05/24/14 (written by tcarriedo) — On May 12, 2014, two days after the “March for National Dignity: Mothers Searching for their Daughters, Sons, Truth, and Justice” (Marcha por la Dignidad Nacional: Madres Buscando a sus Hijas, Hijos, Verdad y Justicia), Sandra Luz Hernández, human rights activist and mother of missing Édgar García Hernández, was killed in Culiacán, Sinaloa. One gunman, later identified by the Sinaloa State Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado, PGJE), shot Hernández dead in an apparent ambush.
For the past two and a half years, Hernández had been searching for information about her son Édgar who had been taken from his home by a group of men armed with AK-47s. Like many other relatives of missing persons in Mexico seeking to find their loved ones, Hernández said she was met with indifference by the authorities. When she reported the disappearance to the PGJE, where her son had worked as a clerk, Marco Antonio Higuera Gómez, the state attorney general, asked Hernández how she thought Édgar was able to afford a new Toyota truck. As reports indicate, Hernández understood such questions as implying that the authorities thought that her son was a criminal. Both she and her friends believed that as a consequence of this assumption, the police did not launch a prompt and thorough investigation. Because of the authorities’ lack of urgency in finding her son, Hernández investigated the case herself, going to the media and following tips and leads about the disappearance of her son.
According to Mexican news source Río Doce, the day before her death, Hernández was approached by a woman claiming to have information about her son, and told that she would soon receive a phone call with more information. The next day, and after meeting with authorities to review her son’s case, Hernández received a call from the informant, directing her to meet in the Benito Juárez neighborhood of Culiacán. While making her way there to see what information she could get, Hernández was shot 15 times allegedly by the suspect. Nine days later, police arrested 25-year old Valenzuela. In a press conference, the attorney general said that Valenzuela admitted to having killed Hernández for “personal reasons” and that he also indicated that her son was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Manuel Alonso Ruiz Haro in January 2012.
Given the irregularities in the investigation of Édgar’s disappearance, Hernández’s role as an outspoken activist, and the accusations that have come to light since the arrest of the PGJE’s 25-year old suspect, many organizations are calling for a more complete and thorough investigation into the facts. The National Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) has also launched its own investigation into the murder and has requested that Culiacán authorities provide protection to Hernández’s family members.
Over the past few years, the problem of disappearances in Mexico has received an unprecedented level of attention by civil society groups, intergovernmental agencies, and international human rights NGOs. In response to the growing mobilization of these groups, the Peña Nieto administration released in early 2013 a database that identified over 26,000 people as missing. The database, compiled by the previous administration of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), was said to be inaccurate, with the current administration claiming it over counted the number of missing and relatives of the missing claiming that it did not include those they knew to have disappeared. More recently, the CNDH put the figure of missing at 24,800 while Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong of the Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB) said that the actual figure is 8,000. As the Associated Press clarified, “Osorio Chong’s initial report was unclear about whether the 8,000 were in addition to the 13,000 still missing from the previous [Calderón] administration. But his department later said the 8,000 figure was the current tally for both [the Calderón and Peña Nieto] administrations.” Families of the disappeared have criticized the government for its back-and-forth reporting on official statistics, calling it a “game of numbers” (juego de cifras) and that its process to calculate the true number of disappeared “continues without clarity.”
Legislative progress according rights to the missing varies across Mexico’s 31 states and the Federal District (Distrito Federal, DF). In a first for the country, the state of Coahuila approved on May 19, 2014, a law recognizing and guaranteeing the juridical rights of a missing person and providing relatives and those close to the missing person appropriate protections. The new law aligns Coahuila with Mexico’s obligations under international law and Mexico’s own Victims’ Law (Ley de Víctimas), approved in January 2013.
Valdez, Javier. “Sandra Luz Hernández, héroe a quien solo la muerte pudo detener.” Río Doce. May 15, 2014.
Valdez, Javier. “Caso Sandra Luz: una madre muerta, su hijo desaparecido y ningún detenido.” Río Doce. May 18, 2014.
Martínez Carballo, Nurit. “ONU celebra ley de Coahuila sobre desapariciones.” El Universal. May 19, 2014.
Wilkinson, Tracy. “In Mexico, activist mother of missing man is slain.” Los Angeles Times. May 20, 2014.
“Mexico’s Disappeared: Government Needs to Act Now.” Mexico Voices. May 21, 2014.
Press Release. Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. May 21, 2014.
Morales, Alberto and Arvizu, Juan. “Osorio: cifra de desaparecidos descendio a 8 mil.” El Universal. May 22, 2014.
Monjardín, Alejandro. “Asesina a Sandra Luz por temor a que le ‘echara al Gobierno.’” Noroeste. May 22, 2014.
“Critican familiars de desaparecidos ‘juego de cifras’ del gobierno.” La Jornada. May 23, 2014.
“Mexico recalculates number of missing to 8,000.” Associated Press. May 23, 2014.