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Mexico: Relatives of 26,000 'disappeared' in six years deserve justice

Amnesty International today accused the Mexican authorities of failing to deal with a humanitarian crisis concerning thousands of ‘disappeared’ people in the country.

In a new briefing launched at the Museo de la Memoria y Tolerancia in Mexico city, Amnesty revealed that in the last six years 26,000 people have disappeared in the country yet little has been done to locate them and deliver justice for their relatives.

The 16-page briefing, Confronting a nightmare: Disappearances in Mexico, reveals that not only have Mexico’s federal and state authorities largely turned a blind eye to the disappearances, which are mostly linked to a crackdown on criminal gangs, but that in some cases they have actually been carried out by public officials.

Senior government officials have recently made commitments to end disappearances and locate the victims, but Amnesty believes those promises will mean nothing to the relatives if they do not produce tangible results to end impunity and clarify the whereabouts of victims.

Amnesty International’s researcher on Mexico, Rupert Knox, said:

“These figures demonstrate one of the key human rights challenges facing the government of Enrique Peña Nieto: ending the crisis of disappearances, locating the victims and holding those responsible to account – regardless of whether they are criminals or public officials.

“It is essential that the government confront this nightmare, by involving victims and human rights groups in the development and implementation of public policy, which must be enforced by federal and all state-level authorities to ensure an effective response to this crisis.

“The steps taken so far by the government – including publishing data on disappearances, meeting some of the relatives and promising to establish a special unit to search for the disappeared – are welcome, but insufficient.”

The Amnesty briefing also documents the struggle of relatives for truth, justice and reparation, in the face of official inaction.

This impunity has resulted in threats, stigmatisation and mistreatment of relatives desperate to find their disappeared loved ones. In the face of official collusion or inertia, they have had to carry out their own investigations, often at great personal risk.

Their struggle is reflected in stories like Israel Arenas Durán's mother. Israel disappeared at the hands of transit police in the northern state of Nuevo León on 17 June 2011. When his mother went to the office of the investigator in charge of the case to ask about her son’s whereabouts, the official sent for a patrol car to remove her from his office “because he didn’t want us demanding an investigation”.

Even though the Mexican government has now partly recognised the magnitude of disappearances in the country, it has yet to acknowledge the involvement of federal, state and municipal agents in many of the cases. Official involvement in such cases makes them enforced disappearances, a violation of international law.

The systematic failure to properly investigate reported disappearances is also a breach of international law and has thwarted opportunities to locate the disappeared. Moreover, the authorities’ negligence has conveniently disguised the true number of cases, including those in which the authorities are implicated.

Amnesty International representatives will participate in a conference organised by relatives of the disappeared in the northern city of Saltillo between 5 and 7 June to identify and promote measures to combat disappearances.

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