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Anti-Militarism: Organized crime and corrupt officials responsible for Mexico’s disappearances, UN says

By Nina Lakhani

Number of young people disappeared is increasing as total number of cases exceeds 95,000, very few of which are solved

Corrupt state officials and organized crime factions are to blame for Mexico’s soaring number of enforced disappearances, whose victims increasingly include children – some as young as 12, according to a new UN investigation.

Just over 95,000 people were registered as disappeared at the end of November 2021. Of those, 40,000 were added in the past five years, according to the new report by the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

“Organized crime has become a central perpetrator of disappearance in Mexico, with varying degrees of participation, acquiescence or omission by public servants,” said the UN delegation. During their 11-day visit last November, 112 disappearances were added to the registry.

Impunity remains the norm, and is driving the growing number of disappearances and cover-ups. Just 2% to 6% of the disappearances had resulted in prosecutions, with only 36 convictions handed down at the national level.

In Mexico’s most notorious case of enforced disappearances in recent years, independent investigators recently found the armed forces knew that 43 trainee teachers who disappeared in Guerrero in 2014 were being kidnapped by criminals, then hid evidence that could have helped locate them. No one has yet been convicted, and investigators have been blocked from even interviewing the military.

“Impunity in Mexico is a structural feature that favours the reproduction and cover-up of enforced disappearances and creates threats and anxiety to the victims, those defending and promoting their rights, public servants searching for the disappeared and investigating their cases, and society as a whole,” the UN committee said on Tuesday.

While men between 15 and 40 years old remain the most common victims, figures from the national registry show a significant increase in disappearances of boys and girls, as well as of adolescents and women. This has worsened since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with victims most likely trafficked for sexual exploitation or other criminal purposes – a trend also reported in neighbouring Guatemala.

Civil society groups and reporters trying to expose wrongdoing are also being targeted. Of the 30 or more journalists who disappeared between 2003 and 2021, none has been located. Some human rights defenders have been disappeared because of their participation in searches and fighting against disappearances.

The UN delegates visited 13 states, and heard allegations of disappearances that occurred in prisons and migration centres. In some cases, migrants were illegally detained at secret locations and had their mobile phones taken by perpetrators who then demanded money from families, sometimes with the support or consent of public officials.

The report also highlights the forensic crisis facing the country. According to official figures, more than 52,000 unidentified deceased persons are lying in mass graves, forensic service facilities, universities and forensic storage centres.

The national search plan lacks resources and coordination, resulting in inadequate searches and investigations.

“In order for disappearance to cease to be the paradigm of the perfect crime in Mexico, prevention must be at the heart of national policy for the prevention and eradication of enforced disappearances”, the committee concluded.