Nearly 10,000 bodies of victims of organized crime-related violence, including Central American and Mexican migrants, remain unidentified in Mexico, activists told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States.
That figure includes 8,800 victims who had not been identified in Mexico through April 2011 and another 1,200 whose bodies were recovered between 2006 and 2011 in 310 clandestine graves nationwide, according to the Foundation for Justice and the Democratic Rule of Law, a non-governmental organization.
The foundation’s director, Mercedes Doretti, presented those figures Friday to the IACHR in a hearing in Washington, in which several NGOs denounced Mexico’s lack of efficiency in searching for and identifying Central American migrants who went missing in that country while en route to the United States.
The NGOs suspect that many of these missing individuals are among the 1,200 people found over the past six years in the clandestine graves.
The organizations recalled that authorities still have not identified all the bodies of those slain in two massacres in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas: the August 2010 killings of 72 mostly Central American migrants found in a common grave and the mass murder of 193 people found in 47 clandestine graves a year later.
Twelve of the migrants massacred in 2010 and nearly 150 of the victims found in 2011 “still have not been identified,” Doretti told reporters after the hearing, part of the IACHR’s 144th Schedule of Hearings.
The 2010 massacre is blamed on the Los Zetas drug cartel, which apparently killed the migrants after they refused to work for the cartel as couriers or enforcers.
The graves found in April and May of 2011 were discovered following reports that gunmen had forced men off buses headed for Reynosa, a city across the border from McAllen, Texas, between March 19 and March 31 of that year.
The bus passengers were grabbed by suspected Zetas gunmen in an apparent bid to identify possible members” of the rival Gulf cartel.
The organizations also denounced the lack of reparations for family members of the victims, who in some cases “opened the coffins to find remains of someone who wasn’t their loved one, or even remains of non-human flesh,” Rosa Nely Santos - a member of the Committee of Family Members of Missing Migrants of El Progreso, Honduras - said.
The father of one of the missing migrants, Mexican Candelario Castillo, said in the hearing that he no longer trusts his country’s Attorney General’s Office to investigate the whereabouts of the missing.
Castillo spoke on behalf of a group of relatives of 21 migrants who traveled to northern Mexico to try to track down their missing loved ones after they had disappeared in March 2011 in San Luis de la Paz, Guanajuato state.
“We didn’t have the government’s support in the search. The authorities close the doors on us. They don’t want to give us information; they’re simply not looking for them,” he said.
Amid these complaints, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, a non-governmental scientific organization, last year coordinated the creation of an independent forensic database in Honduras and El Salvador that thus far has documented at least 316 cases of Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran immigrants who have disappeared while trying to make their way to the United States.
The organizations called on Mexico to create a commission of independent forensic experts, with support from civil society, the IACHR and U.N. experts, to supervise the process of identifying the remains.
They also requested that the Mexican government create a forensic database at the national and regional levels to facilitate access to information on unidentified victims and the missing.
Mexico’s representatives at the hearing recognized the seriousness of the denunciations but denied that the government has been remiss in investigating cases of people who have gone missing on Mexican soil.
Mexico’s deputy secretary of legal affairs and human rights, Max Diener Sala, said the government already is building a comprehensive database and is now in the process of unifying all the regional and local archives.
He said that system will be ready and shared with the families before President Felipe Calderon’s term in office expires in December of this year.
An estimated 140,000 Central Americans enter Mexico each year on their way to the United States, walking part of the way or riding aboard freight trains, buses and cargo trucks.
The trek is fraught with danger, with criminals and corrupt Mexican officials preying on the migrants, who often pay traffickers as much as $10,000 to get them to the United States.
Mexico is mired in a wave of organized crime-related violence that left 47,515 dead between December 2006 - when Calderon took office and militarized the struggle against the country’s heavily armed, well-funded drug mobs - and Sept. 30, 2011, according to official figures.