Mexico: beaches, enchiladas and enforced disappearances

Type ‘Mexico’ into Google and the vast majority of the links presented to you will relate to tourism (unless that’s just a result of scarily accurate user profiling…yes Google, I have just got back from a holiday and yes, Google, I do want to plan my next one already, how did you know?). Would I like to go on holiday to Mexico? Maybe. It is a country of beautiful beaches, ancient Mayan palaces and (who could forget) tequila.

It’s also a country in which more than 26,000 people have disappeared over the last 6 years, to the indifference of the authorities, who have failed to investigate the vast majority of those cases. In some, the authorities are themselves implicated. Yes, Mexico is a tourist destination, but it’s a black hole for many of its own citizens. 

Amnesty released a report today which looks at the scale of disappearances in Mexico. Crucially, the type of disappearances we are often talking about in Mexico are “enforced” – where people are abducted or detained by the authorities or individuals acting with their consent, followed by the refusal of the authorities to acknowledge the disappearance.

The snappily named International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (let’s call it the CPPED), which Mexico has signed and ratified, says that states have an obligation to investigate reports of disappearance; establish the whereabouts of the victim; and bring to justice the perpetrators.

The problem in Mexico is that the state rarely even investigates disappearances, let alone holds perpetrators accountable. In fact, out of the cases of disappearance documented by Amnesty since 2010, public officials are implicated in over half of them. In the vast majority of the remaining cases, there was evidence that the authorities had failed to adequately investigate the disappearance.

So if you go missing in Mexico, it may well have been the authorities that took you. If not, the chances of them doing anything to find you are slim. In other words, your chances aren’t great. Here’s a few examples

  • Eight year old Brandon Esteban Acosta Herrera was abducted along with his father and two uncles by armed men in 2009
  • Six men were detained by marines, in front of witnesses, in June 2011
  • Jehu Abraham Sepulveda Garza was arrested by municipal police in 2010 because he’d forgotten his ID card, then transferred to judicial police and finally a military base, and has not been seen since
  • Three men detained in 2009 by heavily armed men wearing military uniforms

The list could go on. The authorities deny knowledge of any of these victims and they remain missing. In many cases when relatives try to report a victim missing and urge the authorities to investigate, they are themselves met with (veiled or otherwise) threats to ‘let it go’. It is a testament to their bravery that many have refused to stop looking for their loved ones, despite the real danger they face for asking questions.

As is our wont in this blog, we must ask the question “what can the UK do?”

Typically I would top the list with calling for high level diplomatic pressure on the Mexican authorities to implement the CPPED. Ah…slight problem with this though, because after six years the UK itself hasn’t yet signed it, with no explanation as to why. Government officials can hardly go off round the world advocating for human rights reform if they haven’t even signed up to the international agreements themselves. So, top of my list: sign, ratify and implement the CPPED, and lead by example.

Next on my list is: put human rights first. Mexico is an emerging economy and a cursory glance of parliamentary records will tell you that the government wants to trade with them. Like, in a BIG way. Mexico is one of 12 countries for which a ‘Trade Envoy’ has recently been appointed; one of 20 countries in which a ‘British Business Centre’ will be opened; and one of only 4 countries with which the EU has a ‘free trade agreement’.  Whilst pursuing business links is legitimate, it must not come at the expense of advocating for human rights.

The UK is desperate to develop strong trade ties with Latin American countries such as Mexico and Colombia (whose President, Juan Manuel Santos, is due to visit the UK this week), but along with growing economies, these countries share human rights problems including enforced disappearances, torture and impunity.

The UK must take every opportunity to advocate for perpetrators of human rights abuses to be held accountable and future abuses prevented; that should happen before the trade talks not after. Oh…and…just that other little thing…sign and ratify the CPPED. Sign it, or explain the delay.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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