In line with Mexican political traditions, on September first, President López Obrador presented his third state of the union. A couple of days earlier, however, an event of greater transcendence for Mexicans took place: the Interior Ministry (SEGOB) presented the coordinating group for the Extraordinary Mechanism of Forensic Identification (Mecanismo Extraordinario de Identificación Forense-MEIF).
What is the mechanism?
Officially, there are 90,000 people disappeared in Mexico with approximately 11 going missing every day. Furthermore, according to data collected by civil society, as of August 2020, there were 52,000 bodies held by the state that remain unidentified.
In addition to the plight of families, from a bureaucratic standpoint, this means that medical examiners’ offices face challenges identifying bodies in view of the daunting numbers they face. The mechanism seeks to address this need by performing forensic exams on remains and bone fragments that arrived at medical examiners’ offices until December 2019 and therefore free up resources for identifying remains found in the last 21 months.
Will this help?
Yes, but it will not be simple or straightforward. As explained by Efraín Tzuc, one of the journalists of the collective project Where Do the Disappeared Go?, in the absence of a national law regulating the mechanism, success is contingent on achieving MOUs or working relationships with local attorney general’s offices and medical examiners.
Equally important, as I have previously argued, the forensic crisis is not only a question about capacity but very much one of political will. In this sense, the mechanism will illuminate which local fiscalías desire a solution and which ones are stonewalling. The involvement of international actors such as the United Nations, Germany’s Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), and USAID could provide incentives for local governments in making of the mechanism a success case. However, make no mistake: the cost of failure, for those fiscalías and medical examiners’ offices that fail to raise to the challenge, will paid by those families who already perform tasks at great personal risks and that, strictly speaking, are remit of the state.
Where is President López Obrador on this?
Despite the undeniable forensic crisis Mexico faces, President López Obrador was notably absent from the event. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet with Sabuesos Guerreras in Sinaloa, one of the groups in the state searching for their loved ones. Their view, in working closely with the Federal Government, is that President López Obrador turns a blind eye (and a deaf ear) when it comes to addressing disappearances. Yet, the mechanism offers potential, at the very least, for finding loved ones who may be in state custody instead of a clandestine grave.
From my academic trench, I wish nothing but success to the newly appointed members of the coordinating group, and once again underscore our readiness at USMEX to contribute, so that academia, civil society, journalists, and authorities collaborate in bringing home those who have yet to be found.