Mexico: UN criticizes officials on disappearances

In a report published on Feb. 13, the United Nations' Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) called on the Mexican government to prioritize actions to deal with the large number of disappearances taking place in many parts of the country, often with the participation of government functionaries. Although international attention has been focused on the September abduction of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College, located in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa, the total number of people who have gone missing in Mexico since the militarization of the "war on drugs" began in late 2006 is estimated at 22,600. "[I]n contrast to the thousands of enforced disappearances," CED member Rainer Huhle told a news briefing, citing the government's own statistics, "there are exactly six persons put to trial and sentenced for this crime."

The report was based on an evaluation the CED carried out Feb. 2-3 at the group's headquarters in Geneva. The CED recognized some advances by the Mexican government, including the ratification of all United Nations human rights treaties and the adoption of a General Law for Victims, but expressed dissatisfaction with the government's failure even to keep an accurate record of the number of forced disappearances. The committee's recommendations included creating a national registry of disappearances and formation of a special unit to search for disappeared persons. (La Jornada, Mexico, Feb. 14; Jurist, Feb. 14)

The Ayotzinapa case has brought international attention to Mexico's record on disappearances. On Jan. 22 the London-based rights group Amnesty International (AI) criticized what it called "the faltering investigations overseen by the Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam." "The disappearance of [the Ayotzinapa] students is a crime that has shocked the world," AI Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas said. "This tragedy has changed the distorted perception that the human rights situation has been improving in Mexico since President [Enrique] Peña Nieto took power" in 2012.

Criticism is also starting to increase in the US, whose government and media have strongly backed Peña Nieto in the past. The Mexican government's account of the Ayotzinapa abductions "isn't a historical truth," José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of US-based Human Right Watch (HRW), said recently. "It's an official version." The website of the influential weekly The New Yorker has carried five articles so far on the Ayotzinapa case by novelist Francisco Goldman. The latest, posted on Feb. 7, details the many questions raised by the official account of the abduction of the students. (AI press release, Jan. 22; New Yorker, Feb. 7; Jurist, Feb. 13)

In related news, the cousin of a disappearance victim was murdered around noon on Feb. 13 in Iguala de la Independencia, the Guerrero city that was the site of the September attack on the Ayotzinapa students. Two men on a motorcycle gunned Norma Angélica Bruno Román down in front of her three children as they were on the way to a cemetery for the burial of another murder victim, José Ramón Bernabé Armenta, who had been killed two days earlier. Initial reports said Bruno Román was an activist with the local Committee of Forced Disappearance Victims; the committee is also known as "The Other Disappeared," since it deals with victims other than the missing 43 students. The group clarified later that Bruno Román had participated in the group's activities in her search for her cousin, Ivette Melissa Flores Román, who has been missing since she was abducted from her home the night of Oct. 24, 2012. However, Bruno Román wasn't part of the group, and committee members felt her murder wasn't connected to their work. (Proceso, Mexico, Feb. 13; LJ, Feb. 14)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, February 15.

In October, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions called on Mexico to fully investigate police extra-judicial executions.