07/11/14 (written by tianacarriedo) — Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) announced via a press release on July 6, 2014, the creation of a new training program for personnel of the Disappeared Persons Task Force (Unidad Especializada de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas, UEBPD). The two-week training program aims to give public servants that form part of the task force a better understanding of human rights and special skills to search for disappeared persons. The training program will be directed by Eliana García Laguna, head of the PGR’s Office of Human Rights, Crime Prevention, and Community Services (Despacho de la Subprocuraduría de Derechos Humanos, Prevención del Delito y Servicios a la Comunidad), and will include the participation of various Mexican civil society organizations and legal and human rights experts from Mexico and abroad.
The Disappeared Persons Task Force was developed in May 2013 amidst a protest and nine-day hunger strike in front of the Attorney General’s Office in Mexico City by activists and family members of disappeared persons. The protesters’ demands of the government were simple: stop ignoring the crisis of disappeared persons in Mexico and investigate all reported cases. (To read more about the number of disappeared in Mexico, click here.) Mexico’s Interior Minister (Secretario de Gobernación) Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong and Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam then announced the creation of the task force, which, in June 2013, was officially launched with the publication in the Official Diary of the Federation (Diario Oficial de la Federación) of resolution A/066/13.
The task force is to direct, coordinate, and supervise the search for disappeared persons across the country, as well as prosecute cases and identify remains, among other responsibilities. Despite its broad reach, the unit was initially launched with 12 personnel, no offices, and no official budget. By November 2013, the Mexican House of Representatives (Cámara de Diputados) appropriated a budget of $40,205,000 pesos ($3 million USD) for the unit for 2014, and by May of this year the task force personnel had been increased to 24 agents. Such personnel have administrative responsibilities only; a public information request in May revealed that plans for officers to work in the field have not yet been finalized.
As of May 21, 2014, and as disclosed by another public information request, the task force had begun investigating 402 cases of disappearances; a figure that includes both enforced disappearances—in which state agents are involved in disappearing a person—and cases of the lesser crime of illegal deprivation of liberty. Given that official figures of the number of disappeared generally range from a low of 16,000 to a high of 26,000, analysts and civil society organizations find that the caseload of the task force is insufficient in relation to the extent of the crisis.
The task force has also been criticized for the lack of clarity in its responsibilities. This criticism stems from the fact that two other governmental units, the Federal Crimes Unit (Subprocuraduría Especializada en Delitos Federales) and the Office of Special Investigations on Organized Crime (Subprocuraduría de Investigación Especializada de la Delincuencia Organizada, SIEDO) are also responsible for investigating disappearances involving state agents.
Several months after the force’s creation, then head of the PGR’s Office of Human Rights, Crime Prevention, and Community Services Ricardo García Cervantes complained that the crisis of the disappeared in Mexico was losing steam with the government. At that time, García Cervantes, who renounced his position in May 2014, pointed to the under-resourcing of the task force and the lack of a comprehensive national plan to confront the problem. In November 2013, however, the government did discuss a national plan for the search for missing or disappeared persons. Nevertheless, to date there has been little publicly available information about the exact workings of the plan, despite the announcement on July 9, 2014 by Lía Limón, head of Legal Affairs and Human Rights (Asuntos Jurídicos y Derechos Humanos) at the Interior Ministry, that the plan has logged some advances in the search for disappeared persons. Several of the cited advances include the training of forensic specialists, the use of software to manage information about unidentified remains, and the creation of the task force.
“Presentan la SEGOB y PGR avances en el marco del Plan Nacional de Búsqueda de Personas No Localizadas ante organizaciones de la sociedad civil.” Secretaría de Gobernación. Press release 347. July 9, 2014.