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Help Mothers of the Disappeared Find Justice

by Instituto Mexicano de Derechos Humanos y Democracia A.C.
Help Mothers of the Disappeared Find Justice
Help Mothers of the Disappeared Find Justice
Help Mothers of the Disappeared Find Justice
Help Mothers of the Disappeared Find Justice
Help Mothers of the Disappeared Find Justice
Help Mothers of the Disappeared Find Justice
Help Mothers of the Disappeared Find Justice
Help Mothers of the Disappeared Find Justice

Covid-19 has shaken the world, causing the closure of borders, airports, schools, companies and has in general, paralyzed the entire world. In line with the above, Mexico reaches day 65 of the social distancing decreed by the federal government, and due to which many of the government agencies have suspended or reduced their activities to stop the spread of the disease. The health emergency has also caused groups of relatives of missing persons to have suspended their search activities.


Relatives, adhering to the rules of social distancing, have been forced to remain in their homes, thus putting a forced halt in their searches. For families looking to locate a relative, this situation becomes more difficult every day. Each day of compulsory isolation is a potential day wasted where a loved one could have returned home. The relatives stay at home, being aware that only in this way can they stay healthy to continue searching for the more than 61,000 people who have disappeared. Staying healthy to continue looking for their relatives is what motivates mothers, daughters and sisters in Veracruz to remain in confinement in their homes.


Despite the confinement and due to the lack of an optimal response by the government of Veracruz and the federal government, on May 10, women looking for a family member who has disappeared, took to the streets of Xalapa to demand that the search is not stopped, and for the authorities to clarify how the search would continue during the duration of the health emergency.


Considering at the moment, women looking for a family member are going through a difficult time, due to the uncertainty of the continuation of the search process by the authorities and at the same time when they’ll be able to return to the streets and farms to continue their work.In these days of quarantine, and being aware of the difficult situation that the members of the groups are going through, the IMDHD held a self-care session for the women of the groups, to help them cope healthily with the quarantine process, as well as alleviate any emotional distress, have a space in which they talk about what worries them, as well as what gives them hope and strength to continue. During the session, we also provided some exercises for them to practice, as well as general health tips to make them feel better and as soon as possible, to be able to resume their activities while being healthy and strong.


This week, the aim is to start with humanitarian support to members of the groups that due to the health emergency, have lost their jobs or their income has been seriously affected due to mobility restrictions or the closure of non-essential businesses. We seek to provide humanitarian support to family members in the State of Mexico and Veracruz. The humanitarian aid that is sought to be provided will be made up of medical supplies, food, as well as medicines.

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In January of 2020 Karla Quintana, the head of the National Registry of Missing Persons, revised the number of disappeared people to 61,637; a substantial increase of 52% compared to the last recorded numbers released in 2019. Veracruz has the second largest amount of these open disappeared person’s cases in Mexico, following Guerrero. The majority of the disappeared are from poor and impoverished areas which are particularly vulnerable to cartel invasions and the highest amount of cases correspond to ages 15 to 19.

In Veracruz 21 collectives of family members of disappeared persons with the support of IMDHD participated in a dialogue with the local congress which resulted in the General Law on the Disappearances of Persons for the state of Veracruz which was designed to better fund and improve search efforts for the thousands of people missing or forcibly disappeared. Until recently the disappearances were to a great extent ignored but as these collectives have become more organized it has become harder for authorities to do so. Collectives in Veracruz have exhumed 300 bodies so far through organized search activities, however, these efforts must be matched with government actions in order to identify bodies and therefore close these cases.

Currently IMDHD is working on a project in Veracruz to strengthen the management of these collectives by providing training on how to establish efficient cases, have plentiful knowledge on the General Disappearance and Local Law and apply techniques that can help in search and investigative efforts. Furthermore, training support will also be provided to authorities so that both groups can collectively assist in investigative actions of missing persons. In response to systematic disappearances that occurred under a government security operation in Coatzacoalcos during May and September of 2015, IMDHD also plans to develop a sufficient method of context analysis that can provide answers to the relationship between the disappearances and the implementation of this operation.

In Xalapa, IMDHD plans to build a training space to ensure that the women of these 21 collectives have an area to increase and develop their management and advocacy skills which can then be replicated in cases for their missing relatives. The School of Leadership, Participation and Democracy will hold a workshop between April and June 2020 where women will be invited to share their knowledge and experiences and develop their individual and collective power to influence organizations, communities and authorities. The school aims to achieve this by addressing the following issues:

- Develop individual leadership skills
- Strengthen knowledge about the legal framework of disappearance of people
- Present and appropriate good practices of self-care
- Build rights enforceability and social mobilization strategies
- Define the political role of women in the construction of working groups and democratic organizations
- Listen to the testimonies and good practices provided by women who through their leadership have contributed to social change.

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The weekend of the 21st of September, we provided a workshop to family members of disappeared people in Orizaba - a small ´magical´ town in the State of Veracruz.

Lately, the town has received a great deal of negative attention as a consequence of a series of violent acts taking place in the region. That does however not mean that violence is new to this region. The State of Veracruz has been plagued by violence ever since Mexico´s so-called War on Drugs started.

Veracruz, with its 400 miles of coastline on the Gulf of Mexico, is one of the country's most important areas for importing and exporting goods but the state is beset by tension and a bloody war between cartels.

As a result, thousands of inhabitants have faced serious human rights abuses such as: femicides, homicides, extra-judicial killings, torture and (enforced) disappearance. We accompany around 300 family members of disappeared persons, members of collectives of family members of the disappeared.

We organized this workshop in Orizaba for the collective Families of the Disappeared Orizaba-Córdoba. During the workshop, we addressed the following issues:

1. The Federal Law regarding Special Declaration of Absence for Missing Persons                       
The purpose of the Law is to acknowledge, protect and guarantee the legal capacity and rights of the Disappeared Person; in addition to granting appropriate measures to ensure the protection of family members through a federal procedure for the issuance of the Special Declaration on the Absence of Disappeared Persons.

2. Incorporation of a gender perspective in the search for the disappeared
To fight violence against women, Mexico adopted gender violence alerts. We explained how crucial the successful implementation of these alerts is. Additionally we talked about the importance of a new gender alert: an alert specifically designed to address the high number of disappeared women and girls in Veracruz. Moreover, we talked about institutional, gender-based discrimination and violence that women looking for their disappeared relatives face. We provided tips on how to respond to gender-related injustice. Notably, 90% of family member looking for their disappeared loved-ones is female.

3. Economic and social rights of family members of disappeared persons (the indirect victims of disappearance).
Economic and social rights are frequently violated for the victims and for the relatives of disappeared persons. However, in Mexico, this situation is not generally visible, despite the fact that it produces conditions of poverty or extreme poverty for these families or aggravates existing conditions. And, poverty and extreme poverty are considered both a cause and a consequence of enforced disappearances or disappearances committed by individuals. The IMDHD is conducting a study in the state of Veracruz in order to reflect how the economic and social rights of the disappeared persons and their families are affected by the phenomenon of disappearances. 50 questionnaires and three in-depth interviews were conducted.

We encountered the importance of addressing issues that strongly affect the lives of the indirect victims of disappearance. When we asked the participants at the end of the workshop to write down thoughts regarding the workshop, we received good and hopeful feedback. Feedback that made us realize integrating an intersectionalist gender perspective is of vital importance when working with victims of human rights violations.

“I felt at ease, accompanied and understood. And more importantly, I felt proud to know that there are women in organizations dedicated to the care of women”. Member of the collective Familias de Desaparecidos Orizaba-Córdoba

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¨Dime la verdad, solo la verdad. No hay reparación ni justicia si no es con verdad¨.(“Tell me the truth, only the truth. There is no reparation, nor justice, if it isn´t with truth”). The rhythm of this song filled the venue where, the 21th of June, we organized a workshop on The Right to the Truth for family - mostly mothers - of disappeared persons. The workshop took place in Xalapa, the State of Veracruz.

This workshop was part of a set of workshops we organize this year in the State of Veracruz. The workshops cover different subjects, but all have the same goal: assisting family members of disappeared persons in their search for their loved ones – and justice.

The right to the truth related to disappearances, is acknowledged at the national level and international levels. In México, several Laws recognize the right to the truth. Amongst them, the General Law on Disappearances, the Law on Disappearances for the State of Veracruz, and the Victim´s Law. On an international level, the right to the truth is protected in Mexico by the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

During the workshops that we provide on the right to the truth, we seek to educate family of disappeared people on what the right to the truth means and how they can exercise it in their own cases.

During the earlier mentioned workshop in Xalapa, it was interesting, but most of all, horrifying to hear how the participants struggle with finding out the truth. The following quote of one of the participants, a mother that is searching her disappeared son, illustrates this hopeless situations relatives of the disappeared are in:

“We are tortured every day. Every day when I wake up I see a picture of my child and I am always asking myself whether he is cold, hungry, or in pain. This is psychological torture we have to deal with since we don´t know the truth”.

The second part of the workshop existed out of helping the participants focusing on their personal cases to find a way to improve their methods of investigation and help their cases forward.

Overall, the workshop provided the participants and us the opportunity to make progress in finding out what happened to the loved ones of the 25 parents who attended. Because, no matter how long the path to justice and the truth may seem, we will – together with the families of the victims – continue the fight.

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The disappearance of people in Mexico is a shocking reality present in the country since several years ago. According to the official records, 40,180 persons have disappeared up to this date, and the numbers do not stop growing. In fact, in the words of the family members of the victims of this heinous crime, the official numbers could be higher.

The lack of criminal investigations, the lack of punishment and the increasing number of enforced disappearances, have led to the emergence of Collectives of Family Members of Disappeared Persons. These collectives seek justice and carry out investigations hoping to find missing relatives. They have formed in various parts of the country.

The IMDHD assists these collectives to strengthen their influence in public policy. This includes: capacity-building workshops; technical support to support them in their dialogue with governmental authorities; and assistance in the process of forensic identification.

Despite relentless efforts carried out by collectives of family members of disappeared persons and civil society, they have not yet achieved a final solution to the problem of disappearances. Thereby, they have not been able to provide a cohesive narrative in which the voice of the victims becomes central, in order to overcome the official story presented by the government throughout which it criminalizes the victims of disappearances.

Given this existent reality, the Mexican Institute of Human Rights and Democracy (IMDHD) pretends to carry out this project about the memory of the disappeared people in the state of Nuevo León. This exercise could contribute as form of collective reparations to the victims of this heinous crime.

During the period of time in which disappearances have been taken place in Mexico, several people have attempted to document and to spread the word about such phenomenon. These efforts have been translated, essentially, in journalistic articles and documentaries in which some of the stories of the leaders of the groups of victims of disappearances are told, as well as some of the developments of the process of search for the victims of disappearances are recounted.

Nevertheless, up to this date, a project to collect comprehensively the thousands of cases which belong to the collectives of family members of disappeared persons not taken place. This project intends to carry out an exercise of this nature.

Currently, the IMDHD is carrying out this exercise in the State of Veracruz and working on the methodology to carry out this project in the State of Nuevo León.

Once we have achieved our goal of raising $5,000 dollars to carry out this project in the State of Nuevo León, we will start with a workshop on the importance of safeguarding memory and how the testimonies could benefit victims in terms of justice, truth and reparations, after which we will take the testimonies of at least 20 family members of disappeared persons.

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Instituto Mexicano de Derechos Humanos y Democracia A.C.

Location: Mexico City - Mexico
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @IMDHyD
Project Leader:
Manja de Graaff
Mexico City, Mexico
$1,765 raised of $5,000 goal
57 donations
$3,235 to go
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