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  1. Mexico’s Drug War and the Disappeared
  2. There’s a Voice Missing in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma”
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  4. The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored | HRW

When he saw the Navy personnel remove his son from his taxi and load him into a Navy pick-up truck, he approached and asked why they were detaining his son. The security force most frequently implicated in the enforced disappearances documented by Human Rights Watch is local police. Human Rights Watch found strong evidence in 95 cases that local police participated directly or indirectly in enforced disappearances. On June 18, , Torres was traveling together with five of his co-workers to pick up a patient when their car was stopped by municipal police in Matamoros, Coahuila.

When the director tried communicating by radio a third time, there was no answer. The director immediately traveled to the location and spoke to several people working nearby who said they had seen the police stop the car and place six individuals in a truck marked with the insignia of the municipal police. At p. When his wife called back, she was unable to reach him.

Further evidence points to the involvement of the police in the disappearance. Police in Cardenas denied ever having questioned the four men, and no officials have been charged in the case. None of the cars had license plates, they said. Detainees are not brought here. Go to the municipal police. In more than 60 cases, Human Rights Watch found compelling evidence of cooperation between security forces and organized crime in disappearances.

An employee who drove him to the location said that a municipal police car and a car without license plates were waiting for him there. Neither he nor the 19 workers were ever seen again. At this writing, nine police officers had been charged in the disappearance, while the investigation remained ongoing. The police denied any knowledge of their detention, members of the family said. The four young men disappeared on the night of June 17, , after going for drinks at a bar after work. As Irving approached, he saw police loading his brother, in handcuffs, into the back of police car, unit Irving asked one of the officers why the man was being detained, and in response the officer asked if Irving knew the man.

When Irving answered that he did not out of fear , the officer told him to go away. The police who attended to them denied that officers had detained anyone named Israel Arenas. Yet while they waited, Irving saw one of the police officers who had detained his brother walk through the station.

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He also spotted the police car he had seen his brother loaded into—unit —parked outside the station. He said Israel had been detained for crashing into a police vehicle and was being held in the station. When the family returned the next day, officials told them that—contrary to the information they had been given the day before—Israel had never been detained.

Police also said no one with the characteristics of the man they spoke with the day before worked for the police. The driver turned out to be a former judicial police officer. At approximately 11 p. At this writing, according to local human rights defenders, the police had also been charged by federal prosecutors with colluding with organized crime and were awaiting trial. In each case, however, authorities either did not respond or turned them away.

Vega hid in the bathroom with her children and dialed —the telephone number used to report emergencies, such as fires and robberies, to authorities—to report the abduction in progress. As soon as the armed men had left the home, Vega ran toward the center of Matamoros, which was only a few blocks away, and came across a municipal police car. She told the officers that her husband and father had just been abducted, described the SUVs that had just taken them, and asked the police to pursue the vehicles.

The officers responded that they were not responsible for what happened in that part of the town and could not leave the location where they had been posted. She said the officers did not even report the crime to other units over their radios. When he did not arrive home within several hours, his wife called several of his friends. As a result, a relative went to look for help and found a patrol unit several blocks away. But when he told the two police officers what had happened, the officers said that they were assigned to a specific location and could not leave their post.

In April , his relatives told Human Rights Watch that, according to their conversations with investigators assigned to the case, neither police nor prosecutors had ever inspected the bar. Scores of families said that when they went to report a disappearance, prosecutors and police told them that a person needed to have been missing for 72 hours before a complaint could be filed.

State prosecutors in Coahuila told Human Rights Watch that, as recently as , official documents had been circulated to state justice and law enforcement officials instructing them to wait 72 hours before opening investigations into disappearances. In other cases, prosecutors told families the missing person had most likely been detained by security forces, and would eventually be handed over to justice officials or released without charge. In the meantime, prosecutors told families, it was not worth opening an investigation. By law, security forces are required to immediately hand over detainees to prosecutors.

On December 29, , at approximately 8 p. When she asked the judicial police officer attending her why the vehicle was there, he said the report accompanying the vehicle indicated that it had been left there by the Army. When she arrived there, she was told that there was no prosecutor who could attend to her. For example, in November , 23 undocumented Central American migrants making their way to the United States were abducted by armed men in Coahuila. The failure to promptly open investigations into the disappearances of undocumented migrants can be especially harmful when witnesses are fellow migrants, because they are likely to leave the places where abuses have occurred within a short period of time due to their transitory status.

They are also more reluctant to speak with authorities, out of fear that authorities will deport them for having entered Mexico without authorization, according to rights defenders in migrant shelters. Prosecutors have an obligation to conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into every disappearance, which necessitates pursuing various lines of inquiry and exploring a range of motives.

Given that cartels have committed serious crimes in Mexico in recent years, including many disappearances, it is reasonable for prosecutors to investigate the possibility that the perpetrators of such crimes are members of criminal groups. It is also reasonable to examine the background of the victim for information relevant to his whereabouts or possible motives for his abduction. Authorities repeatedly embraced this theory, and indeed often voiced it to families, before undertaking a preliminary investigation into the case. This happened because [your sons] were involved in something bad.

Mexico’s Drug War and the Disappeared

When they leave the house, they are another. At the same time, the investigator asked no questions about the possible involvement of the security forces in his disappearance, despite the fact that Herrera and the other men had called their wives shortly before disappearing to say local police had stopped them. As another pretext for not opening an investigation, officials sometimes suggest without evidence that the victim has not disappeared.

Prosecutors and law enforcement officials in several cases reflexively suggested to spouses and partners that the victim left voluntarily because he or she was probably unhappy in the relationship, or must have run off with another lover, a particularly hurtful form of speculation. Not only had authorities dismissed the possibility that Esquivel had disappeared, but they also had failed to open an investigation. The co-worker recognized the two men who took her as employees at the factory where he and Esquivel worked as guards. He told the mother that prosecutors had never interviewed him, even though he was working with Esquivel the night she disappeared.

When she answered 10 years, the agent told her that after ten years her husband would no longer have been faithful to her. Cell phones, radio signals, and bank records offer a critical tool to help investigators determine the fate of the disappeared, in particular in the immediate aftermath of disappearances. However, Human Rights Watch found that investigators routinely waited weeks, months, or even years before soliciting the cell phone, radio, or banking records of victims, despite evidence that accounts continued to be used and despite persistent requests from families to follow these leads.

Investigators also consistently failed to seek footage in a timely fashion from public or private surveillance cameras that may have provided relevant leads.


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By the time officials requested such footage, it usually had been deleted because so much time had elapsed. In the majority of cases we documented, victims were carrying cell phones or two-way radios commonly referred to as Nextels in Mexico, from the name of one of the providers at the time of their disappearances. Often, these devices continued to receive calls, and in some cases were answered by unidentified individuals, after victims had been abducted.

Yet when families reported this information to authorities, they said investigators were slow to act on it, if they acted at all. Authorities also failed to act for months on information that could have helped find Gonzalo Ribera Moncada , 41, an auto mechanic, and Horacio Sandoval Torres , 40, a construction worker. The armed men who took him were wearing state judicial police uniforms, his co-workers later informed his family. On February 28, the kidnappers instructed Ribera to drive the car to the neighboring city of Guadalupe and then wait for instructions about a specific drop off location.

His brother-in-law, Horacio Sandoval Torres, accompanied him on the trip. Ribera had been carrying a Nextel on the trip, which emitted a GPS signal that his family began to trace following his disappearance. On March 1, the family handed this information over to Navy officials at a nearby base. They returned days later to provide updated locations emitted from the Nextel, but the Navy officials did nothing to investigate the locations from which the GPS signal was most frequently being emitted.

The family of Agnolo Pabel Medina Flores , 32, who was abducted by armed men on August 2, , found authorities similarly unresponsive when they provided information that could have led to finding him or the people who took him. In nearly all of the disappearance cases we documented, we found compelling evidence that authorities had failed to carry out basic investigative steps that may have helped locate victims of disappearances or the individuals responsible for them.

Human Rights Watch found that even in those cases where justice officials carried out basic investigative steps, they often waited so long that possible leads were lost. Witnesses moved to different places, families lost trust in prosecutors and no longer wanted to cooperate with investigations, and key evidence vanished. In some cases, prosecutors and members of security forces fabricated evidence, such as claiming they had conducted interviews that never occurred.

Bloodstains marked the passenger seat and two doors. In a later inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission, a neighbor testified to seeing soldiers in the street immediately after the shootout. To begin with, officials did not secure the crime scene until approximately p. The investigation was further undermined by federal and state prosecutors transferring responsibility for the case back and forth. For example, federal prosecutors transferred the case to state prosecutors on June 10, Investigators also misplaced key evidence in the case.

State justice officials collected 39 bullet shells at the scene of the crime on April 5. However, when state prosecutors handed the investigation over to their federal counterparts, they did not hand over the shells found at the crime scene. An examination by state forensic officials confirmed that blood was found in five locations in the car. Investigators also fabricated evidence, lying about having conducted an interview with one relative that never occurred. Nor have federal or state prosecutors sought to interview members of the military, despite the fact that the Army admitted to having been in the neighborhood where the shootout occurred in the early hours of April 5.

The Army said it encountered the bullet-riddled truck, empty, but made no mention of securing the crime scene or notifying justice officials. He told her that the three had gotten into a fight with another group of men at the bar, and that he had been badly wounded and needed to be taken to a hospital. He did not know what had happened to Villasana, or the third friend who had been with them that night, who was also missing.

The trucks were accompanied by two pick-ups bearing the insignia of the Federal Police, the bar employee said. The investigator responded that it was too dangerous for him to go to the neighborhood where the bar was located, let alone visit the bar. He said that if the mother wanted more information, she should go there herself. At approximately 9 a. The men never arrived at their destination. State investigators also misplaced DNA evidence in the case. Asked where it had gone, state prosecutors were unable to provide an explanation.

In several cases, Human Rights Watch found evidence suggesting that the same officials—often in collaboration with criminal groups—were responsible for carrying out multiple disappearances in separate incidents. The repeated involvement of the same perpetrators in these crimes highlights one of the consequences of inadequate investigations by justice officials and law enforcement: when prosecutors fail to find those responsible for crimes, they may fail to prevent future crimes from occurring. Two of the kidnappers were killed and others escaped. They left behind the husband and wife, blindfolded and handcuffed, in the back of the car.

Rather than free the couple, however, soldiers left their handcuffs on and made them wait roughly five hours while they secured the crime scene. Some of the kidnappers were still hiding out there, they said, and Ibarra and Buenrostro feared that their children might go looking for them and themselves be kidnapped. The couple had been out of touch with their children for two days—unusual for their family—and suspected their children would go to the ranch. Prosecutors refused, and would not even allow the husband and wife to call their children.

Instead, prosecutors took their testimony and then placed them in a common holding cell with criminal suspects. They were detained from midnight until 1 p. The kidnappers called Ibarra and his wife to demand ransom for their three new captives. He was disappeared as well. It was the last contact the relatives had with any of the victims. In the weeks after the disappearance, investigators failed to pursue leads that could have led to identifying those responsible for the crime and preventing future crimes. For example, officials neglected to seek the cell phone records of the victims. When they were obtained months later, the records showed that various calls had been made after the victims were abducted, which could have been used to locate those responsible.

They spotted the car parked outside of a home in the town of Compuertas, which is next to Francisco I. Madero—where the victims had been abducted. However, according to the families, prosecutors waited months before taking the basic step of summoning the people who lived in the home for questioning. And during the lapse of time that investigators neglected to pursue this and other leads, four additional people disappeared at the same gas station in Francisco I.

When prosecutors—months later—finally questioned a young man who lived in the home where the car had been spotted, his testimony helped lead to identifying several other suspects in the case, including police officers. Instead, over the weeks following the May 11 abduction of the three men, authorities failed to take basic steps search for them, or to investigate their disappearance.

Then, approximately a month after their abduction, another disappearance following a near-identical pattern occurred in the same location. At approximately a. Arredondo also called his wife and provided the number of another police unit: On July 8, prosecutors detained 35 police from Francisco I.

Madero for their alleged participation in the June 15 disappearances, [] nine of whom were later charged in the crime. Madero, weeks earlier. Because Mexico is a federal state, legal competency is shared between the federal government and 32 federal entities—31 states and Mexico City the Federal District. The federal government and states also use different procedures for investigating disappearances and for determining whether federal or state prosecutors have jurisdiction to handle the case.

Federal prosecutors are empowered by law to investigate disappearances in which federal officials are alleged to have participated or been involved. They also have jurisdiction to investigate all crimes tied to organized crime delincuencia organizada , but the definition of such crimes and the process of determining whether the definition has been met are vague and ambiguous.

Human Rights Watch found evidence that federal and state prosecutors take advantage of this dilution of responsibility and the ambiguities regarding jurisdiction to preemptively decline to investigate cases, transferring them instead to counterparts. Such decisions are all too often taken without first conducting a preliminary inquiry into the alleged crime, which is necessary to reach a well-grounded determination of whether they have jurisdiction. Indeed, the swiftness and regularity with which prosecutors unjustifiably claim that a case falls outside of their jurisdiction, and often redirect the investigation to counterparts, suggests that they are more concerned with avoiding adding cases to their docket than fulfilling their obligation to investigate these serious crimes.

The impact of such decisions is to delay the investigation of disappearances—a crime in which the first hours, days, and weeks are critical for gathering time-sensitive information. It is not uncommon that concurrent investigations into disappearances are opened in multiple jurisdictions. However, attorneys general, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials told Human Rights Watch that, rather than complementing one another, prosecutors from different institutions often fail to cooperate and share critical information, which undermines their ability to effectively investigate cases.

Coahuila state prosecutors were unaware of how many investigations into disappearances federal prosecutors had opened in the state, or whether any of those cases overlapped with ones they were investigating. It was especially acute, said one prosecutor, when SIEDO arrested ranking members of organized crime groups who were off limits to questioning by state prosecutors.

Authorities often asked families to take on responsibilities such as interviewing witnesses, checking the site of an abduction, and seeking information from the security forces allegedly responsible for disappearances, all with little concern for the risk such tasks implied.


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  6. A mother whose son was abducted outside of her home in March told Human Rights Watch that whenever she met with the investigator in charge of the case, he began their conversation the same way. You have to investigate. In addition, authorities relied on families to perform investigative duties that are the job of officials, in some cases encouraging families to take actions that involved serious risk. According to the family, when they requested a police escort to accompany them to the ranch, the delegate said the most he could do was lend them police dogs.

    For example, on June 28, , around 4 a. Instead, officials advised the family to go a neighboring Navy base to inquire into his whereabouts, as well as to visit other police stations and Army bases in the area. Some families followed the advice of prosecutors to visit the offices of security forces, only to find that their inquiries resulted directly in threats and harassment from authorities. Patricio Gutierrez Cruz pseudonym —17, a lathe operator—was arbitrarily detained around 6 p. Two other men detained in the same raid were also never seen again, their families told Human Rights Watch.

    He denied his officers had carried out any operations in her neighborhood. Forced to choose between taking on risk or giving up the search for their loved ones, families interviewed by Human Rights Watch nearly always chose to assume the risk of continuing to look. We are going to kill your son.

    Besides the suspect timing and targeting of the ransom call, and the aggressive advice of the police that the family should pay the ransom, other irregularities pointed to police involvement in the extortion. On October 14, while the Gamez family was waiting for a follow-up phone call from the alleged kidnappers, judicial police officers arrived unannounced at their home and asked to come in. Authorities have a special obligation in cases of enforced disappearance to provide information to the victims' relatives. The U. Human Rights Committee has held that state failure to pursue cases or provide information about the fate of a disappeared person to families can inflict extreme anguish upon relatives of the disappeared, which make them victims of the violation as well.

    In the case of Quinteros v. In these respects, she too is a victim of the violations of the Covenant suffered by her daughter in particular, of article 7. In the November ruling in the case of Radilla Pacheco v. Mexico , which involved a man who was disappeared by the Mexican military in , [] the Court observed that:. They were also driven by the belief that if they did not take up the search themselves and constantly press authorities to do their job, no one would look for their loved ones—a belief that was reinforced by the lackluster, flawed work of prosecutors.

    For relatives, not knowing what has happened to a loved one is a source of perpetual anguish. They describe worrying constantly about whether their relatives are alive and whether they are suffering, and they feel powerlessness to help. The emotional and psychological consequences of this suffering are severe. Relatives reported depression, insomnia, feelings of social isolation, and physical effects like exhaustion. Many also described symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, such as fear of leaving home or—in the case of relatives who were present when abductions took place—fear of returning to the locations where they occurred.

    Many families said they were unable to resume their lives while the whereabouts of their relatives remained unknown, which they described as a never-ending reservoir of suffering. If they are torturing him. If he has eaten anything yet. Even reminding us of him hurts our hearts. This is a source of even greater pain. A sense of powerlessness.

    Many relatives give up everything—leaving behind established careers, uprooting entire families, and abandoning long-standing relationships—to focus entirely on their search for the disappeared. Originally planning to stay briefly, when he spoke to Human Rights Watch in Mexico in September , he had stayed over a year. He said he had lost nearly everything while searching for his nephew:.

    But he said one of the main reasons he could not give up looking was his certainty that, without his pressure and monitoring, authorities would do nothing to search for his nephew. He had received a speeding ticket shortly before leaving Houston to search for his nephew, and had been given a date to answer for the infraction in court.

    But he had failed to return to the US for the date, on account of not wanting to leave Mexico until he had found his nephew. Having missed a court date, and without his identification cards, he believed that he might not be allowed back into the United States. If I die, everything ends there.

    The disappearance of a loved one can also lead to painful disputes among surviving family members, which exacerbate the anguish experienced from a disappearance. I would have done the same for you. Relatives of the missing reported serious emotional and psychological effects in the aftermath of disappearances. Rosario Villanueva Rocha said that after months of searching for her son Oscar Herrera Rocha, 25, who disappeared in June with three co-workers, she fell into a deep depression.

    Families of victims—particularly those who were present when their relatives were abducted—described living in constant fear that they or another relative would be disappeared next.

    There’s a Voice Missing in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma”

    We are all afraid—even when we are stopped by a traffic cop. You cannot trust any authority. Children suffer acute emotional and psychological effects from disappearances, parents and guardians told Human Rights Watch. They said it was very difficult to explain to children what it means for the fate of a person to be unknown, or that a parent may never return. Parents and caretakers described feeling torn about how much to tell children, especially young children, and how to balance the desire to give them hope with the likelihood that parents would not return.

    For example, not long after Agnolo Pabel Medina Flores , 32, disappeared in August , his two children , ages 10 and 8, both began to show signs of depression, members of his family said. In addition, the boy knew his mother had subsequently been threatened for trying to pursue the case, and feared another relative would be taken next.

    Whenever his mother was about to separate from him, even for short periods, the boy started to cry and beg her not to leave. He began to urinate in his bed nightly, and was terrified whenever he saw police. It is not only young children who are affected by disappearances. She did not tell anyone that her father had disappeared, out of fear they would assume her father was a criminal something people presumed when a person was killed or disappeared. In several cases documented by Human Rights Watch, disappearances led to children being separated from their siblings, further exacerbating their ongoing emotional hardship.

    The sisters only see each other once every few weeks, according to their grandmother.

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    In other cases, children were sent to different relatives to distribute the time and cost of raising them among members of the families. And when families report disappearances, they are subject to threats and attacks, particularly in cases where evidence points to the involvement of members of the military and police. These attacks not only sow fear among the families targeted, but also terrorize other relatives of the disappeared who learn about the attacks and may be dissuaded from taking similar actions out of fear. Mexico has obligations under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance to ensure not only the right to report the facts of a disappearance to the competent authorities and a prompt, thorough impartial investigation of the report, but also to take measures to protect anyone—including the complainant—participating in the investigation, from any ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of the complaint.

    She told Human Rights Watch that, shortly before the attack, a neighbor saw a white car idling on her street accompanied by a truck marked with Navy insignia; the neighbor said it was the white truck that fired on the house. The relative said that the man, who never identified himself, asked if the family had filed a formal complaint. Something could happen to you or your children. When he tried to evade the vehicle, it repeatedly crashed into the back of his car and tried to force him off the road.

    Families who have continued to publicly denounce the case have suffered ongoing harassment. On November 21, , six armed soldiers stopped outside of the business she owns and began to take photos and video with a handheld camera, she said. In some cases, family members of victims have themselves been accused by authorities of being involved or of hiding information about their relatives. Not only must families adjust to the abrupt loss of income, but also the potential loss of basic social services that are tied to employment of the disappeared person.

    In order to maintain access to these services, families are forced to go through a slow, costly process of having their loved one declared absent or deceased, which aggravates their suffering. Despite the requirements of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance that appropriate steps are taken to regularize the legal situation of the relatives in fields such as social welfare, families of the disappeared in Mexico face a daunting and expensive bureaucratic route to guarantee continued security in the wake of a relative being disappeared.

    The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored | HRW

    The overwhelming majority of persons disappeared in cases documented by Human Rights Watch were working class men with families. These men were commonly the principal wage earners in households with several children. When they went missing, their dependents often had to take immediate measures to adapt to the loss of income and provide for dependents, such as moving in with relatives and taking on new jobs.

    This economic impact was exacerbated by the suspension of fundamental social services provided by the government, some of which are conditioned on the employment of a member of the household. When people had been missing for weeks or months, their employers often terminated their jobs, putting access to these services in jeopardy. As a result, families not only abruptly lost the income of the disappeared person, but also access to health coverage, childcare, and housing subsidies.

    In other cases, authorities abruptly stopped providing pensions and social security to the spouses of the disappeared. Among the social services most commonly jeopardized by the disappearance of the sole working member of a household, according to the families, are those offered by the Mexican Institute of Social Security Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, or IMSS. IMSS provides medical, educational, and childcare services, some of which are contingent on the employment of a parent.

    According to dozens of families interviewed by Human Rights Watch, when the family member upon whose job such services disappeared, families found their access to certain programs at risk. Those who sought exemptions to maintain their access to parts of IMSS, INFONAVIT, and other programs conditional upon employment found themselves confronting an opaque and slow-moving bureaucracy, which often failed to take into account their exceptional circumstances. The request may not be submitted until two years after the representative has been appointed by the judge. These efforts are made every fifteen days for three months.

    It too requires a legal representative to submit an application, and a judge to approve it. In addition, obligating a family to request that the government declare a disappeared person dead forces relatives to settle on the fate of a loved one whose whereabouts remain unknown, relatives told Human Rights Watch, which exacerbates their suffering. In effect, families must choose between a fate they do not believe is true and losing access to basic services.

    The men had been building the foundations for new homes prior to their disappearances. One of the men, 32, lived with his wife, 29, and their four children, ages 10, 4, 3, and 1, in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Yet seeking such recognition, she discovered, required enlisting a lawyer to file a petition on her behalf—another expense for which she did not have money. She felt it betrayed her hope that he was still alive and would signal to her husband that she had given up on finding him.

    Nonetheless, she felt she had no other choice. I have to divide up a glass of milk between them. The wife said she would have liked to have been able to dedicate more time to searching for her husband and investigating his disappearance—especially given the lackluster efforts of investigators in the case—but she could not afford the expense, nor did she have any free time between caring for her children and trying to make a living to provide for them. She told Human Rights Watch:.

    Retired military officer Ernesto Cordero Anguiano , 37, was one of eight men disappeared on December 6, The wife of a retired public school teacher in Matamoros, Coahuila—whose husband disappeared in October after armed men abducted him from their home—said that she was unable to obtain payments from his government pension provided by ISSTE , because they were made out to her husband. However, she did not want to ask for such recognition, which she viewed as a sign of giving up hope that her husband was alive. The families affected were not limited to Mexico.

    For example, five of the victims of disappearances documented by Human Rights Watch had families in the US who were also significantly impacted by the violence. As a result of the loss of his income, his family could no longer make the payments on their home in California, which a bank foreclosed upon. Roberto Oropeza Villa , 24, disappeared along with 11 coworkers from a paint selling company in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, in March But she said agency officials did not deliver on either commitment.

    The wife responded that she had been pregnant before her husband disappeared, and that in any case it was insulting and inappropriate for the official to pass judgment like that. The climate of near-total impunity observed during those visits was similar to what we had found in several other states of Mexico affected by drug violence. Despite clear evidence of widespread abuses, state authorities adamantly denied that such crimes had occurred, and failed to prosecute the members of security forces who had committed them.

    As a result, victims and their families grew deeply disillusioned with authorities. Not only was working with investigators unlikely to produce results, but it also could be extremely dangerous, given the criminal ties of many officials. For their part, even the most courageous and well-intentioned prosecutors—operating in an environment of rampant corruption—had almost no incentive to tackle these cases. In a vicious cycle of distrust and dysfunction, the less that victims and authorities collaborated in solving these crimes, the more entrenched the climate of impunity became.

    Under considerable pressure and media attention, state officials received the families and agreed to work with them in investigating disappearances. And the more investigations advanced, the more other victims came forward. For their part, prosecutors took the solid investigative tactics and skills they learned working on one case or another and applied them to the rest of the disappearances on their docket.

    While progress in the investigations has been limited, and very few of the disappeared have been found, the step of breaking through a climate of disillusionment and distrust is real. This progress, though, is fragile and limited. In addition, even in those investigations in which this unique collaborative method has been applied, families have at times grown disillusioned by the reality that many of their loved ones are still missing, and their fates unknown.


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    Then, families of the disappeared began to present their cases to the attorney general. Of all of those present, only 11 families were able to present their cases that night. The first several meetings were collective ones. En estas primeras reuniones los familiares, lloraban y casi no lograban manifestar su exigencia concreta de avance en las investigaciones.

    As a result, the participants decided to change the approach. Building on the information obtained through these efforts, families and investigators would come up with additional leads, thereby advancing the investigation meeting by meeting. Initially, according to all three groups of participants, there was significant resistance to working together, driven by mutual suspicion and distrust. After four or five meetings, however, distrust and defensiveness on the part of the participants began to dissipate. One of the keys to the breakthrough was that prosecutors actually began to investigate the cases thoroughly and with greater urgency, which earned them greater trust from families and human rights defenders.

    This perspective was critical, human rights defenders said, to prosecutors breaking with the common practice of preemptively blaming the victim. No evidence. I would just read the cases and file them away. Trust was also built through collaboration between prosecutors and human rights defenders. Here, again, initial resistance on the part of prosecutors gave way to a stronger working rapport. Prosecutors and human rights defenders made other changes to the dialogue process to improve the effectiveness of investigations. These added meetings helped prosecutors identify possible links between cases, such as disappearances that seemed to implicate the same officials or criminal cells.

    Furthermore, putting all the coordinators and defenders together allowed them to share best investigative practices and ideas to overcome common obstacles, such as the most effective way to compel telephone companies to provide the cell phone records of victims, coordinators said. At this writing, the manual is still a work in progress. The manual is essential to ensuring that the institutional knowledge and good practices that have been developed by the current attorney general, coordinators, and prosecutors are passed along to their successors.

    Now all of that is done by default. Besides failing to comply with international standards, this overly narrow definition would have greatly limited the ability of prosecutors to investigate authorities who had full knowledge that enforced disappearances were taking place and failed to do something. This mistake was corrected in the reform that was signed into law in December. Then, to justify such arrests, officials often point to ambiguous, subjective signs that neither tie suspects to specific crimes nor merit immediate detention.

    Judicial police carry out field investigations for prosecutors through activities such as canvassing for witnesses and visiting crime scenes. Prosecutors told Human Rights Watch in October that the appointed police had proved much more competent and trustworthy than other judicial police, and that they were developing genuine expertise in investigating disappearances.

    In November , de la Garza doubled the team to 10 judicial police, and he has said he plans to add more in Improvements in investigative methods and institutional reforms have led to concrete advances in the investigations of cases of disappearances. In October , a new prosecutor was assigned to the case, and a coordinator, Eduardo Ayala, was tasked with overseeing it. When prosecutors carried out this basic step, they uncovered critical new information. Upon investigating the bar where the four men had been the night they were abducted, the coordinator in charge of the case told Human Rights Watch, investigators found signs that pointed to collaboration between the bar owner and organized crime.

    Investigators eventually summoned the owner and workers from the bar for questioning, and confirmed that the four victims had been there on the night they disappeared. They also discovered that the victims and the owner had gotten into an argument over the bill, which ended with the four men leaving the bar. Three suspects have been formally charged in the crime and are awaiting trial, additional suspects have been detained, and investigators have pieced together a credible motive in the crime, which may eventually help determine the fate of the disappeared men.

    They handed over a map of the signals to prosecutors. State investigators also carried out basic steps that previous investigators had neglected, such as interviewing possible witnesses from the night of the detention. The officer was detained by judicial police in September Even in several disappearance cases where prosecutors have not yet charged suspects or determined the fate of the missing people, they have made advances through solid fact-finding work, such as disqualifying certain suspects, identifying others, or determining the last locations where victims were seen or their final phone calls.

    In each case, prosecutors reported back to the families on a series of investigative tasks they had been assigned in their previous meeting. Where new leads had emerged, they shared them with the families and agreed on next steps. And where other leads failed to produce new information, they informed families. The tone of the discussion was constructive and allowed the families to ask questions and make suggestions. In the few instances where investigators had failed to complete tasks they had been assigned, or had performed them inadequately, they were held to book by both families and the coordinators.

    One of the most persistent obstacles to the efforts of prosecutors, human rights defenders, and families investigating disappearances is the lack of cooperation, competence, and trustworthiness of other authorities whose input is crucial to investigations. These include corrupt local police who obstruct investigations, federal prosecutors who refuse to provide state investigators with access to federal detainees who may have relevant information to cases, and authorities from neighboring states who fail to fulfill basic information requests. For instance, a prosecutor told Human Rights Watch that he had repeatedly asked officials from a neighboring municipal police department to provide him with the patrol records which indicate the officers who were working on a given day for a night when a disappearance had occurred.

    For two months, despite repeated requests, police officials refused to provide the prosecutor with the patrol records for that night. When he called to insist, they said they would send them along immediately, only to then delay further. Eventually, the attorney general called police to demand the records for the prosecutor—and still police officials failed to send them. When, approximately three months after they were requested, the records were eventually handed over, the prosecutor identified the two officers who had been on duty during the night of the disappearance.

    However, when he told the police he wanted to question the two officers, he was told that they had quit suddenly, one week earlier. Given the severe hardship and history of setbacks with authorities endured by families who have lost a loved one, such disillusionment is understandable. Nonetheless, it makes investigating challenging cases even more difficult. In part, this is the result of limited resources. These errors continue to undermine efforts to punish those responsible, find missing persons, and prevent disappearances from occurring. In January , a month after taking office, he acknowledged publicly that more than 1, people had disappeared in Coahuila since The state government has taken steps to address the problem, at times in collaboration with civil society.

    In these endeavors, the state government has collaborated—sometimes enthusiastically, other times reluctantly—with the families of disappeared persons and international organizations. Unfortunately, the Coahuila government has at times fallen short in its implementation of these important pledges. For example, in January , Coahuila state legislators reformed the state criminal code to add the crime of enforced disappearance—a crucial step to effectively prosecute these cases. However, the definition of enforced disappearance included in the criminal code is not consistent with international human rights standards—a consequence, in part, of the failure of local authorities to rely on the text of international treaties that Mexico has signed and ratified.

    Nor is the new provision explicit, as international standards stipulate, that enforced disappearances are continuing crimes and any statutes of limitations placed on their prosecution should not begin to run until the crime is complete i. He also said his administration would review and consider all of the general recommendations in the report.

    On November 10, Human Rights Watch met with officials from the Foreign Ministry to discuss the mandate of the commission. We had good reason for concluding that the practice was systematic. All of these authorities were duly cited throughout the report. Where official accounts were lacking, we argued, it was due to the fact that some authorities either refused to respond to our queries, or provided incomplete or false information when they did.

    Nevertheless, in the interest of obtaining justice for the victims whose cases we had documented and helping spur development of a public security strategy that would help reduce such widespread human rights violations, Human Rights Watch expressed its willingness to continue working with the government on the commission.

    This has enormous impact on the families of the desaparecidos. Overwhelming anguish and despair often result in depression. Relatives are entirely committed to searching for their beloved, fearing, at the same time, being abducted themselves. Their life is focused only on this tragedy, with painful consequences. He also urged that all alleged human rights violations committed by soldiers against civilians be investigated and promptly prosecuted.

    It so happened one day that Lion and Jackal came together to converse on affairs of land and state. Jackal, let me say, was the most…. The students are on the streets, waving banners, banging drums, singing, chanting, and calling for an end to the causes driving climate change that is wrecking…. Southworld News October Mexico — The tragedy of the desaparecidos. A crime that is ignored and downplayed Forced disappearances are not new in Mexico. Photo Gallery — Around Asia. Jackal, let me say, was the most… Read more. The Voice of the Planet. The students are on the streets, waving banners, banging drums, singing, chanting, and calling for an end to the causes driving climate change that is wrecking… Read more.