Human Rights and Civil Society

Forced disappearances in Mexico raise significant concern

Human rights advocacy group, We Want to See their Faces," demonstrates in the Federal District in protest of forced disappearances in Mexico. Source:

10/24/11 – The rising number of forced disappearances in Mexico over the past few years has gained significant attention recently as officials are taking note at the state, federal, and international levels. In September, a group in the Federal District (Distrito Federal) called “We Want to See their Faces” (Queremos ver sus caras), protested in the capital to raise awareness and call attention to the issue. Taking it a step further, the Federal District’s Human Rights Commission (Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Distrito Federal, CDHDF) demanded in September that a new law be passed at the national level to better address forced disappearances in Mexico. Through CDHDF’s advisor, Santiago Corcuera Cabezut, they argued that the law should not only conform with international treaties and agreements on forced disappearances, but also be initiated at the federal level to “fill the gaps” that currently exist.

At the beginning of October, the Congress of the state of Nuevo León also focused its attention on the issue. Congress, along with members of civil society and other areas of the state’s government, discussed and concluded the necessity of recognizing forced disappearances as ‘autonomous crimes’ (delito autónomo), or those that are independent in nature and not tied to one’s participation in other crimes. Both Consuelo Morales, director of Citizens in Support of Human Rights (Ciudadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos, CADHAC), and Alán García, representing the Mexico Office of the United Nations High Commissioner (Oficina en México del Alto Comisionado de Naciones Unidas) threw their support behind Nuevo León’s plan to classify the crime as such because there is currently no legal definition of enforced disappearances at this level, which means it is impossible to charge someone for this crime unless it is committed with other punishable offenses.

One week later, on October 13, the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) came forward on the issue of forced disappearances when it announced that the Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) failed to recognize one of CNDH’s recommendations on a case. The case involved the disappearance of three victims in Chihuahua back in December 2009, allegedly by a group of soldiers. CNDH ‘recommended’ that the SSP not only immediately locate and present the victims, but also claim responsibility and settle the damages with the victims’ families. In drawing attention to the SSP’s lack of response, CNDH cited a law passed in June this year that makes it “mandatory for authorities to promote, respect, protect, and guarantee human rights,” which CNDH argues it has not in this instance. In April 2011, CNDH reported that almost 5,400 people have gone missing since 2006 when President Felipe Calderón began his militarized anti-drug strategy. It should be noted that this number includes not just forced disappearances at the hands of the military, police, or public security officials, but also of migrants, both Mexican and Central American, kidnapped on their journeys.

Finally, the high number of forced disappearances in Mexico was addressed at the international level when a representative from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, CIDH) visited Mexico at the end of September. Making statements on his visit at the beginning of October, representative Rodrigo Escobar Gil noted that “the forced disappearances of persons in Mexico is the most worrisome crime to CIDH,” pointing to both the lack of official investigations on cases involving disappearances and to the ill-equipped or non-existent programs to help victims of the crime. According to El Universal, in order to address this situation in Mexico, Escobar recommended an increase in state expenditures specifically dedicated to this concern, along with taking more action to address forced disappearances immediately so as to more efficiently prosecute those involved.


“Mexico: Thousands missing in drugs war, says CNDH.” BBC News. April 2, 2011.

“Urge una ley contra la desaparición forzada en México: CDHDF.” September 4, 2011.

Gómez Quintero, Natalia. “Preocupa a CIDH desaparación forzada.” El Universal. October 1, 2011.

“CADHAC y familiares de personas desaparecidas demandan la tipificación de la desaparición forzada.” Movimiento por la Paz. October 11, 2011.

Redacción. “Rechaza SSP dos recomendaciones desaparición y retención ilegal.” Proceso. October 13, 2011.

6 thoughts on “Forced disappearances in Mexico raise significant concern”

  1. The characterization of “delito autónomo” is erroneous, it does not refer to an individual crime, but to a crime autonomous in character, that is, a crime that does not depend on the commitment of others, such as kidnapping, false imprisonment, and so on. This is a deep worry for the local authorities, victim’s families and NGOs, because right now there is no local legal definition of enforced disappearances so it is only possible to prosecute people on other charges (or mix of charges as kidnapping + murder + bodily harm).

  2. Thank you for the clarification on the terminology. We appreciate your attention to detail and suggested correction to help improve the blog.

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