Mexico only investigates 1% of forced diappearences

Only one percent of forced disappearances in Mexico have been investigated by authorities, a miniscule figure that underscores the widespread impunity and lack of political will that have left thousands of cases unresolved.

According to government figures, 29,707 cases of forced disappearances were reported between January 2006 and July 2014, according to a new series by Animal Politico. Of these individuals, 17,175 have been found and over 12,500 are still missing. In total, Mexican authorities have only initiated preliminary investigations in 291 of these cases, and have failed to sentence a single person for participating in a forced disappearance since 2006.

In an interview with Animal Politico, Ariel Dulitzky -- the former head of the United Nations body that deals with disappearances in Mexico (WGEID) -- stated that systematic impunity was a major factor contributing to the high prevalence of forced disappearances. Dulitzky also identified a lack of investigation, a lack of transparency or clarity in the government's database, and inadequate search protocols as factors that have exacerbated the problem.

InSight Crime Analysis

The high number of forced disappearances in Mexico is often linked to organized crime, and in some cases the disappeared themselves may have criminal connections. According to 2013 statistics from the Interior Ministry's human rights ombudsman, of the 26,121 people registered as disappeared under former President Felipe Calderon, 20,915 had themselves faced preliminary investigations.

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However, simply saying the victims were themselves guilty is a government tactic that not only indiscriminately criminalizes victims and excuses state inaction, it also covers up something far more troublesome -- the involvement of the state in many cases.

In a Human Rights Watch report released around the same time as the Interior Ministry's figures, the organization documented 20 cases of forced disappearances perpetrated by Mexico's navy. Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) later reported that accusations had been filed against Mexican officials for 20 forced disappearances in the first five months of 2013. In addition, the involvement or complicity of the state was highlighted in the investigations of the WGEID in 2011, and in several cases cited in Animal Politico's investigation.

Whoever the perpetrators behind forced disappearances are, the fact that so few are even investigated -- never mind prosecuted -- means the crime will likely remain a fixture of Mexico's security problems for a long time to come.