Guide Depraved Prosecution Redux

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They want to rule us and aim to do it. We aim not to allow it. All there is to it.

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Dhimmi-wits Die Income Tax Die! Lunatic Fringe Macs Rule! What Meltdown? On the contrary, their plight elicits strong sympathy from most observers—and can even inspire officials to fulfill their functions with a dedication that is normally lacking. The result was a significant increase in the number of cases resolved and criminal charges brought against those responsible. A third feature of the movement is its pragmatism.

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Unlike most other protest movements, the families of the disappeared are driven, for the most part, not by ideological or political agendas but rather by their desperation to resolve their cases. They want the government institutions to function better, no matter who happens to be in charge. This third characteristic might seem mundane in another context. With this potent combination of qualities—implacable determination, unimpeachable moral authority, and radical pragmatism—the families of the disappeared have the potential to be transformative force in Mexico.

Already their efforts have led to thousands of exhumations and judicial investigations, resulting in the resolution of hundreds of cases. The general law on disappearances was one of very few significant advances Mexico made in promoting human rights during the past administration.

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The result is a comprehensive law addressing a wide range of concerns of these families. Chief among these is finding the disappeared.

“A Republic, not a Democracy” Redux

The law mandates the creation of several national databases—including for missing persons and unidentified bodies—and specifies the information that federal and local authorities should collect and share. It establishes a federal agency, the National Search Commission, to coordinate search efforts by prosecutors, police and other agencies—and it requires every state to establish a similar commission.

Just by ensuring that the relevant agencies share existing information through the new databases, these commissions should be able to locate a large number of the disappeared in relatively little time. The law also contains strong provisions to promote justice. Moreover, the law allows for substantial sentence reductions to perpetrators who provide information regarding the fate of the victims—thus providing a powerful incentive to help reveal their whereabouts.

With the information generated by perpetrators seeking sentence reductions—as well as by the revamped databases and coordinated searches—these specialized units could make unprecedented progress in bringing the perpetrators to justice. Mexico has a long history of enacting good human rights laws and then failing to implement them. Indeed, the law grants family members a right to participate in searches and investigations and mandates the creation of programs to protect them and anyone else involved in the search efforts from reprisals.

There are, of course, plenty of reasons to be pessimistic. One is the longstanding incapacity or unwillingness of Mexican authorities to investigate matters involving criminal activity by security forces. Another is the strong resistance by the security forces—and, especially, the military—to being held accountable in any meaningful way by civilian authorities.

Yet hope against all odds is precisely the condition—or the curse—that has been inflicted upon the families of the disappeared who will not—indeed cannot—give up on their missing loved ones. Concretely, he will need to ensure that the mechanisms established by the disappearance law are adequately funded and receiving proactive support from other government agencies—and that they are fully responsive to the citizen advisory councils, collectives and individual families. And, perhaps most critically, when the demands of the families for truth and justice meet resistance from the military and other security forces—which they inevitably will if progress is made on the many cases involving enforced disappearances—the president will need to make crystal clear which side he is on.

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Skip to main content. Help us continue to fight human rights abuses. Please give now to support our work. It was fitting—and commendable—that the decree establishing this important initiative was one of the official acts of his presidency in December. It was also fitting that the parents of other disappeared people stood outside the ceremony demanding that his administration address their cases as well. The disappearance of the students in Iguala shocked the conscience of Mexico—and the world—in a way few atrocities in the country have before it. But also fueling the public outrage was the fact—which became abundantly clear almost immediately—that this horrific crime was not an isolated incident.

Far from it. None were the students. The public attention to the disappearances prompted other people in Guerrero to speak out about their own missing loved ones. Families demanded investigations or began their own searches. Collectives in other states have achieved similar results: more than 30 bodies in Nayarit, in Sinaloa, in Veracruz.


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More than 1, clandestine graves containing more than 3, bodies have been found in 17 states since , according to the National Human Rights Commission. A recent report by independent journalists put that number even higher: 2, graves in 24 states. And these are just the ones that have been found.

The collectives have relied on a simple technique to locate buried bodies. They hammer a metal rod into the ground at a suspected gravesite. When the stench of death emerges, they know they have hit their mark. In a similar manner, through their dogged efforts to get answers from authorities, these families have repeatedly managed to pierce the opacity of the Mexican state, unleashing a stench of evil from within government institutions that appear to be rotten to the core.

Evil is a strong word, but nothing milder seems commensurate with the colossal weight of the suffering of these families, who cannot escape the excruciating psychological torture that comes from not knowing where their missing loves ones are. This evil is not just the active cruelty of police and soldiers who detain and murder civilians or deliver them to cartels.

There is another form of evil that is more banal, yet more pervasive, and ultimately perhaps more gratuitously cruel: the failure of ordinary functionaries to help families find the answers they need to escape their unbearable uncertainty. There are currently more than 37, missing or disappeared people in Mexico. This number is all-the-more disturbing when seen in the light of another: 26,