Briefing note. Second day of the Symposium on Enforced Disappearances organized by United Forces for Our Disappeared in Coahuila (FUUNDEC).

“The impunity during the dirty war in the 1970s in Mexico set the conditions for today’s disappearances. If something had been done before, this would not be happening today.” These were the words of Yanett Bautista, member of the Foundation Nadia Erika Bautista from Colombia. She discussed how the families of the disappeared have driven the process of justice in Colombia. Families are the one searching for their relatives and presenting law initiatives to Congress.  Examples of these are the law recognizing enforced disappearances as a crime and the homage law.  The latter involves the obligation of the state to create a Genetic Database of Unidentified Bodies and treat human remains according to international standards.

Federica Riccardi from Red Cross International expressed that search protocols need to have an open approach in terms of the kind of evidence that is included into the investigations such as photos, study of circumstances and witnesses’ testimonies.  These protocols have to be elaborated with the collaboration of the victims’ families.


Francisco Maldonado, attorney in the Fujimori case in Peru, emphasized the importance of civil society in the fight against impunity. He mentioned the crucial role of nongovernmental organizations, the Catholic and Evangelical churches, journalists and the Inter-American System of Justice in the ruling against Fujimori, former president of Perú who committed massive human rights violations in the country.

Elva Nevarez, from the NGO Eureka, talked about her experience as a disappeared when members of the armed forces took her to a military camp during the 1970s in Mexico. Through her experience, she showed how enforced disappearances are not new phenomena in Mexico. In the past, the main targets of disappearances were those who disagreed politically with the government. Nowadays, the targets are young people and the poor.  Militarization and the Mexican state’s tolerance of disappearance and murder is not part of direct strategy of political repression per se but rather a kind of social cleansing.  Here, the Mexican government has sought for legitimacy through the military outside of democratic mechanisms.   

Edgar Cortez Morales, from the Mexican Institute of Human Rights and Democracy, expressed that there is a need for a law reforms, and institutional and cultural change in Mexico.  In relation of law reforms, Cortez Morales argued that laws need to be homogenized across subnational states in Mexico in order to ensure the search for the disappeared.  He also expressed the need to ask judges to pressure other public authorities to investigate these cases. In regards to institutional change, there is a need for better coordination among crime investigation authorities, police forces and the Attorney’s Offices. About cultural change, Cortez suggested that state institutions should always take a human rights approach. An example of this is the application of abstract judicial review to make domestic laws compatible with those human rights recognized by the Mexican constitution.

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