Marching Towards Justice: After Years of Uncertainty, Families of Mexico’s “Disappeared” Begin to Find Answers

Disappeared.

It’s a benign word we use for a lost object, gone without a trace. Something we most likely misplaced by accident. But when ‘disappeared’ describes another human being, it is no longer passive. It’s an act of violence—abduction, imprisonment, and often murder. People don’t simply get lost; they are ‘disappeared’ so that they’re never seen again.

For thousands upon thousands of families in Mexico, living without answers after a loved one was disappeared is their reality every day. But AJWS grantee Movement for Our Disappeared in Mexico is working to bring hope, closure and justice to these families.

More than 60,000 people have been disappeared in Mexico since the mid-2000s alone—often due to organized violent crime conducted with the complicity of the Mexican government. Drug cartels—largely in collaboration with local government officials, military and police—operate with impunity, murdering rivals and public citizens at will. Ordinary young people are also targeted as forced laborers to grow illicit crops, and many are disappeared or killed when they refuse to cooperate.

Marching for Justice

Movement for Our Disappeared in Mexico refuses to remain silent while brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers are stolen away—and they are finally making progress against this grave injustice. With support from AJWS, this human rights organization has organized more than 60 groups of families across Mexico, all of them looking for loved ones who have been disappeared.

And on August 30th, 2019, they took to the streets.

To mark International Day Against Forced Disappearances, Movement for Our Disappeared in Mexico and other organizations marched in Mexico City and 18 other cities across the country. Side-by-side with activists and family members of the disappeared, and bearing the signatures of more than 100,000 others, they told the Mexican government: more must be done to search for the missing and to investigate the disappearances and murders that have gone ignored for far too long.

AJWS was there in August to support this growing movement, and our photographer, Regina Lopez, captured the power of the march. Experience it yourself through this slideshow.

Family members of disappeared people take to the streets in Mexico City on August 30, 2019, to deliver a petition signed by over 100,000 people to the government of Mexico demanding action and justice for their loved ones. Photos by Regina Lopez.

Signs of Progress

The people have spoken—and the Mexican government appears to be listening.

Responding to this mounting pressure from our grantees and the movement they’ve helped organize, in December, 2019, the Mexican government set the basis for the creation of a special mechanism including a task force of forensic experts to help in the process of identifying more than 26,000 bodies of disappeared people that have been held by local authorities across Mexico. This identification process will finally bring closure to thousands of families who have spent decades without answers. Though identifying the bodies will certainly be a tragic discovery for these families, it will allow them to grieve, and slowly begin to heal.

What’s more, in January 2020, the government rectified its severe under-reporting of the number of people who have been disappeared since Mexico’s military conflict began in 2006. Prior to December, official government figures hovered around 45,000, and today they admit that at least 61,637 people have suffered this fate.

The movement for justice for the disappeared experienced another sign of progress last fall, when, in September, 2019, the Mexican government publicly apologized to Martha Camacho, who was disappeared for 49 days in 1977. Martha—who is today a member of AJWS grantee Unión de Madres con Hijos De Desaparecidos de Sinaloa de los años 70´s—was 8 months pregnant when she was abducted and she gave birth in captivity. Her husband was also disappeared and is yet to be found. This video records the Mexican government’s apology—including their recognition of the role of the State in her disappearance and torture.

Momentum is building in the movement to demand justice and accountability. Mexican families are insisting that their disappeared loved ones be found, and their unfathomable losses acknowledged by the government. AJWS and our partner organizations will support them in this struggle—for as long as it takes until justice is achieved.

Justin JacobsJustin Jacobs is a Senior Marketing and Storytelling Officer at AJWS.