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

In Veracruz, measures have been implemented to help women who are dedicated to searching for their missing persons, including a program that involves the development of the capacities of these human rights defenders through training on their rights, the General Law on Enforced Disappearances, as well as creating spaces where they can share their emotions and feelings about the disappearance of their loved ones.

During these months, we have worked specifically on the documentation of cases and the location of graves, disappearances and hot spots in this state through tools such as mapping or timelines. These two activities are necessary because they serve to locate the territory, make diagnoses and recognize, as a group, the areas and times in which their relatives are disappeared in order to recognize the processes as a whole and begin to relate cases among the same women who are searching.

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First National School of Leadership and Democracy
First National School of Leadership and Democracy

The School of Leadership, Participation and Democracy was carried out in response to the needs of women who have led the fight against disappearances in Mexico in  the recent years. These women have also promoted the adoptcion of legal frameworks, public policies and have created groups to search for their missing relatives, demand that the authorities acknowledge such a crime, as well as participate and assist in the official investigation processes. 

As a result of their efforts in seeking access to justice, these women may suffer serious adverse social, economic, and psychological effects, like violence, persecution, intimidation, threats, and social stigmatization for their activism.

Many women who are the leaders of these groups have managed to turn their tragedies into the engine of their action, being a clear example of how rights holders organize themselves to generate social transformations. However, it is still necessary to continue strengthening their participation through the development of collective learning processes, which start from the recognition of their experiences and promote dialogue between different perspectives to make their groups stronger to confront violations of their human rights. 

The first National School of Participation and Democracy was a strategy of the IMDHD in order to convene 39 women, 21 relatives of disappeared persons and 18 supportive women members of civil society organizations who came of 12 diferent sates of the Mexican Republic. It is important to mention that the school obtained great results; different experiences of women seekers from different states were compared and integrated, knowledge was shared between them, and most importantly, it motivated them to continue their cause and inspiring other women on their way to find justice.


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Between 1964 and 2021 more than 90,000 people have disappeared in Mexico. “A person does not disappear just like that” is a phrase we have heard from many different relatives that are in search of their missing loved ones. People are being taken from the streets, public places, and even from their parent´s arms. The thousands of disappearances are the sign of a much bigger problem. A problem that has grown fast since the so-called “war on drugs” was declared in 2006. Sadly, the number of disappearances is growing every year and Mexican authorities have not managed to prevent and successfully prosecute these crimes, let alone finding the tens of thousands of disappeared people.


This is why relatives of disappeared people have decided to take action in their own hands. They demand answers for both federal and local authorities, in addition to going on, often dangerous, search missions. During their journey, they face many challenges, but won’t let them get in their way. Amongst these obstacles are: organized crime, the lack of empathy of authorities and even the indifference to the disappearances, and in some cases the complicity of the government in these crimes. For these reasons, many relatives of disappeared people have formed or joined collectives of relatives of disappeared people throughout Mexico to support each other in the search for remains or tracks that could lead them to locate their children.


The force of united families of disappeared people, who join efforts to find their disappeared loved ones was very visible during a search initiative in the state of Guanajuato. For the seventh time in a row, the so-called caravana de búsqueda en Vida- an initiative of different collectives of relatives of disappeared people from different Mexican states to collectively search for, and locate, the disappeared in a certain state- was held. The past caravanas took place in Guerrero, Michoacán, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Coahuila, Morelos and Jalisco. In May 2021, Guanajuato was the state selected to continue with the localization of hundreds of disappeared people. Families from 22 different collectives from all over Mexico arrived in the city of Guanajuato on the afternoon of May 9th. Every May 10th, Mexico celebrated Mother’s Day, a very difficult day for mothers trying to locate their missing loved ones. A common saying amongst mothers of the disappeared is: “we don´t have anything to celebrate because our children are not with us”. For this reason, mothers organized protest marches in the whole country.

The Caravana took place from May 10th till May 14th. Collectives from different regions of Mexico together with the collectives from Guanajuato went to various cities where they visited different prisons and federal social readaptation centers to inquire about their disappeared relatives. It is important to say that this search group is trying to locate people alive, different from other search missions conducted by collectives in which they search for mass graves. In some cases, people have been located in prison. The arrival of mothers searching their missing children represents hope, not only for other families, but also for many prisoners. In other cases, families received information regarding their cases. Another activity was the visit to the Forensic Medical Service, in which the authorities displayed a group of dozens of pictures with human remains. Unfortunately, and according to experts, the pictures and the reports were not good. The lack of a correct method of investigation was clear. At the end of every day, the families were protesting in the cities they visited, showing the pictures of the disappeared. The purpose of the protests was, to raise awareness for the disappeared loved ones of the protesters, but also to raise awareness regarding the phenomenon of (enforced) disappearances in Mexico. 

In representation of the Instituto Mexicano de Derechos Humanos y Democracia A.C. (IMDHD) two of our members were accompanying the Caravana to provide different participants with legal information regarding their cases. Additionally, experts in forensics, investigators, lawyers, psychologists from other organizations, as well as journalists joined. Being there helped us identify the difficulties families are facing in the investigation and search processes. Difficulties we will address in our future capacity-building workshops. This experience has showed us that we should focus our efforts on not only searching Mexico’s many disappeared, but also undertake action to prevent disappearances in the future.

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The effects of inequality in times of COVID-19

At the beginning of 2020, the entire world was shaken by the arrival of COVID-19. This new virus changed our way of work, our way of attending school, and even our contact with other people. As a result of the arrival of COVID-19 to Mexico, the country went in lockdown at the end of March 2020 to avoid the spread of this new and unknown virus.

For families trying to locate a missing relative, going in lockdown meant in many cases pausing their search which has had terrible effects on the lives of many people. Each day of compulsory isolation was a potential day wasted finding their loved one. Staying at home to stay healthy with the hope the pandemic would end soon kept many family members of the disappeared going.

On the other hand, relatives of the disappeared have also suffered from government institutions closing down temporarily what meant a compulsory pause in the search and investigation for their missing relative. Additionally, research has shown that the vast majority of family members of disappeared people work in the informal sector. They survive by selling food, clothes, or other goods. Some of the families we accompany work in the touristic sector. With the markets and streets closed, the absence of tourists, and the suspension of non-essential business, families many families lack the resources to pay the bills. To make the situation even worse, Mexico is the third country with the most COVID-19 deaths. Research conducted by the Instituto Mexicano de Derechos Humanos y Democracia A.C. (IMDHD) shows that many families of disappeared people got one or more positive cases of COVID-19. Getting the medical attention needed was difficult. At times, there were not enough hospital beds available in the public hospitals. In general, the right medical attention has its price; a price that many Mexicans cannot afford to pay.

Being aware of the difficult situation that families searching for their missing relative are going through, the IMDHD started providing humanitarian aid to members of the groups that due to the health emergency have lost their jobs or have seen their income reduced. With the support of different funders, we achieved to provide humanitarian aid to family members in the State of Mexico, Veracruz, Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Jalisco, and Nuevo León.

Considering that the beneficiaries had different needs, they spend the money either on medical supplies or on food or medicine. The money was directly given to the beneficiaries, but in some cases in which the families live in remote communities, the money was distributed with the support of the spokesperson of their search collective.

In these past months of quarantine, the IMDHD organized some self-care workshops for the women of the collectives of relatives of disappeared people to help them cope with the quarantine, as well as alleviate any emotional distress, share their concerns, and motivate one another to continue their search for their relative and justice. Another part of the workshops consisted out of yoga exercises to promote staying healthy during the quarantine.


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During 2020, Covid-19 has shaken the world and has changed the way of life worldwide. Mexico has registered over 70,000 deaths and over 700,000 positive cases of this new disease. In the meantime, uncertainty has ruled over the Mexican society due to the lack of an optimal response by the federal government and even of some local governments. The fact that governments can’t agree on the rules for facing the new coronavirus has put the Mexican society in a very vulnerable position.

In the last months thousands of Mexicans have lost their jobs or their business. In the same period, 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. This measure has not only affected the search of their love ones, but also has affected the health of the mothers, sisters, grandmothers, wives and other relatives looking to locate a relative. The situation for these indirect victims becomes more difficult every day.

The past months have been being very difficult for the groups of relatives of missing persons because for them, each day of compulsory isolation is a potential day wasted where a loved one could have returned home. For them, to stay home is extremely difficult and if we add the fact that many government agencies have suspended or reduced their activities to the minimum, puts the families in a very difficult position of uncertainty. The lack of movement and activities has also started to affect the mental and physical health of our beneficiaries.

Due to the above, the IMDHD has organized virtual self-care workshops, in addition to virtual ‘Peace Circles’ workshops for family members of the groups of disappeared people in Puebla, Jalisco, Veracruz, Guerrero and the State of Mexico. During the self-care sessions, we provide women with a peaceful, respectful and open space in which they can talk about their feelings. They can also talk about what worries them, as well as what gives them hope and strength to continue. During these sessions, we also incorporate a yoga session with exercises that can do at home. Additionally, we provide them with health and nutrition tips to maintain a healthy diet during the pandemic and protect themselves. By using this Restorative Justice model of peace circles, we are trying to facilitate healing and transformative communication among people of all backgrounds. Through this model, we are trying to address conflicts holistically and solve problems in order for the groups of groups of family members of disappeared persons to heal and learn through a collective group process. We aim to help them repair harm done between them and assign responsibility by talking through the problem. By using this technique, we are trying to avoid future fragmentation and weakening of the groups. Their mobilization and activism are of great importance for Mexico’s human rights movement. In many states, the groups of family members of the disappeared are the most active and successful groups human rights defenders and with the greates political impact. We recognize that it is the families and their initiatives that have made the difference and for whom, at this moment, there is progress in legal frameworks and public policies on the disappearances.

Recently, authorities have resumed searching activities, but with many restrictions and in small groups. Some members of the groups of family members of disappeared persons are going back to the fields to continue their search. Similarly, many family members are continuing their dialogue with other groups, human rights organizations and authorities. Ultimately, they’re developing technical skills to put pressure on authorities by using digital media to make visible the cases of disappearances in Mexico, which despite of the pandemic, haven’t decreased.  

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Organization Information

Instituto Mexicano de Derechos Humanos y Democracia A.C.

Location: Mexico City - Mexico
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @IMDHyD
Project Leader:
Adela Valladares
Mexico City, Mexico
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