Searching for Mexico’s disappeared

Mexico is in the midst of a security and justice crisis, with thousands of people forcibly disappeared and many others seemingly immune from prosecution, even for the most serious crimes. International partners are supporting efforts to find and identify victims.

Almost 40,000 missing persons, 26,000 unidentified bodies and around 100 new murders every day. According to the country’s own government, Mexico is experiencing a profound humanitarian crisis. Yet extensive criminal investigations are rare, with fewer than 10 per cent of crimes being reported or solved by the authorities. This unresolved situation also puts the families of those missing under severe strain. Furthermore, there are scores of cases of prosecutors using torture to extract evidence and confessions.

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is working with Mexican institutions and civil society to improve prosecution efforts and the structures that underpin the justice system and forensic medicine. On behalf of the German Federal Foreign Office, the project works at federal level and in four individual states to support the Ministry of the Interior, public prosecutors, forensic medicine institutes and search units through training and technical cooperation. They work together to search for forcibly disappeared persons, identify bodies and actively involve the families of the victims in these processes. 

In 2018, the project provided technical support with an exhumation in the state of Tamaulipas, which recovered approx. 265 bodies. Thanks to DNA samples provided by more than 300 relatives of missing persons, 20 bodies were identified and released to the families, who also received psychological and social support. In addition, the project works closely with victims’ associations.

Together with state institutions and civil society organisations, the project also helped to develop a national anti-torture programme. The programme aims to prevent the use of torture in investigations and identify the appropriate offences more quickly. This marks the first time in Mexico that victims’ groups, NGOs and governmental institutions, with assistance from the United Nations and the project, have developed a programme designed to combat torture. 

The security and human rights crisis in Mexico can only be resolved if the government’s security and justice institutions significantly improve their work and thus gain the trust of the Mexican people in the rule of law. Support provided by GIZ and the Federal Foreign Office plays an important role. The new Mexican government cited the project, together with the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as an example of international cooperation in the search for and identification of the forcibly disappeared.