Authorities across Mexico must pass and implement laws making enforced disappearance a criminal offence in accordance with international human rights law, Amnesty International said as one state considers a bill to outlaw the practice.
Nuevo León, near the US border, is one of several Mexican states that have seen a surge in violence in recent years, including abductions and enforced disappearances in which members of criminal gangs and also the armed forces and police are implicated.
On 19 January, state authorities will discuss a proposed bill to criminalize enforced disappearance. If the bill is passed, Nuevo León will join eight of Mexico’s states with such legislation.
“Many of the enforced disappearances taking place across Mexico involve municipal or state police, which may fall outside the federal jurisdiction and the scope of the present federal law,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor to Amnesty International.
“Successfully passing this key law in Nuevo León will strengthen efforts across the country to introduce legislation and ensure the effective investigation and prosecution of current and future enforced disappearance cases.”
Cases of illegal detention and abduction in which public officials are implicated are often not investigated in Mexico, with authorities preferring to place blame solely with criminal organizations.
“Under international law, the state must prevent enforced disappearances and bring those responsible to justice,” said Javier Zúñiga.
“The authorities must not wait for the new legislation to be passed to take immediate action on many cases where there is overwhelming evidence of involvement of the army, navy or the police.”
Almost 50,000 people have been killed and thousands have gone missing across Mexico since December 2006, when President Calderón took office and deployed the armed forces to combat organized crime networks.
Conflict between drug cartels has spread to many states and cities, such as Monterrey, the state capital of Nuevo León.
There are widespread reports of collusion of public officials. The militarized response to criminal gangs has also resulted in gross human rights violations such as torture, enforced disappearance and unlawful killings. Impunity for these crimes remains the norm.
Local human rights organizations have documented hundreds of cases where people have been abducted or disappeared in the state. They claim that municipal and state police – frequently accused of collusion with criminal gangs – have been directly or indirectly implicated in 40 per cent of these cases.
Under Mexico’s federal government system, each of the 31 states, plus the Mexico City federal district, have their own criminal jurisdiction.
This means that responsibility often falls to state rather than federal authorities to investigate and prosecute crimes such as enforced disappearance, illegal detention and abduction.
Victims and NGOs have found many obstacles to getting such cases investigated effectively or clarifying the role played by state agents.
Mexico has ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
However, it has failed to recognize the Enforced Disappearances Committee's remit to receive and consider communications lodged by victims or by other states parties to the Convention.
“By not having adequate laws in place to ensure that disappearances are investigated and prosecuted effectively as a criminal offence, Mexico is not complying with its international obligations,” said Javier Zúñiga.
“We urge legislators in Nuevo León and other Mexican states to change this.”