There were reports of forced disappearances--the secret abduction or imprisonment of a person--by security forces and of many forced disappearances related to organized criminal groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion. In its data collection, the government often merged statistics on forcibly disappeared persons with missing persons not suspected of being victims of forced disappearance, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.
Federal law prohibits forced disappearances, but laws relating to forced disappearances vary widely across the 32 states, and not all classify “forced disappearance” as distinct from kidnapping.
Investigation, prosecution, and sentencing for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. The CNDH registered 19 cases of alleged forced disappearances through December 15.
There were credible reports of police involvement in kidnappings for ransom, and federal officials or members of the national defense forces were sometimes accused of perpetrating this crime. The government’s statistics agency (INEGI) estimated that 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated and that underreporting of kidnapping may have been even higher.
In January, five sailors were charged by civilian prosecutors for illegal detention of a man in Mexico State. No trial date had been set at year’s end. In July the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR) arrested and transferred to civilian authorities seven sailors for their alleged involvement in a series of kidnappings.
On November 16, the president signed into law the General Law on Forced Disappearances after three years of congressional debate. The law establishes criminal penalties for persons convicted, stipulating 40 to 90 years’ imprisonment for those found guilty of the crime of forced disappearance, and provides for the creation of a National System for the Search of Missing Persons, a National Forensic Data Bank, an Amber Alert System, and a National Search Commission.
The CNDH registered 19 cases of alleged forced disappearances through December 15. In an April report on disappearances, the CNDH reported 32,236 registered cases of disappeared persons through September 2016. According to the CNDH, 83 percent of cases were concentrated in the following states: Tamaulipas, Mexico State, Sinaloa, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora, Guerrero, Puebla, and Michoacan.
As of April 30, according to the National Registry of Missing Persons, 31,053 individuals were recorded as missing or disappeared. Tamaulipas was the state with the most missing or disappeared persons at 5,657, followed by Mexico State at 3,754 and Jalisco with 2,754. Men represented 74 percent of those disappeared, according to the database.
As of August the deputy attorney general for human rights was investigating 943 cases of disappeared persons. The federal Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for the Search of Missing Persons had opened cases for 747 victims; the Unit for the Investigation of Crimes against Migrants had opened cases for 143 victims; the Iguala Case Investigation Office had opened cases for 43 victims; and the special prosecutor for violence against women and trafficking in persons had opened cases for 10 victims.
At the state level, in March, Jalisco state authorities announced the creation of the specialized attorney general’s office for disappeared persons. As of May 31, the Jalisco Amber Alert system for missing minors had been used 964 times (since its inception in 2013). As of May 31, a separate Jalisco Alba Alert system to report the disappearance of a woman or girl had been employed more than 1,200 times since its inception in April 2016.
In June the state government of Chihuahua announced the creation of a specialized attorney general’s office for grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearances. According to a local NGO, the Center for Women’s Human Rights (CEDEHM), Chihuahua was one of the states with the highest numbers of enforced disappearances, with more than 1,870 victims as of May 2016. During the year the state also signed a memorandum of understanding with a group of independent forensics experts from Argentina to analyze human remains found in the municipalities of Cuauhtemoc, Carichi, and Cusihuiriachi and to gather DNA.
The Coahuila governor’s office and state attorney general’s office formed a joint working group early in the year to improve the state’s unit for disappearances, collaborating with the local NGO Fray Juan de Larios to build the first registry of disappeared persons in Coahuila. The governor met monthly with families of the disappeared. Coahuila state prosecutors continued to investigate forced disappearances between 2009 and 2012 by the Zetas transnational criminal organization. These disappearances, carried out in collusion with some state officials and municipal police, occurred in the border towns of Piedras Negras, Allende, and Nava. State prosecutors executed 18 arrest warrants in the Allende massacre, including 10 for former police officials. Separately, they issued 19 arrest warrants for officials from the Piedras Negras state prison accused of allowing a transnational criminal organization to use the prison as a base to kill and incinerate victims.
Local human rights NGOs criticized the state’s response, saying most of those arrested were set free by courts after the state erred by filing kidnapping charges against the accused rather than charges of forced disappearance. A coalition of Coahuila-based human rights NGOs, many of them backed by the Roman Catholic diocese of Saltillo, filed a communique with the International Criminal Court in the Hague stating that state-level government collusion with transnational criminal organizations had resulted in massive loss of civilian life between 2009 and 2012, during the administration of then governor Humberto Moreira. They further stated that between 2012 and 2016, during the administration of then governor Ruben Moreira (brother of Humberto), state security authorities committed crimes against humanity in their fight against the Zetas, including unjust detention and torture. In July the state government disputed these findings and produced evidence of its investigations into these matters.
In a study of forced disappearances in Nuevo Leon released in June, researchers from the Latin American Faculty of Social Science’s Observatory on Disappearance and Impunity, the University of Minnesota, and Oxford University found that the 548 documented forced disappearances in the state between 2005 and 2015 were almost equally divided between those ordered by state agents (47 percent) and those ordered by criminal organizations (46 percent). Of the state agents alleged to be behind these disappearances, 35 were federal or military officials, 30 were state-level officials, and 65 were municipal officials. The study relied primarily on interviews with incarcerated gang members and family members of disappeared persons.
In May the Veracruz state government established an online database of disappearances, documenting 2,500 victims, and began a campaign to gather samples for a DNA database to assist in identification.
In 2016 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) launched the follow-up mechanism agreed to by the government, the IACHR, and the families of the 43 students who disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The government provided funding for the mechanism to continue the work of the group of independent experts (GIEI) that supported the investigation of the disappearances and assisted the families of the victims during their 2015-16 term. At the end of the GIEI mandate in April 2016, the experts released a final report critical of the government’s handling of the case. The federal government reported it had complied with 923 of the experts’ 973 recommendations. In December the government extended the GIEI mandate for an additional year.
According to information provided by the Attorney General’s Office in August, authorities had indicted 168 individuals and arrested 128, including 73 police officers from the towns of Cocula and Iguala, and 55 alleged members of the Guerrero-based drug trafficking organization Guerreros Unidos connected to the Iguala case. Authorities held many of those arrested on charges related to organized crime rather than on charges related to the disappearance of the students, according to the GIEI. In 2016 authorities arrested the former police chief of Iguala, Felipe Flores, who had been in hiding since the 2014 disappearances. A 2016 CNDH report implicated federal and local police officers from nearby Huitzuco in the killings. Representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, Foreign Ministry, and Interior Ministry met regularly with the families of the victims to update them on progress being made in the case. Both federal and state authorities reported they continued to investigate the case, including the whereabouts of the missing students or their remains.
In April the Follow-Up Mechanism expressed its “concern about the slow pace in the search activities and in the effective clarification of the various lines of investigation indicated by the GIEI.” The commission also noted, “Not a single person has been prosecuted in this case for the crime of forced disappearance, and no new charges have been filed since December 2015.” The commission noted progress in “the administrative steps taken to contract the Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) surveying technology to be used in the search for the students, the progress made in the investigation of telephone communications, and the establishment of a timeline for taking statements from those arrested and other individuals. It also values the progress made in the investigations into possible involvement of police officers from Huitzuco.” In July the IACHR Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expressed concern regarding alleged spying that targeted “at least one member of the GIEI” along with human rights defenders and journalists.