Torture and enforced disappearance in Mexico

Project Description

Title: Strengthening the rule of law in Mexico II
Commissioned by: German Federal Foreign Office (AA)
Country: Mexico
Lead executing agency: National Search Commission (CNB) and Mexican Office for Domestic Affairs
Overall term: 2019 to 2020

Ordentliche Bestattung eines unbekannt Verstorbenen nach einer Ausgrabung_rdax_350x265


According to the country’s own government, Mexico is experiencing a profound humanitarian crisis. The country faces great challenges in the security and justice system in terms of organisation, coordination and the monitoring of its adherence to the rule of law. More than 60,000 people are currently believed to be missing in Mexico. At the same time, the remains of more than 37,000 people are unidentified and kept either in forensic medical institutes in the 32 federal states or buried anonymously in public cemeteries. It is likely that many of the missing persons are among these so far unidentified victims. In addition, Mexico registers almost 100 cases of homicide per day at present. Yet extensive criminal investigations are rare. The number of unidentified victims and missing persons and the strain on social harmony are comparable to post-conflict regions. 

In cases of enforced disappearance, relatives and persons looking for missing people do not have any certainty about the fate of their relatives and friends. The families of those missing suffer severely under the strain of not knowing, holding on to hope every day and their inability to mourn. 

Furthermore, there are numerous incidences of prosecutors using torture to extract evidence and confessions. Juan Méndez, a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture (OHCHR), describes the use of torture as general practice in Mexico.

The high number of homicides and missing persons as well as extremely low levels of criminal cases solved and widespread corruption clearly indicate deficiencies in the rule of law and protection of human rights.


Conditions for the effective prevention and investigation of cases of enforced disappearance and torture have been improved. 

Zwei mexikanische und zwei deutsche Rechtsmediziner analysieren ein Stück Haut_rdax_350x233


On behalf of the German Federal Foreign Office, the project helps to identify more unknown deceased persons in Mexico. This way, it helps to build trust in the rule of law. Specifically, the mechanisms and structures of the Mexican National Search Commission and of forensic medical institutes are being improved. The project provides training and technical cooperation to search for forcibly disappeared persons, identify bodies and actively involve the families of the victims in these processes. In addition, the project accompanies implementation of a national anti-torture programme that aims to prevent and punish the use of torture methods in investigative work. 

The project contributes to stabilising the security situation in the country and to implementing effective mechanisms to prevent torture and enforced disappearance. In particular, the project provides the technical equipment used for the forensic identification of the deceased. The aim is to promote the application of methods such as autopsies, forensic anthropology and ante-mortem/post-mortem databases in the pilot states of Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Oaxaca. Together with the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the project is also working to implement an Extraordinary Forensic Identification Mechanism (MEIF) to search for and excavate numerous hidden (mass) graves and identify the victims buried there.

The project will also strengthen civil society and the organisations of families searching for their missing relatives. Cooperation above all between the national government and federal states as well as civil society and government stakeholders can improve the human rights situation in Mexico.


Forensic medical institutes in Mexico increasingly identify more unknown deceased persons. Their surviving dependants obtain certainty about the fate of their relatives. Stabilisation and social pacification are becoming evident in Mexico.

Civil society, the government and public prosecutors together develop a national anti-torture programme with the aim of preventing cases of torture and, at the same time, improving the investigation of such cases. Cases are solved, torture victims receive support and the Mexican justice system meets international legal standards.

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