There is a legal distinction between disappearances and forced (enforced) disappearances. The latter, as defined by the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, is the “arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law”.
Data and analyses on disappearances and forced disappearances in Mexico have been mostly generated by investigative journalism as well as national and international non-government organizations. According to the latest report issued by the Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda (CNB), created under López Obrador’s tenure and housed in the Interior Ministry, there are 61,637 missing individuals for the period 1964 to 2019. However, the actual number of disappearances and forced disappearances remains a contentious matter.
Through freedom of information requests at the state and federal levels, investigative journalists found significant discrepancies between the data presented by the CNB and the one collected by local fiscalías or attorney general’s offices. Per an interview with the head of the CNB, journalists found the data reported by the CNB are incomplete; with 12 of 33 fiscalías yet to provide information and 8 providing data still undergoing a verification process.
While the actions to bring justice to families of missing loved ones under the López Obrador administration were initially met with enthusiasm, there are still concerns on the government’s effectiveness in registering disappearances, conducting missing person searches, and delivering justice to families of victims. On June 2018, still under the Enrique Peña administration, Congress approved the Federal Law regarding Special Declaration of Absence for Missing Persons that created a procedure for declaring absence, and set guidelines, implications, procedures, and rights as a result of missing persons. To date, activists argue 28 states have yet to harmonize their laws with the Special Declaration of Absence for Missing Persons, 7 lack a special prosecutor for missing persons, and 3 have yet to create a local search commission.
Author: Cecilia Farfán