So far, despite the promises of the authorities during the past six years, the national registry of disappeared persons and the genetic data banks of the federal government and the states does not work. They are anarchic and have failed to identify a single person being sought by relatives, sometimes even for over ten years.
Ana Lorena Delgadillo, of the Foundation for Justice and the Rule of Law, explains that each system operates in complete disarray, with no unifying criteria or capture of information or handling of DNA samples.
These shortcomings were pointed out in the 2009 ruling by the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (IACHR) regarding the so-called Cotton Field femicides that occurred in Ciudad Juárez. The Court ordered the Mexican government to correct this gap by adopting uniform, internationally accepted protocols throughout the country.
“In that court order is everything that we need to upgrade and operate the genetic databases. It’s as simple as applying the ruling to the entire country,” the specialist said
Through the Foundation, Delgadillo works with organizations for the disappeared in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to locate migrants. She was also an adviser to the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) for the Frontier Project in Ciudad Juárez.
She says that in the coming days the Foundation will sign an agreement with the Office for Human Rights of the PGR [federal Attorney General’s office] to work in identifying genetic samples of 193 human remains found in 48 mass graves discovered in the municipality of San Fernando and 49 others in Cadereyta. They will seek to determine the identity of the remains of the 72 migrants killed in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, that are still unknown. The forensic expert said that this will be the first international exercise involving authorities of four countries together with relatives of disappeared persons and the EAAF.
“What we want from this exercise is that a model of good forensic practice is applied and to extend it nationwide to find people who were victims of forced disappearance,” she said.
A year ago, the Foundation and EAAF made a request to the Calderón administration for creation of this tripartite agreement with the IACHR. Only recently has the government responded to the request.
Delgadillo insists that the experience of the Frontier Project, which worked with a list of 471 missing women and 1,314 DNA samples and finally managed to identify 36 remains in Juárez and Arizona, may be a starting point to track more than 20,000 disappeared persons throughout the country.
“When we started work in Juárez, we found that Public Ministry agents [investigative police] and prosecutors did not have complete or cross-checked listings. There was no central record of the remains found; there was no communication between the police and judicial institutions, and the protocols were ineffective. The medical forensic service (Semefos), hospitals and cemeteries have serious deficiencies in their records and chain of custody. Cemetery administrators do not even have information on how many remains are in mass graves.”
To orient the Argentine forensic team, Ana Lorena and Alma Gomez of the Center for Women’s Human Rights in Chihuahua, took them on what they called the “vampire tour”, a name given jokingly in order to exorcise the horror. Ana Lorena and Alma exhausted the team with visits in search for records in all public ministries, morgues, hospitals, cemeteries and medical schools of Chihuahua, Nuevo León and Zacatecas states: “And we found anarchy everywhere.”
To illustrate, she quotes an example: For years a family had been looking for their lost daughter. The record with all data and photographs lay in a drawer of an agent of the Public Ministry in Chihuahua. For five years, the girl’s body had been in the amphitheater of the medical school in the same city. A forensic office had “donated it”, despite there being an ongoing investigation. And the institutions had not exchanged information that was at hand. The discovery of her identity was almost by accident.
Another example: Later, when she was involved in the Frontier Project in Juárez, they identified the body of a Honduran migrant. Almost simultaneously, there came to light a huge number of remains of undocumented migrants, allegedly unclaimed, in the morgue in Pima, Arizona. It was said that there were at least 1,800 remains of persons, presumably Mexicans and Central Americans, whom no one had claimed. Immediately the EAAF went to Pima to investigate.
“At that moment, we realized that the effort had to be transnational (Central America, Mexico and the United States) if you want to have any degree of certainty as to the whereabouts of hundreds of thousands of missing trans-migrants.
“And whom should we look for? There are several categories: ‘not located’, ‘missing persons’, ‘forced disappearances’. We must find them all. It is preferable that the State exceed in its practice and not overlook something.”
Delgadillo insists there were lessons learned from the Cotton Field case with the Interamerican Commission:
“It also taught us how to work the Mexican government in international forums. And exactly what not to do. At that time, government lawyers had huge listings of ‘actions taken’ and protocols, and they planned enviable facilities for genetic identification in at least four Semefos labs and cutting edge technology in Control Centers (C-4). And despite all the presumed advances, they didn’t offer a single result. Despite the modernity and the abundance of resources, they continue operating with the same vices and not allowing family involvement.”
If in the case of missing Mexicans, the public ministries often don’t even know where to begin; in the case of migrants, they do not even think about them, she says. She concludes:
“The management of the information derived from gene banks of each country and each state must be integrated, cross checked with other information provided by families, such as the history and place of origin of each migrant. The information can’t remain only in the hands of the state but must be delivered in triplicate: one copy for the Office for Human Rights, one for the families and one for the EAAF. Only thus is it possible to have certainty and confidence in the results.”