MEXICO CITY – Security forces have taken part in many kidnappings and disappearances in Mexico, and the government’s failure to investigate most cases only compounds the anguish of their families, according to a scathing new human rights report.
The report released Wednesday serves as an indictment of the administration of former President Felipe Calderon, who left office Dec. 1, and poses urgent challenges for his successor, Enrique Pena Nieto.
Against the backdrop of a military-led offensive against powerful drug cartels, an estimated 70,000 people were killed during Calderon’s six-year term, according to authorities and media tallies. Thousands more, possibly more than 20,000, disappeared.
The missing represent what U.S.-based Human Rights Watch called a festering unknown that causes enduring anguish for their families.
More than a year of research by the group corroborated reporting by the Los Angeles Times and other news organizations, and stacks of complaints filed by families in almost every state of the republic.
Many of the missing were kidnapped by drug gangs, but all state security branches, including the military and federal and local police, are also accused of the “enforced disappearances” of many people, Human Rights Watch said. The Mexican navy, often praised by U.S. officials and others for its effectiveness in fighting drug gangs, also came in for serious criticism.
Involvement of the police and military highlights one of the key challenges that has historically bedeviled Mexico and now faces Pena Nieto. Efforts to clean up the country’s notoriously corrupt police forces have had only limited success. And the military, as the government’s main protagonist in the drug war, has been dragged into some of the same human rights abuses and corrupt practices that long corroded the police.
Calderon’s government ignored the disappearances, failed to take steps to stop them and often blamed the victims, the report says.
“The result was the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades,” Human Rights Watch said.
“What sets these crimes apart is that, for as long as the fate of the victim remains unknown, they are ongoing,” the report says. “Each day that passes is another that authorities have failed to find victims, and another day that families continue to suffer the anguish of not knowing what happened to a loved one.”
Human Rights Watch focused on 249 cases of people who have disappeared since 2006. In 149 cases, state security forces participated “directly in the crime, or indirectly through support or acquiescence,” it said.
The findings were based on interviews with witnesses, families and authorities as well as documents, photographs and other material.
There was no immediate comment from the current or former government. However, in meetings with members of a Human Rights Watch delegation, representatives of the new government said they were working to prevent disappearances and improve search methods, according to participants.
Members of the delegation praised the government’s measures, but said action had to be taken to prosecute kidnappers, even when they are police or soldiers.