to processing reports of missing persons and assisting with search efforts. The Commission also urged municipalities to collaborate with Jalisco’s Special Attorney General’s Office for Disappeared Persons (Fiscalía Especial en Personas Desaparecidas) to analyze geographic trends, time-based patterns, common characteristics among victims, and other data that may deepen officials’ understanding of how disappearances occur.
In assisting victims and their families, the CEDH voiced support for greater municipal actions to guarantee the security of family members and others coming forward to report disappearances, including the establishment of municipal-run shelters to protect reporting parties from possible retribution. The CEDH argued that ensuring greater safety for those who come forward to report disappearances and provide information will encourage more people to work collaboratively with officials to find missing persons.
Trends in Disappearances at the National Level
When assessing disappearances at the national level, a number of overarching trends appear to be taking hold.
Firstly, disappearances in Mexico seem to be highly concentrated geographically. A report by the Secretary of the Interior (SEGOB) released in January 2021 found that 76.6% of disappearances reported nationwide between December 2018 and December 2020 were concentrated in only ten states. This was roughly consistent with an earlier estimate from Alejandro Encinas, undersecretary for human rights at SEGOB, who had told El Economista in October 2020 that 81% of disappearances reported during the term of current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2018-2024) were concentrated in ten states. Within states, disappearances seem to be further concentrated at the municipal level. In one example, reported disappearances in Puebla were clearly more prevalent in certain municipalities, similar to the geographic distribution of disappearances in Jalisco. According to Puebla’s state interior secretary, David Méndez, a majority of disappearances were concentrated in only five municipalities.
Another trend that has emerged in recent years is the steadily growing number of women who are reported missing and who have yet to be located. Data from the National Registry of Missing and Unlocated Persons (Registro Nacional de Personas Desaparecidas y No Localizadas), which is maintained and published by SEGOB, the number of women who have gone missing in Mexico reached a historic high during the administration of President López Obrador. According to SEGOG figures, the number of women and girls who were reported missing between December 2018 (the beginning of the López Obrador presidency) to March 2021 totaled 4,267. This marked a substantial increase from the total of 2,418 missing women reported at the same point of the administration of former president Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), which, in turn, was a considerable spike from the total of 476 women reported missing during the same 28-month period of his predecessor’s term, Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). That equates to nearly ten times more women and girls disappeared during the López Obrador administration’s first 28 months in office compared to the Calderón administration’s, and almost double that under the Peña Nieto administration. Given that this continuous rise in disappearances of women coincides with a steady increase in reported femicides in recent years, the persistent growth of disappearances of women could suggest a broader escalation of gender-based violence.
Uncovering the full range of trends that characterize the problem of disappearances will require further scrutiny, but what is clear is that the prevalence of missing persons (and failure to locate many of them) remains a pervasive violation of human rights in Mexico.