November 9, 2011

Enforced Disappearances

Introduction

Human Rights Watch documented 39 cases where evidence strongly suggests the participation of security forces or other state officials in enforced disappearances. The cases follow a pattern: victims are arbitrarily detained by soldiers or police, their detentions never officially registered, and they are not handed over to prosecutors. In the immediate aftermath of such detentions, victims’ relatives routinely seek information from security forces and justice officials, who deny having the victims in their custody. In spite of complaints by victims’ families, prosecutors often refuse to open investigations in the days following these abductions, failing to act in the time most critical to preventing torture or execution. Instead, they direct families to police stations and military bases to see if the victim is in custody.

If and when investigations into such “disappearances” are eventually opened, they are rendered ineffective by omissions and shortcomings of prosecutors, who neglect to take basic steps such as questioning the state officials allegedly responsible, and fail to pursue leads such as tracing calls from victims’ cell phones. Too often, government officials reflexively dismiss cases of disappearances as levantones, or abductions perpetrated by cartels, and in many cases accuse victims of having been targeted because they were involved in illicit activities. That such statements are regularly made before cases are investigated reveals an inherent bias. The investigation of enforced disappearances and monitoring of this serious violation is further impeded by the fact that 24 of Mexico’s 32 states do not specifically criminalize it.

The patterns revealed in the cases documented below, together with the rising number of cases reported to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, Mexico’s national and state human rights commissions, and Mexican human rights and civil society groups, all show that Mexico today has a serious problem with enforced disappearances, which appears to have become a more common practice in the “war on drugs.”

The Prevalence of Enforced Disappearances

Human Rights Watch observed a pattern in 39 “disappearances” documented across the five states surveyed for this report: victims were arbitrarily detained by soldiers or police, whom witnesses identified by their uniforms or marked vehicles. These security forces provided no justification for the detentions, nor did they provide any information as to where they were taking the victims. When victims’ families learned of the abductions—either because they saw them take place, heard from witnesses, or simply realized a relative had disappeared—they sought information from government officials regarding the victims’ whereabouts, including prosecutors’ offices and security forces. In nearly all of the cases we documented, officials denied having detained the victim and had no record of the individual being in their custody, or else said the victim had likely been detained by one security force or another, and would eventually be turned over to justice officials.

For example, on June 23, 2011, at approximately 4 p.m., Jesús Víctor Llano Muñoz, 22, a taxi driver in Sabinas, Nuevo León, was stopped at a Navy checkpoint that had been set up outside of a hotel where the taxi company’s dispatch station is located. His father, also a taxi driver, was at the station at the time. When he saw the Navy personnel remove his son from his taxi and load him into a Navy pick-up truck, he approached and asked why they were detaining his son.[330] An official responded, “If he’s not involved in anything, I’ll hand him over to you.” Shortly afterwards, the truck in which Jesús was being held drove off in a convoy of approximately 20 vehicles. The family filed complaints with the state and federal prosecutors’ offices, both of which denied having information about his case. They also inquired at the Navy and Army bases, which said they were not holding him. His whereabouts remain unknown.

José Guadalupe Bernal Orzúa, 22, was detained by Army soldiers at approximately 10 p.m. on May 23, 2010, outside of his home in Monterrey, Nuevo León. According to Bernal’s mother-in-law, he was detained without explanation, loaded into a military vehicle, and driven off. Bernal's mother, Isabel Orzúa García, went to the Army, Navy, state and municipal police to inquire about her son, but all denied having detained him.[331] She lodged a formal complaint with civilian prosecutors, but she was unsure if an investigation into her son’s disappearance had ever been opened. She said the only visit she received from state officials came the week after her son disappeared, when a plainclothes officer came to her home to ask her if she wanted to retract her formal complaint.

UN experts on enforced disappearances, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, and human rights defenders have all observed a rising incidence of enforced disappearances coinciding with the government’s expanding counternarcotics operations. Upon finishing a fact-finding mission to Mexico in March 2011, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance (the UN Working Group) concluded that, “Enforced disappearances happened in the past and continue to happen in the present.”[332] The group said, “the increased numbers of newly admitted cases in 2010 and the high number of new allegations received during the visit could indicate a deterioration regarding enforced disappearances in Mexico.”[333]

The number of complaints of enforced disappearances perpetrated by federal authorities reported to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has also increased significantly recent years: 4 in 2006; 7 in 2007;  25 in 2008; 77 in 2009; 77 (again) in 2010; and 134 from January to October 2011.[334]

The rising incidence of enforced disappearances has also been reflected in the growing number of cases documented by human rights defenders and civil society groups. For example:

  • Citizens in Support of Human Rights (Ciudadanos en Apoyo de Derechos Humanos, CADHAC), a human rights organization in Monterrey, Nuevo León, received direct complaints of more than 60 enforced disappearances from January to August 2011 in which it said victims’ families provided evidence of the involvement of state officials. The group told Human Rights Watch the number of cases reflected an alarming upsurge that coincided with the growing involvement of federal security forces, particularly the Navy, in public security operations to combat organized crime. In none of these cases have soldiers or police been prosecuted, according to the organization.[335]
  • The Fray Juan de Larios Human Rights Center and United Efforts for Our Disappeared in Coahuila (Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos(as) en Coahuila, FUUNDEC) documented 117 disappearances in the state of Coahuila from 2007 to March 2011. In 23 of these cases, they collected evidence that suggests the participation of security forces.[336]
  • The Committee of Relatives and Friends of People Who Have Been Kidnapped, Disappeared, and Killed in Guerrero (Comite de Familiares y Amigos de Secuestrados y Desaparecidos y Asesinados en Guerrero)—a civil society group in Guerrero—recorded 293 disappearances in the state from April 2005 to May 2011 through direct complaints and reports in the local press.[337] In approximately 200 cases, the committee’s leaders told Human Rights Watch, family members or other witnesses said they saw the victims being detained by uniformed soldiers, law enforcement officers, or justice officials.[338]In none of the cases, representatives of the organization said, have state officials been charged with crimes.[339]
  • The Civilian Association Against Impunity (Asociación Ciudadana contra la Impunidad), a civil society group in Tijuana, Baja California, made up of the families of the disappeared, says it received more than 100 complaints of disappearances from family members, nearly all of them since 2007.[340]In 35 cases, the group said, victims’ families collected evidence pointing to the involvement of state officials. In none of the cases, the group’s president told Human Rights Watch, have officials been charged for the crime of enforced disappearance.

Moreover, all of these groups—as well as others in the states surveyed for this report, prosecutors, and officials from the national and state human rights commissions—told Human Rights Watch that the reported cases represent only a small proportion of the total number of enforced disappearances, because many of the families of victims are too afraid of reprisals to report cases. This underreporting can be seen in cases where several victims are abducted by security forces at the same time. In these cases, it is not uncommon for only one or two of the victims’ families to denounce the crime, while the others stay quiet. For example, a woman whose son was allegedly disappeared by security forces in Coahuila along with several work colleagues tried to convene the victims’ families to report the crime, she told Human Rights Watch. But when she asked the families of the other victims to come with her to the state prosecutor’s office, they were too afraid. “One of the other mothers said to me, ‘I have three other children. I don’t want to lose them looking for my first son.’”[341]

Levantones and Blaming the Victims

A critical part of investigating and prosecuting disappearances—and thereby preventing them—is acknowledging that they are taking place. However, Human Rights Watch found that the incidence of enforced disappearance is obscured by officials who classify them a priori as levantones, or abductions by organized crime, before having undertaken serious investigations.

Levantón is not a legal term and as such does not have a set definition, but it implies that a disappearance is carried out by organized crime rather than by state officials and often suggests that the victim was a member of a rival criminal group. [342] The military does not have a public index of statistics on levantones, nor has it explained its methodology for gathering data on the crime. Nonetheless, according to figures the Army provided to the press, it received 18,491 complaints of levantones from December 2006 to 2010, numbers that increased significantly with each year: approximately 2,000 in 2007; 4,025 in 2008; 4,322 in 2009; and 8,021 in 2010. [343] Meanwhile, authorities from the Army’s Fourth Military Zone (IV Región Militar), which includes the states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, said they received 1,700 complaints of levantones and kidnappings from January to October 2010. [344]

These statistics are important for several reasons. Despite the imprecision of the term levantón, they represent an acknowledgment by military officials  that, by their count, nearly 20,000 civilians disappeared from 2007 to 2010—a staggering figure. And the statistics confirm that the number of disappearances has increased with each passing year, particularly in 2010, a finding that aligns with that of the National Human Rights Commission, the UN Working Group, and Human Rights Watch.

It is, of course, not possible for the military to know who is responsible for the approximately 20,000 disappearances it counted from 2007 to 2010: the overwhelming majority of such cases are never investigated. The very fact that officials label them as levantones before investigations have been undertaken reveals an inherent bias in the government approach to the grave problem of disappearances. While it is likely that criminal gangs are responsible for a significant number of abductions, prosecutors have an obligation to conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations to determine responsibility in every case. Preemptively classifying disappearances as levantones is an abdication of this duty, because it assigns responsibility to criminal groups before—and often in the place of—conducting an investigation. The military has provided no indication of how many levantones have been investigated, or how many of the complaints have been handed over to civilian investigators.

Given the patterns of enforced disappearances documented across five states in this report—including many cases in which security forces and prosecutors blamed drug cartels for crimes committed by state officials—it is reasonable to deduce that a significant number of cases preemptively labeled as levantones are in fact enforced disappearances.

Impunity for Enforced Disappearances

Failure to Promptly Open Investigations

Both the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearances of Persons obligate State parties to undertake thorough and impartial investigations into cases of alleged enforced disappearances. This obligation arises both when a formal complaint is filed and when the state officials obtain information that an enforced disappearance may have taken place. For example, the International Convention states that authorities “shall examine the allegation promptly and impartially and, where necessary, undertake without delay a thorough and impartial investigation.”[345]

As noted above, research conducted by Human Rights Watch found that justice officials routinely fail to open investigations in the days after receiving complaints of alleged disappearances, a period that the UN Working Group defines as “crucial to obtaining information on the fate of enforced disappearance and preventing murder.”[346]In the five states surveyed for this report, victims’ families said that when they reported disappearances to justice officials, they were told that they needed to wait several days before filing a formal complaint. Justice officials often explained this delay by saying the missing person was likely in the custody of security forces and would eventually be handed over to prosecutors or released. The frequency with which this explanation is given to families reflects prosecutors’ tacit acceptance of the practice of arbitrary detention by security forces, who by law are required to hand over detainees immediately to prosecutors.[347]

In addition, prosecutors routinely recommend that victims’ families visit the offices of security forces operating in the area in order to inquire if they are holding the victim—inquiries that should be undertaken by justice officials.

For example, on June 28, 2011, at approximately 4 a.m., approximately 10 Navy officers in uniform entered the home of René Azael Jasso Maldonado, 26, in Sabinas, Nuevo León.[348] His parents and brother, who live next door and whose home was also searched without a warrant, told Human Rights Watch the soldiers dragged Jasso Maldonado outside and loaded him into a waiting vehicle.[349]The officers did not show an arrest warrant or provide information as to where they were taking him, the family said. Later that morning, the victims’ parents went to the state prosecutor’s office to report his illegal arrest, but an official there told them they had to wait eight days before filing a formal complaint. The next day, the family tried to file a complaint with the federal prosecutor’s office, but they also refused to accept the complaint, and instead advised the family to speak to the Navy, the family told Human Rights Watch.[350]

Similarly, on December 29, 2009, at approximately 8 p.m., according to witnesses, soldiers detained Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, 31, and Jose Angel Alvarado Herrera, 30, as they were driving in Buenaventura, Chihuahua. The soldiers then proceeded to the home of Irene Rocío Alvarado Reyes, 18, and detained her as well. However, when family tried to file a complaint with the state prosecutor’s office on December 30, the prosecutor told them that “he had information that the people were being held in the 35th infantry battalion in Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua,” and that the family should wait several days before taking any action. Almost two years later, the fate of the three abductees remains unknown, and a subsequent investigation by the National Human Rights Commission concluded that they had been forcibly disappeared by the military.[351] 

Omissions and Shortcomings in Civilian Investigations

When investigations are eventually opened by state or federal prosecutors, Human Rights Watch found evidence of serious shortcomings, including not interviewing key witnesses, not visiting the crime scene, and failing to pursue possible leads. Confronted with anemic investigations by authorities, families of victims often undertake gathering evidence themselves, such as requesting cell phone records of the disappeared, questioning security forces allegedly involved in the disappearance, and canvassing neighborhoods for witnesses.

“We need to keep on top of them,” said Reyna Estrada Herrera, whose husband Jaime Ramírez Leyva, 48, was disappeared along with 11 other civilians in Coahuila on March 21, 2009. “If we do not stay on top of them, the investigation goes nowhere.”[352]Estrada and other victims’ families also said prosecutors denied them information about what progress, if any, had been made in the investigation, and that investigators often misplaced case files or closed cases altogether (archivado) without informing the family. In other instances, cases were passed several times over to different prosecutors, who began investigations from scratch, losing whatever information the previous investigator had obtained.

For example, when state investigators made little effort to look into the disappearance of José Rene Luna Ramírez, 23—who was disappeared in Nuevo León on May 2, 2007—his family set about interviewing his neighbors. One neighbor told them she had seen armed men in uniforms bearing the insignia of the federal investigative police (AFI) approach the victim in his driveway, place him in a car, and drive off. The witness wrote down the abductors’ car model and the first four numbers of its license plate, which she gave to the victim’s family. The family handed this information over to investigators, along with the witness’s name and address, but the police never interviewed the witness. When a family member asked the prosecutor why he had not followed up on the lead, he told her she had to bring the witness to his office for him to interview her.[353] Nor, years after the victim’s disappearance, had investigators searched the car information against registration records, according to the victim’s family, missing an opportunity to identify the vehicle involved.

Nitza Alvarado was one of three civilians allegedly detained by soldiers on December 29, 2009, in Buenaventura, Chihuahua, and has not been seen since. On February 3, 2010, a friend of Nitza’s said she received a phone call from a number she did not recognize. When she picked up, she heard Nitza’s voice saying, “Help me, get me out of here. I’m alive, I’m afraid.” Then, her friend heard the voice of a man tell another, “Damn it, the old lady called someone. I told you not to leave her alone,” before the call abruptly cut off. Family members gave the phone number from which the call had originated to the state prosecutor’s office, and the woman who received the call filed a formal complaint before the prosecutor’s office. However, months after the call, investigators had still not traced the number to determine its location or owner, according to meetings the family held with the prosecutors investigating the case.[354] 

Efforts by Victims’ Families to Push for Greater Accountability

In several instances, the ineffectiveness of investigations by civilian prosecutors has led families to exert collective, public pressure on state and federal officials to conduct more thorough and effective investigations. But while these efforts have earned some concessions from state authorities, such as public commitments to dedicate more resources to investigations or to create special prosecutors for disappearances, they have not translated into visible progress in investigations.

In February 2009, for example, the families of five victims of alleged enforced disappearances in Nuevo León staged public protests in front of the state house, calling on the state government to conduct more substantive investigations into their cases.[355]When months of protests failed to produce results, in September 2009 the victims’ families initiated a hunger strike, leading the state Attorney General to publicly commit to redoubling the office’s efforts in the investigations. As part of an agreement with the families, prosecutors agreed to hold weekly meetings with the families to update them on progress. More than 20 families of victims participated in the meetings at the outset. But according to various participants interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the meetings failed to produce any progress in the investigations.[356]In December, they were diminished to once every two weeks, and then in February 2010 to once a month. In September 2010, the last meeting was held. In none of the cases were state actors convicted for the alleged enforced disappearances.[357]

Similarly, families of the disappeared in Baja California in 2008 staged public protests to demand the creation of a special prosecutor for the disappeared.[358] When the office was eventually created, only one prosecutor was appointed to deal with more than 200 cases provided by families and civil society groups. More than two years after the office was created, the director of a group of victims’ families told Human Rights Watch that, “In not a single case has there been genuine progress in the investigation.”[359]

Omissions and Shortcomings in Military Investigations

Military prosecutors routinely fail to conduct adequate investigations into alleged enforced disappearances, including not interviewing key witnesses, not visiting the crime scene, and failing to pursue possible leads. As noted above, not a single military officer has been convicted for the crime of enforced disappearance in the military justice system.

For example, Víctor Manuel Baca Prieto, 21, was detained between 10 and 11 pm on February 26, 2009, while eating at an outdoor food stand in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. In the days that followed, two of Victor’s friends came forward to tell his family they had been arbitrarily detained by soldiers on that same night, taken to a military base, and tortured while being questioned about drug cartels. Both said they had seen Víctor being beaten by soldiers, and one gave a declaration to federal prosecutors detailing their arbitrary arrest and torture by soldiers.[360]

Gerardo Baca Portillo, Víctor’s father, said that when he learned his son was missing, he immediately went to various authorities—including the prosecutor’s office, the Army, and the police—to report his son’s disappearance and see if he was being held. All of them denied any knowledge of his detention. Gerardo filed an amparo on March 3 seeking information about his son’s whereabouts and filed complaints with civilian and military authorities.[361] He also provided the civilian prosecutors assigned to the case with the names of Víctor’s friends who were detained that same night, but he said prosecutors did not interview them. The case was eventually transferred to military prosecutors who also failed to take basic investigative steps, such as questioning the soldiers on patrol in the area where Víctor was allegedly detained that night, according to meetings his father had with military investigators handling the case.[362]

According to Gerardo, the military have changed the prosecutor assigned to the case at least five times. One of the prosecutors advised Gerardo not to call or visit the military prosecutor’s office too often because his presence would suggest the military investigator was actually looking into the case, which would result in him being reassigned. He was reassigned shortly thereafter. Gerardo also told Human Rights Watch that one of the military prosecutors had allowed him to read the declaration his son’s friend had given to federal prosecutors regarding his illegal arrest and torture, but that the prosecutor would not allow him to make a copy. “I can’t give you a copy, because we come across as the guilty ones,” the prosecutor told Gerardo.[363] Asked of his confidence in military prosecutors, Gerardo said, “I don’t have much hope. The ones that have done honest work have been taken off [the case].”[364]

Downgrading of the Crime of Enforced Disappearance

Human Rights Watch found strong evidence that military prosecutors classify cases of enforced disappearances as lesser crimes. According to information provided by SEDENA and the military justice system, the military has not sentenced a single officer for the crime of enforced disappearance during the Calderón administration.

The military’s downgrading of the crime of enforced disappearance is evidenced by several cases documented by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. For example, on November 14, 2008, Army soldiers entered the home of brothers José Luis and Carlos Guzmán Zúñiga in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and arbitrarily detained them. The brothers have not been seen since. After conducting an in-depth investigation into the crime, the National Human Rights Commission concluded that "the diverse evidence gathered in the case documents make it possible to prove that the arrest and subsequent disappearance of José Luis and Carlos Guzmán Zúñiga is attributable to public officials from the Army."[365] However, according to SEDENA, it is investigating the case as a crime of "abuse of authority," which the military defines as, “a soldier who treats an inferior in a mode that violates legal norms.”[366]No soldiers have been charged in the case, according to Army.[367]

Similarly, on June 20, 2009, a man went to visit the home of his friend in Los Reyes, Michoacán. Shortly after he arrived, between 5 and 6 p.m., Army soldiers entered the home without a search warrant, saying they had questions about a car parked outside, questioned both civilians, and then detained the man.[368] Following the detention, Army authorities from the 37th Infantry Battalion (37/o Batallón de Infantería) denied having detained the man. His body was discovered on July 8, 2009, in Peribán de Ramos, Michoacán. Upon investigating the case, the National Human Rights Commission concluded that “officers from the Army who participated in the events of June 20, 2009, are responsible for the enforced disappearance of [the man]…that is, the deprivation of freedom by the intervention of state officials and the lack of information regarding the detention or location of the individual.”  Nevertheless, according to the Army, it is investigating the case as a crime of “violence resulting in homicide” and “providing false information in their statements,” and not as an enforced disappearance. No soldiers have been charged in the case.[369]

Information obtained through public information requests to the Army points to additional cases of apparent downgrading. In one case from Chihuahua, military authorities indicated that soldiers had been charged with “violence against individuals causing aggravated homicide, and violation of the burial laws in the form of the destruction of bodies.”[370]The military justice code does not include “burial laws,” but the civil criminal code describes the crime as “He who conceals, destroys, or without the appropriate credentials buries the body of a person, whenever the death has been the result of beatings, wounds, or other injuries.”[371] In a separate response from the military,  authorities said seven members of the Army—three corporals and four soldiers—were convicted in 2011 of “clandestine burial of a body,” for which they were sentenced to “one year in prison or a fine of 60 days.”[372]Though the military provided no additional background on these cases, the crimes described strongly suggest that military authorities are classifying cases involving likely enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings by another name. And as the sentence for the latter case indicates, the classification of these abuses as lesser crimes opens the door to much weaker sentences.

Mexico’s International Commitments

Mexico is party to several international treaties, including the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, that establish obligations to prevent, as well as to investigate and prosecute, cases of enforced disappearances.[373] According to the international convention, “an ‘enforced disappearance’ is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”

Inadequate, Conflicting, or Absent Domestic Legislation

One of the key obligations in both conventions is that Mexico bring its domestic legislation into line with its international commitments by ensuring that enforced disappearances are a crime under its criminal laws.[374]However, Mexico’s laws fail to adequately criminalize enforced disappearance, offering overly narrow and conflicting definitions, which undermine efforts to prevent, investigate, and prosecute the crime.

The definition of the crime of enforced disappearance in Mexico’s federal law is narrower than the one set out by international conventions. According to Mexico’s federal criminal code, “The public servant who—regardless of whether (s)he has participated in the legal or illegal detention of an individual or various individuals - brings about their secret detention or deliberately conceals information about it, commits the offence of an enforced disappearance.”[375] Such a definition limits enforced disappearances to cases in which officials participate in or are aware of detentions, failing to include the possibility “that enforced disappearances be committed by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence” of the state, as pointed out by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.[376] As a result, Mexico’s definition overlooks the state’s responsibility to investigate and prosecute a whole subset of potential enforced disappearances.

In addition to shortcomings in Mexico’s federal law, as noted above 24 of Mexico’s 32 states have not criminalized enforced disappearances as an offense in their criminal codes. Significantly, the 8 that have done so offer differently worded and in some cases conflicting definitions.[377]Of the five states analyzed for this report, only Baja California and Chihuahua criminalize enforced disappearance in their criminal codes.[378] Guerrero passed a “Law to Prevent and Sanction Enforced Disappearance” in 2005,[379]but to date, the crime is not listed in the state’s criminal code.[380]The definition of enforced disappearance is different in Baja California, Chihuahua, and Guerrero, while in Nuevo León and Tabasco the crime does not exist. Nor does the Military Code of Justice criminalize enforced disappearance, which is relevant because cases of alleged disappearances perpetrated by the military are investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system in Mexico.[381]

The failure of Mexico to criminalize “enforced disappearance” in accordance with international standards and to establish consistent definitions across federal and state laws poses an obstacle to investigating and prosecuting such cases. In Guerrero, for example, the state human rights commission received 50 complaints of enforced disappearances from 2007 to 2010, and issued a recommendation in 2010 documenting three cases in which public officials were responsible for disappearances.[382]Yet during the same period, Guerrero’s state prosecutor’s office did not open a single investigation into the crime of enforced disappearance—a failure that is in part attributable to the fact that the crime is not included in the state’s criminal code.[383]

Similarly, the state of Nuevo León, where Human Rights Watch found strong evidence of enforced disappearances carried out by municipal and state authorities, does not criminalize “enforced disappearances” in its laws. Instead, in Nuevo León a disappearance is most often classified as an “illegal deprivation of liberty” (privación ilegales de la libertad), and it is grouped together with crimes carried out by non-state actors, such as kidnappings.[384]

The Amparo: An Inadequate Legal Remedy

In addition to failing to adequately criminalize “enforced disappearances,” Mexico does not provide an effective legal remedy to the family members of victims of the crime, as is mandated under both the Inter-American and international conventions. The legal mechanism available to present a writ of habeas corpus in Mexico is the amparo, which allows individuals to challenge the grounds for their detention. According to the law, an amparo must be filed by the alleged victim, who must identify the place where he is being detained and the authority responsible.[385]These requirements obviously cannot be met in cases of enforced disappearances because, by the nature of the crime, the victim’s whereabouts and the responsible authorities are unknown. This gives Mexican judges grounds for refusing applications submitted by the families of victims. And although judges sometimes grant amparos filed by the relatives of “the disappeared,” as is the case in several of the cases in this report, it is up to their discretion whether to refuse them on technical grounds.

There are also practical obstacles to filing an amparo. Families with little knowledge of the justice system, particularly those from marginalized parts of the population such as the poor or indigenous communities, are often unaware of their right to file an amparo, and are not informed by authorities that this recourse exists. The costs of hiring a private lawyer to file an amparo can also prove too high for families of limited means.

What’s more, even where families file an amparo in an enforced disappearance case it most often proves to be an ineffective remedy. In large part this is because authorities who are holding civilians routinely deny having them in their custody; it is also because, when amparos are granted, the judicial investigators who search facilities such as army bases or police stations for victims often carry out cursory or incomplete inspections, and notify corresponding authorities in advance of their visits.

For example, Jehú Abraham Sepulveda Garza was arrested by transit police in San Pedro Garza García, Nuevo León, on the night of November 12, 2010, for allegedly driving without his license and registration. He spoke with his wife on his cell phone shortly after his detention, and told her he had been arrested by transit police and was being handed over to investigative judicial police. She never heard from him again. When authorities offered conflicting accounts of what had happened to him after the arrest, his family filed an amparo on November 13.[386] Both the investigative judicial police of Monterrey[387]and the Navy[388]denied having Sepulveda in their custody, and searches by judicial authorities did not find him. However, according to a detention report filed by transit police, as well as testimony two Navy officers later provided to the state prosecutor’s office, Sepulveda had passed through the custody of both the investigative judicial police and the Navy. This strongly suggests authorities deliberately provided false information to a judge in response to the amparo.

Illustrative Cases

Illegal Detention, Illegal Transfer, and Enforced Disappearance of Civilian, San Pedro Garza García, Nuevo León

Summary

Jehú Abraham Sepulveda Garza was arrested by transit police in San Pedro Garza García, Nuevo León, on the night of November 12, 2010, for allegedly driving without his license and registration. Approximately an hour later, Sepulveda was handed over to the investigative judicial police, who interrogated him, and transferred him to the Navy. In none of these instances was his arrest or transfer formally registered by authorities. He has not been seen since. Federal and state officials gave conflicting accounts to the victim’s relatives in the days after his disappearance as to whether he had been detained, and by whom, and resisted opening an investigation into the case. Since that time, officers from the transit police, the investigative judicial police, and the Navy have all given statements to the state prosecutor’s office confirming that they had Sepulveda in their custody at one point. Neither civilian nor military investigations into the incident have led to police or military officers being charged.

The Incident

Jehú Abraham Sepulveda Garza was sitting in a pick-up truck outside of a store in San Pedro Garza García, Nuevo León, at approximately 6:15 p.m. on November 12 when he was approached by the transit police. The police detained him for not having his license or registration with him, and took him to the local police station, according to a record filed by the transit police.[389] Within the hour, and without an arrest warrant, investigative judicial police from Monterrey arrived at the police station, took custody of Sepulveda, loaded him into a vehicle, and drove away with him.

His wife told Human Rights Watch that she called his cell phone at 7:30 p.m., shortly after he had been transferred to the investigative judicial police. [390] He answered, and told her he had not been allowed to make any calls. He said that the investigative judicial police were taking him to their headquarters, but that he had been told he would be released shortly. When she called again an hour later, his phone had been turned off. In response, his family immediately made inquiries about his whereabouts at police stations, army and navy bases, and various state offices. All said they did not have Sepulveda in their custody. [391]

The Investigation

The victim’s family filed an amparo to determine his whereabouts on November 13.[392] In the days following his detention, the state prosecutor’s office and investigative judicial police gave conflicting accounts about the case. Initially, they told the family they had not detained him. Then, on November 14, they told his family and their lawyer that Sepulveda was safe in their custody, and “not to worry,” that they would be able to see him soon. On November 16, an official from the prosecutor’s office told the family that Sepulveda had been transferred to the Navy's custody on the night he was detained—“the cheap way”—meaning with no official papers indicating that the transfer had taken place. Throughout this time, and for several weeks after, Sepulveda’s family members maintained a constant presence at the prosecutor’s office, rotating in shifts to ensure someone was always on hand in case he was released or allowed to meet with his family.

On November 25, two officers from the Navy gave testimony at the state prosecutor’s office in Monterrey, Nuevo León, that on November 12, between 11 p.m. and 12 p.m., two vehicles arrived at the Navy Base where they were stationed in San Nicolás de los Garza, Nuevo León, driven by investigative judicial police.[393]The investigative police had a man in their custody who, they said, “it seemed had ties to organized crime, as a result of which they had brought him to be checked by personnel on our base.”[394] The Navy officers said the man—Sepulveda—told them he had been detained by municipal police “without any justification” when he emerged from a convenience store. The Navy officers said they checked his name against their “database”—though it is not clear to which independent database the officers were referring—to see if Sepulveda had ties to organized crime. When they did not find any record of Sepulveda in the “database,” the officers said, they released him. They said they offered Sepulveda a ride home, but that he told them he preferred to go home in a taxi, and that he had seen him hail a taxi outside the base. They said he left “in healthy physical condition.”[395]

Despite the accounts of the Navy officers and the state investigative judicial police, in response to an amparo filed by Sepulveda’s family to determine his whereabouts, ranking officials from the Navy denied that he was ever in their custody.[396] In December, the family met with the head of the investigative judicial police, Adrian de la Garza Santos,[397]whose officers had taken custody of Sepulveda from the transit police. He too confirmed that Sepulveda had been handed over to the Navy, according to the family.

The family of the victim lodged a formal complaint with the Nuevo León State Human Rights Commission on November 16, 2010. They said the commission had conducted no follow up investigation on their behalf.[398]The state prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into his disappearance.[399] The family also filed a formal complaint with the federal prosecutor’s office in December, which opened an investigation into the case. On April 28, 2011 the family was notified that the federal prosecutor’s office had transferred jurisdiction over the case to the military prosecutor’s office.[400]

Sepulveda’s family has not seen or heard from him since the night he was detained. His wife told Human Rights Watch, “We don’t know even know what to do now. We are really desperate. We know who did this and we can’t do anything.”[401]

Illegal Arrest and Enforced Disappearance of Six Civilians, Iguala, Guerrero

On March 1, 2010, six civilians were abducted from a nightclub in Iguala, Guerrero. Strong evidence points to the participation of the Army in the crime, including security footage showing what appear to be military vehicles participating in the abduction, an eyewitness account and official complaint that put soldiers at the scene of the crime, and statements by the military acknowledging that it conducted a raid that night. While the state prosecutor opened an investigation into the case, it was transferred to the military’s jurisdiction, and military investigators have made no apparent progress in the 18 months following the incident. As of October 2011, no soldiers had been charged with any crime. Meanwhile, family members who have sought thorough and impartial investigations into the alleged enforced disappearances have been subject to threats and, in one instance, have been the target of a direct physical attack.

The Crime

At approximately 10:30 p.m. on March 1, 2010, six civilians were abducted from a night club in Iguala, Guerrero. The victims—owner Francis Alejandro García Orozco, 32, and employees Lenin Vladimir Pita Barrera, 18; Sergio Menes Landa, 22; Olimpo Hernández Villa, 34; Andrés Antonio Orduña Vázquez, 21; and Zozimo Chacón Jiménez, 22—have not been seen since.

Two security cameras located across from the club captured footage of the abduction, which was later shared with Human Rights Watch.[402] The footage shows three unmarked cars drive up and park on the sidewalk outside of the location. A group of individuals get out of the cars and enter the club. Meanwhile, a pick-up truck that appears to be a military vehicle waits across the street. Minutes later, the men emerge from the club with their captives and load them into the waiting unmarked cars. The waiting pick-up truck flashes its lights, and the convoy of unmarked vehicles then departs, followed immediately by the pick-up truck and three other identical pick-up trucks.

As the abduction was taking place, the sister of one of the victims drove towards the club to meet up with her brother. Arriving immediately after the abduction, she told Human Rights Watch that she observed four military pick-up trucks, identifiable by their coloring and the armed, uniformed soldiers standing in the back, driving away from the club.[403]Her testimony is consistent with the security footage, in which she identified for Human Rights Watch her own vehicle arriving at the scene behind the pick-up trucks.

The army had carried out three raids on the club in the months prior to the abduction, according to family members of the victims. During these raids, they said, soldiers entered the club, harassed the owner and staff, and searched customers without presenting warrants, though neither staff nor clients were ever detained.

After the victims were abducted, their families went to military bases in Iguala and Chilpancingo, the state capital, state and federal prosecutors’ offices, and the state and local police to inquire if their loved ones were being held. All the authorities denied that the men were in their custody, and did not provide any information as to where they might be. One of the family members Human Rights Watch interviewed said that when he asked a soldier at the entrance of the Army’s 27th military zone in Iguala whether any civilians were being held inside, the soldier responded, “We don’t have the ones from the club anymore.” The family member said he had never mentioned the club—raising questions as to how the soldier knew this information. His reference to no longer holding “the ones from the club” also suggests that the civilians may have been at the military base at one point. At the entrance to the Third Battalion of Special Forces in Iguala, a soldier told one of the families, “If they [the Army] took them it’s because [the disappeared] did something.”    

The Investigation

On March 2, the six victims’ families filed an amparo for arbitrary and incommunicado detention.[404]The amparo was granted by a district judge on March 3, who gave the military 24 hours to investigate the allegations and hand over the civilians if they were in their custody.[405]

The victims’ families also went to the state prosecutor’s office to file a complaint. According to family members, the prosecutor they met with warned them, “If it was the military, we won’t be able to go up against them.” The official tried to dissuade the families from filing a complaint, saying, “Are you aware of the risk you are taking?”[406]Nonetheless, the families filed a complaint against the Army for the crimes of kidnapping and the “deprivation of personal liberty.”[407] According to the complaint, “Having failed to respect the aforementioned constitutional guarantees afforded to [the victims], we have a well-founded fear that the soldiers will torture them, physically and psychologically, and force them to confess to a crime they have not committed or go so far as to deprive them of their lives.”[408]The following day, the families said, they also filed a formal complaint with the Guerrero State Human Rights Commission.  

The victims’ families sent a formal complaint to the National Human Rights Commission on March 6,[409] and visited its offices on March 9 to file their complaint in person.[410] They asked the commission to issue protection measures (medidas cautelares) for the victims, which it granted. On March 10 and 11, officials from the commission searched several military installations in Iguala and Chilpancingo, but did not find the victims.[411]

The commission sent requests to the Army, police, SIEDO, and state and federal prosecutors inquiring about the whereabouts of the civilians. Both the Army and the municipal police acknowledged contact related to the incident. The Army reported that it had received an anonymous complaint at the time of the alleged abduction that “various masked and armed individuals” were spotted near the club. The Army said it sent soldiers from the Third Battalion of Special Forces to investigate at 10:30 p.m., but that the soldiers did not encounter any “illegal activity.”[412] The municipal police reported receiving a similar complaint of armed men in the area, and said they too dispatched officers to respond, but that they did not encounter any armed men.[413]

The families met with an Army general and three officials from its human rights division (Dirección General de Derechos Humanos) in Mexico City weeks after the abduction. Family members presented the officials with the videos from security cameras, which, as noted above, show what appear to be military vehicles waiting nearby while the abduction took place. The families said that one official admitted that the military had conducted an independent operation that night. When he shared this information, the victims’ families said, other officers present gave him angry looks, and he did not speak for the rest of the meeting.[414]    

The state prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the crime of “deprivation of liberty” on April 22,[415] but the victims’ families said investigators had done next to nothing to investigate, leaving the families to pursue leads. It was the families who, for example, wrote to a senator on the Federal Communications and Transport Commission requesting security camera footage from the night of the abduction taken on bridges, in hopes of capturing the license plates of the vehicles that participated in the abduction.[416]

In spite of evidence suggesting the participation of soldiers in the crime, the commission closed its investigation into the case on May 7, 2010, and advised the families to channel any evidence to the state prosecutor’s office. The commission’s Marat Paredes Montiel wrote to the families: “It is appropriate to conclude this case, however, by means of redirection. It is suggested that [the complainants] forward all of the evidence in their possession to prosecutor’s office, which is granted exclusive jurisdiction in the investigation and prosecution of crimes by Article 21 of the Mexican Constitution.”[417]Given the strong evidence indicating the participation of soldiers in the disappearances, the commission’s reluctance to investigate the case raises serious concerns.

The families filed a complaint against the military on July 12 through the President’s National Network for Citizen Services (Red Federal de Servicio a la Ciudadanía)[418]—an online complaint service of the executive branch. The service channeled the complaint to the Secretary of Defense on July 16,[419]rather than civilian justice officials. The army responded on August 17 saying, “it corresponds to the [National Human Rights] Commission to resolve this issue in conformity with its legal jurisdiction over the present case.”[420]However, by this point, as noted above, the National Human Rights Commission had already closed its investigation into the disappearances.

Roughly two weeks later, the Army issued another response, stating that a military investigation had been opened into the incident. However, the Army said, up to that point, “there is insufficient evidence to determine that soldiers participated in the incident.”[421]The Army gave no information as to what steps it had taken to investigate the case.

The families met in September 2010 with the Guerrero State Attorney General David Augusto Sotelo Rosas who told them that the investigation into the disappearances had been transferred to the military justice system. In a subsequent meeting, the military prosecutor assigned to the case told the family he was investigating an anonymous call on the night of the disappearance, which said that members of the military had entered the club, and that he was committed to interviewing soldiers who may have been involved.[422] As of October 2011, the family had received no further information on the progress of the military’s investigation.

Threats, Harassment, and Attacks

The victims’ families told Human Rights Watch they had suffered intimidation, threats, and in one instance a physical attack for seeking justice in the case. A week after the civilians disappeared, the families put up posters with the victims’ photographs around Iguala that read: “Army:  Return our sons to us.” They said they witnessed soldiers blacking out the text and tearing down the posters. Several days later, one of the families received a telephone call saying, “You are meddling in dangerous things,” and “we know where your sons are.” Fearing attacks on their other children, the parents who received the threat decided to send their other children to live with relatives in another state.[423]

Similarly, days after the families organized a “march against insecurity” on March 22, 2010, one relative received a threatening phone call. A man warned: “Tone down the bravery, you’re kicking up a lot of dust.”

In a separate incident, shortly after reporting the incident to the National Human Rights Commission and the Army in Mexico City, one of the victims’ relatives was driving along a highway when a white pick-up truck without license plates began to follow him. When he tried to evade the vehicle, it repeatedly crashed into the back of his car, and tried to force him off the road.

After the victims’ family members were called to give testimony to military prosecutors in October and November 2010, several reported being followed by civilian and military vehicles. On December 11, military vehicles clustered outside the business of one family member for several hours. As a result of this and other targeted acts of harassment, several of the victims’ families have abandoned their efforts to press authorities to investigate the disappearances. At the time of writing, the victims’ families said that—according to their inquiries with the military prosecutor’s office—no soldiers had been charged in the case.[424] 

Arbitrary Detention, Enforced Disappearance, and Extrajudicial Killing of Four Civilians, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua

Arbitrary Detention and Disappearance

At approximately 7 p.m. on March 26, 2011, four civilians—Juan Carlos Chavira, 28; Dante Castillo, 25; Raúl Navarro, 29; and Félix Vizcarra, 22—were detained by municipal police in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, according to the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission. Five eyewitnesses told the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission’s special representative for attending to victims in Ciuadad Juárez, Gustavo de la Rosa, that police stopped the pick-up truck in which the civilians were travelling and detained them.[425]

Family members of the victims found their abandoned pick-up truck at 1 a.m. on March 27 in a tunnel miles away from where they had been detained. The vehicle's license plates had been removed and its keys left on the floor of the interior.[426]

On March 27, Rosa María and Armida Vázquez—the mother and sister of two of the missing men—went to the offices of the municipal police, federal police, and state and federal prosecutors to ask if they were holding the missing civilians. All denied having the men in their custody. When Armida Vázquez informed the state prosecutor's office that she wanted to file a complaint registering their disappearance and seeking an investigation, she was told to return the following day, according to testimony she gave to the State Human Rights Commission.[427]

Armida Vázquez returned on March 28 and filed an official complaint with state prosecutor’s office and the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission. She also contacted the municipal police, the federal prosecutor’s office, the Army, and the offices of the Assistant Attorney General's Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime (SIEDO) in Mexico City requesting information about whether her family members were in their custody, but none of them provided any information as to their whereabouts.[428] 

On March 29, families of the victims filed an amparo seeking the location of the detainees, which was granted by a judge. A subsequent search of various police stations by justice officials did not find them on the premises.[429]

The Investigation

Eyewitnesses provided the state human rights commission with the numbers of five police patrol units allegedly involved in the detention of the civilians—417, 420, 504, 506, and 509—which the commission handed over to state investigators.[430] Two of the units allegedly involved were part of the Delta Group, an elite municipal police unit.[431] 

In the week following the disappearance of the civilians, the state prosecutor's office commented publicly that it was investigating the case, and the mayor of Ciudad Juárez, Héctor Murguía Lardizábal, said that he had ordered the city's department of internal affairs to investigate.[432]However, the State Human Rights Commission informed Human Rights Watch that state investigators made minimal efforts to seek out witnesses or question the police belonging to the units identified. At the urging of de la Rosa, several eyewitnesses then went to the state prosecutor’s office to provide their accounts of the illegal arrest. Meanwhile, the municipal police denied having detained the four men.[433]

On April 8, a judge ordered the detention of three municipal police officers from the Delta Group, who belonged to the units identified by witnesses, for the crime of enforced disappearance. A hearing in the case began on April 14. That same day, the bodies of the four civilians were discovered, and the hearing was temporarily suspended. Three of the victims’ throats had been slit and one had been asphyxiated; all showed signs of torture. [434]

The state prosecutor’s office opened a separate homicide investigation after the bodies were discovered. On April 15, a judge charged two of the officers with enforced disappearance, car robbery, abuse of authority, and illegal use of force, while the third was charged with enforced disappearance and car robbery.[435]The ombudsman for the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission called on state prosecutors to broaden the investigation to include at least 15 additional officers allegedly involved in the detention of the victims.[436]

In the hearing for the disappearance charges, prosecutors and witnesses provided testimony that, roughly an hour before their disappearance, two of the victims had intervened to defend a minor who was being assaulted by police. According to witnesses’ testimony, one of the victims tried to stop police from beating the minor and was then hit in the head with a rifle butt and thrown to the ground. Police then allegedly fired two shots near his head.

On the day the police officers were charged with the disappearance, the chief investigator in the case, state prosecutor Mario Ramón González Echavarría, was assassinated outside of his home.[437]

In October 2011, over six months after the victims’ killing, the investigation of the officers for the crime of enforced disappearance had stalled, de la Rosa told Human Rights Watch.[438]And he said that no police had been charged in the victims’ murder.

Attacks and Threats Targeting Victims’ Relatives

In the time since the victims’ bodies were found and three police officers were charged in their disappearance, the victims’ relatives have suffered persistent harassment and threats from state officials, de la Rosa said.[439]Two more of the victims’ relatives were killed in separate incidents, though those responsible were not identified. Furthermore, the victims’ families reported seeing police patrols waiting outside their homes, and being followed by police officers in public. Nearly all of the victims’ families have since left Ciudad Juárez.[440]

Dismissive Rhetoric of Ciudad Juárez Mayor

In September 2011 interview by a Mexican newspaper, Héctor Murguía Lardizábal, the mayor of Juarez, was asked about the enforced disappearance and killing of the four civilians.[441]In particular, the mayor was asked if he was aware of calls by Human Rights Watch to investigate the alleged crimes—including the possible involvement of Ciudad Juárez’s police chief, Julian Leyzaola, whose participation in cases of torture had previously been documented by Human Rights Watch.[442]

Lardizábal responded: “That doesn’t matter to me, what matters is that [Leyzaola] is getting results, and we Juarenses are very happy with him.” He added, “I haven’t received any human rights complaints against [Leyzaola], and if in the past he drank a Pepsi in the wrong place, I don’t know anything about it.” Not only did Mayor Lardizábal, whose job it is to appoint the city’s police chief, imply that human rights violations did not matter so long as his police chief “got results,” but he also compared acts of torture to drinking a soda in the wrong place.

Arbitrary Detention and Enforced Disappearance of a Civilian, Chilpancingo, Guerrero

Summary

On February 5, 2010, Roberto González Mosso was abducted by armed, masked men from the auto shop where he worked in Chilpancingo, Guerrero. He has not been heard from since. Evidence strongly suggests he was disappeared by members of the Army: two Army vehicles accompanied the car in which González’s abductors arrived at the shop, and escorted them away from the scene after he was abducted, according to witnesses. However, the investigation into the case, which is being handled by military prosecutors, appears to have yielded little progress. No soldiers have been charged in the case, according to inquiries with military prosecutors by the Guerrero State Human Rights Commission and human rights defenders in Guerrero.

The Incident

In testimony given to the state prosecutor’s office, the repair shop’s owner said that he was in the shop with his 16-year-old daughter, González, another employee, and several clients around midday when two military hummers drove by slowly and came to a stop a few meters beyond the shop’s entrance.[443]They were followed by a grey Chevrolet Colorado pick-up truck, which stopped directly in front of the shop. Four or five masked men carrying large guns descended from the truck, forced their way into the shop, and violently threw all of the civilians to the ground, forcing them to lie face down. The owner told state investigators: “I heard one of the men say, ‘point him out.’ And I heard a second man say. ‘It’s him.’”[444]Then, the owner said, the armed men picked up González, yelling “Stand up, you son of a motherfucker,” loaded him into the pick-up, and drove away, followed by the two military hummers. Minutes later, the owner said, he saw the same pick-up and military hummers drive by the shop headed in the opposite direction.

González’ wife, Rosa Iris Alcocer Atrisco, told Human Rights Watch that she received a call from her husband’s boss at approximately 1:30 p.m. on February 5, saying that her husband had been picked up by the army.[445]Alcocer, 24, a housekeeper, immediately went to the shop, where the owner informed her in greater detail what had happened. From there, she said, she went to the 35th Military Zone, where she asked whether her husband was being detained. The military denied having any civilians in their custody, and suggested she visit the state prosecutor’s office, as well as the offices of the Joint Unit for Attention to Narcotrafficking (Unidad Mixta de Atención al Narcomenudeo), which she did with her sister-in-law. All denied having any information about González, as did the federal prosecutor’s office. The victim’s wife then returned to the military base, where she asked to speak with a ranking official. A colonel met with Alcocer, and said his soldiers had not participated in any operations that day, and that González was not on the base.

The Investigation

The victim’s wife then went to the office of the Guerrero State Human Rights Commission, where she filed a formal complaint for the arbitrary detention and possible enforced disappearance of her husband by the military.[446]The complaint was passed along to the National Human Rights Commission.

On February 6, the day after the abduction, Alcocer returned with her sister and the victim’s brother to the federal prosecutor’s office, where they inquired if he was being held. The official who spoke with them said that two civilians had been detained the day before, and went to the area where detainees were held to find out who they were. From where Alcocer was sitting, she said, she watched a soldier approach the official and speak quietly to her for several minutes. When the official returned, she said she had made a mistake, and that no civilians had been detained the previous day.[447]

On February 8, the victim’s wife filed a formal complaint with the State Prosecutor’s Office, which opened an investigation into González’ possible enforced disappearance. She also filed an amparo seeking the whereabouts of her husband, which was granted by a district judge on February 10.[448] The court asked various authorities whether they had ever taken González into their custody; all of them denied holding him.[449]The victim’s wife told Human Rights Watch authorities had denied her access to the case file, claiming that it is confidential. State authorities asked Alcocer and her four children, ages 10, 8, 2, and 1, to give blood samples to use for DNA tests in case bodies were discovered. One investigator told Alcocer that the only way to advance the case would be for her to gather more information herself.

Civilian prosecutors transferred jurisdiction over the investigation to military prosecutors in November 2010.[450]According to the victim’s brother, on December 11, 2010, he called the victim’s cell phone and a person answered whose voice he did not recognize. When he asked about the victim, the person hung up. He called again the next day, and a woman answered. When he asked about his brother again, the woman yelled at him not to call again. The victim’s family said that when they reported this information to the military investigator handling the case, he said it was unimportant, and made no effort to trace the location of the cell phone.[451]

The victim’s family has had little contact with military prosecutors since the investigation was opened, and as of August 2011 was unaware of what progress, if any, had been made in the investigation.[452]

Enforced Disappearances of Two State Police Officers, Santa Catarina, Nuevo León

José René Luna Ramírez and José Everado Lara Hernández, both age 23 at the time and both former bodyguards for then-mayor of Santa Catarina, Nuevo León, disappeared on May 2, 2007. Witnesses in both cases allege that the victims were abducted by men wearing the uniforms of state security officers. However, state prosecutors investigating the cases have made little effort to pursue these and other leads pointing to the participation of state officials. And efforts by Lara Hernández’s family to press for more thorough investigations resulted only in threats against the victim’s mother. Neither investigation has led to any officials or other responsible parties being charged or sentenced.

The Abductions

On May 2, 2007, Luna Ramírez was picked up at approximately 6:50 a.m. outside his home as he was preparing to go to work.[453]The victim’s aunt told us that Luna Ramírez’s neighbor witnessed his abduction that morning. The neighbor said men dressed in uniforms bearing the insignia of the federal investigative judicial police (AFI) and carrying “large arms” placed the victim in a white car and drove off. The witness wrote down four numbers of the car’s license plate. The victim’s father lodged a complaint with the state prosecutor’s office in Santa Catarina the same day.

Lara Hernández was picked up at approximately 7:45 a.m. on the same morning as he was leaving the municipal police station where he worked. Witnesses told the victim’s family that he had been forced at gunpoint to get out of his car by three armed men in military uniforms, who loaded him into a waiting truck. His wife lodged a complaint with the state prosecutor’s office the same day.[454]      

Investigations and Threats against Families

Families of both victims told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors had done little to investigate the case. Luna Ramírez’s aunt said she repeatedly informed investigators that the victim’s neighbor had witnessed his abduction and had even written down part of the license plate number and car model of his kidnappers. But she said investigators did not bother to interview the witness. When, two years after the incident, she discovered that authorities had still not tried to interview the witness, she returned to the prosecutor’s office to complain. Prosecutors told her that if she wanted them to interview the witness, she would have to arrange the meeting. When the victim’s aunt met with prosecutors to ask if they had made any progress in the investigation, they told her, “If you don’t have news, we don’t either.”

She also told Human Rights Watch she met with the then-mayor of Santa Catarina shortly after the victim’s disappearance, who told her state officials may have been involved in his detention, but did not offer to intervene. The victim’s family lodged a complaint with the Nuevo León State Human Rights Commission in December 2009, but said that besides filling out a form with her complaint, the commission had taken no further action. The family said it has not heard from the commission since that meeting.

In the case of Lara Hernández, the victim’s mother went to the site of his abduction on the day it happened. She told Human Rights Watch that municipal police guarding the crime scene took her to the local office of the state investigative police, where she was made to wait for three hours. She said she was questioned by an officer who informed her she had been brought in for “security reasons.” When she declined to sit down, he told her: “Sit down or we’ll sit you down.” The officer asked about her son’s recent behavior and whether he had been dressing differently. When she told him they should be looking for her son rather than asking questions about him, he yelled, “It’s your fault they are killing more police officers!”—referring to members of organized crime. She said that at one point in the interrogation, he said to her “Don’t you understand that I’m from Sinaloa?” which she took to be a threat.[455]

On September 2, 2011, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances informed the families of Lara Hernández and Luna Ramírez that both cases were being investigated by the group, and that they had requested information from the Mexican government regarding the cases.[456]

On September 16, 2011, a police officer who worked with Lara Hernandez gave a statement to the state prosecutor’s office. He said two fellow police officers told him that Lara Hernández had been abducted by the then-chief of municipal police in Santa Catarina.[457] Meanwhile, another police officer—also on September 16—gave official testimony that two fellow officers had told him they abducted Lara Hernández and handed him over to organized crime.[458]Two officers have been detained under arraigo in connection with Lara Hernandez’s disappearance, according to information obtained from the prosecutor’s office by an NGO in Nuevo León.[459]

Targeted Recommendations to Address Disappearances

To Federal and State Prosecutors:

  • Conduct full, impartial, and immediate investigations into all alleged cases of enforced disappearances, including those documented in this report, with a view to prosecuting and punishing all parties responsible for the crime under national and international law.
  • End the practice of transferring cases in which a member of the military is accused of being involved in an enforced disappearance to military jurisdiction.
  • Develop a national rapid response protocol in conjunction with law enforcement officials for searching for persons who have been reported as disappeared.  There should be no waiting period for initiating an investigation into a possible disappearance or for searching for a missing person.
  • End the practice of requiring victims’ families to gather evidence of the disappearance of loved ones and possible participation of state officials before opening investigations.
  • Train teams of experts in the exhumation and identification of mortal remains so that experts can be deployed quickly when mass graves and other unidentified bodies are discovered.

To Federal and State Legislators:

  • Amend the definition of enforced disappearance in federal and state criminal codes to ensure that it is consistent across jurisdictions and includes all conduct included in the definitions established by the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. In particular, ensure that the definition includes disappearances committed by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support (direct or indirect), consent, or acquiescence of state officials, as suggested by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.
  • Fulfill the recommendation of the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance with respect to adopting a general law on enforced disappearances: “The general law should define the autonomous crime of enforced disappearance; create a specific search procedure for the disappeared person with the participation of family members of victims; and establish a national registry of forcibly disappeared persons with the guarantee that relatives, lawyers, human rights defenders and any other interested person have full access to the registry.  The law should allow for the declaration of absence as a result of enforced disappearance.  Finally, the general law should be a legal tool for the full support and protection of relatives of the disappeared as well as witnesses and also for the right to integral reparations.”
  • Sign into law the provisions of the proposed reform to the Amparo Law (Ley de Amparo) passed by the Senate in October 2011 that would broaden the legal remedies available to victims of disappearances and eradicate the prohibitive demands in the current amparo law that prevent victims’ families from seeking legal action, such as the requirement that they identify the victim’s location or the authority responsible for the disappearance. 
  • Accept the competence of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances pursuant to articles 31 and 32 of the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances on individual and state complaints.

To the Federal Executive Branch:

  • Establish a national database of the disappeared that includes data to help identify missing persons such as DNA from victims’ relatives, as well as a searchable registry of unidentified bodies that contains systematized physical information. The criteria for and collection of such data should be synchronized across prosecutors’ offices, human rights commissions, morgues, and among other relevant institutions to ensure the efficacy of the system. Relatives of victims, lawyers, and human rights defenders should be granted full access to the registry.

To All Public Officials:

  • Stop using the term levantón to describe disappearances—a term that implicitly criminalizes victims and assigns responsibility to criminal groups before cases have been adequately investigated. 

 

[330]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jesús Victor Llano Cobos and Virginia Dolores Muñoz, Monterrey, Nuevo León, July 8, 2011.

[331] Human Rights Watch interview with Isabel Orzúa García, Monterrey, Nuevo León, December 10, 2010.

[332] “United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Concludes Visit to Mexico,” Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, press release, March 31, 2011, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10907&LangID=E (accessed September 20, 2011).

[333]Ibid.  

[334] National Human Rights Commission, “Report of Activities 2010,” (Informe de Actividades 2010), “Report of Activities 2009,” (Informe de Actividades 2009), “Report of Activities 2008,” (Informe de Actividades 2008), “Report of Activities 2007,” (Informe de Actividades 2007), and “Report of Activities 2006,” (Informe de Actividades 2006), http://www.cndh.org.mx/node/120 (accessed September 20, 2011); email communication from Gerardo Gil Valdivia, Executive Secretary (Secretario Ejecutivo), National Human Rights Commission to Human Rights Watch, October 28, 2011, which provided 2011 data.

[335]Citizens in Support of Human Rights, (Cuidadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos, hereafter referred to as CADHAC), “Number of Forced Disappearance Cases” (Número de casos  de desapariciones forzadas), provided by email to Human Rights Watch on August 29, 2011.  Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Sister Consuelo Morales, director of CADHAC, Monterrey, Nuevo León, August 27, 2011.

[336] “Enforced Disappearance in the State of Coahuila.” Fray Juan de Larios Human Rights Center and United Efforts for Our Disappeared in Coahuila (Centro Diocesano para los Derechos Humanos Fray Juan de Larios y Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos/as en Coahuila, FUUNDEC), January 14, 2011, provided to Human Rights Watch via email on April 7, 2011. Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of the Fray Juan de Larios Human Rights Center and FUUNDEC, Saltillo, Coahuila, March 30, 2011.

[337]Committee of Relatives and Friends of People Who Have Been Kidnapped, Disappeared, and Killed in Guerrero (Comite de Familiares y Amigos de Secuestrados y Desaparecidos y Asesinados en Guerrero), Workshop of Community Development or TADECO (nongovernmental organization), (Taller de Desarrollo Comunitario), “General Statistics of Kidnappings, Disappearances, and Killings in Guerrero,” (Estadística General de Secuestrados, Desaparecidos, y Asesinados en Guerrero), provided to Human Rights Watch by email by TADECO, July 11, 2011 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[338]Human Rights Watch interview with Committee of Relatives and Friends of People Who Have Been Kidnapped, Disappeared, and Killed in Guerrero, TADECO, Chilpancingo, Guerrero, September 1, 2010; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Javier Monroy, coordinator of TADECO, July 11, 2011.

[339]Ibid.

[340] Human Rights Watch interview with Cristina Palacios, president of the Civilian Association Against Impunity, and Fernando Ocegueda Flores, secretary general, Tijuana, Baja California, April 29, 2010. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Cristina Palacios, Tijuana, Baja California, May 7, 2011. Civilian Association Against Impunity, “List of Enforced Disappearance,” (Listado de Desaparición Forzada), provided to Human Rights Watch by email by Cristina Palacios, June 28, 2011 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[341]Human Rights Watch interview with mother of the victim of an enforced disappearance, Saltillo, Coahuila, March 30, 2011. The woman’s name has been omitted out of concern for her security.

[342] In this way, the use of the term levantón is not unlike the Calderón government’s use of the term ejecuciones in its official homicide database to refer to killings of narcos by rival narcos: the implication is always that both the perpetrator and victim are criminals. See, for example: Ana Lilia Perez, “Journey through the North, Land of Levantones,” (Paso del Norte, Tierra de Levantones), Contralínea, June 27, 2010, http://contralinea.info/archivo-revista/index.php/2010/06/27/paso-del-norte-tierra-de-levantones/ (accessed September 20, 2011).

[343] Gustavo Castillo, “18, 491 Levantones in the Country,” (18 mil 491 levantones en el país), La Jornada, January 31, 2011,http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/01/31/index.php?section=politica&article=007n1pol (accessed September 20, 2011).

[344]“1700 Disappearances in Nuevo León and Tamaulipas So Far This Year, According to Reports to Soldiers,” (Van mil 700 desparecidos en Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, según reportes a militares), Vanguardia, October 4, 2010, http://www.vanguardia.com.mx/vanmil700desaparecidosennuevoleonytamaulipassegunreportesamilitares-563396.html (accessed September 20, 2011).

[345] International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, December 20, 2006, Doc.A/61/488. C.N.737.2008, entered into force December 23, 2010, ratified by Mexico March 18, 2008.  Italics added by Human Rights Watch.

[346]United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances concludes visit to Mexico,” Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, press release, March 31, 2011, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10907&LangID=E (accessed September 20, 2011).

[347]Constitution of Mexico (Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos), http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/1.pdf (accessed September 16, 2011), art. 16. 

[348]Human Rights Watch interview victim’s brother, Oziel Antonio Jasso Maldonado, Monterrey, Nuevo León, October 5, 2011.

[349]Ibid.

[350]Ibid.

[351] National Human Rights Commission, “Recommendation 043/2011,” http://www.cndh.org.mx/recomen/2011/043.pdf

[352]Human Rights Watch interview with Reyna Estrada Herrera, Torreón, Coahuila, March 30, 2011.

[353] Human Rights Watch interview with María Juliana Ramírez Camacho, aunt of the victim, December 11, 2010, Monterrey. According to the aunt, the number of the case file with the state prosecutor’s office is AP 150/2007-II.

[354]Letter from Center for Women's Human Rights (Centro de Derechos Humanos  de las  Mujeres, CEDEHM), Center for Human Rights Paso del Norte (Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte), and Commission for Solidarity and Defense of Human Rights (Comisión de Solidaridad y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, COSYDDHAC) to Dr. Santiago A. Canton, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, February 26, 2010, in which it details the case of the alleged enforced disappearances of Nitza Paola Alvarado Espinoza, Jose Angel Alvarado Herrera, and Irene Rocío Alvarado Reyes, as provided by CEDEHM and the Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte to Human Rights Watch, March 9, 2010.  

[355] Human Rights Watch interview with Consuelo Morales, director of human rights organization Ciudadanos en Apoyo de Derechos Humanos (CADHAC), Monterrey, Nuevo León, December 9, 2010.

[356]Ibid.

[357] Ibid.

[358] Human Rights Watch interview with Cristina Palacios, president of the Civilian Association Against Impunity, and Fernando Ocegueda Flores, secretary general, Tijuana, Baja California, April 29, 2010. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Cristina Palacios, Tijuana, Baja California, May 26, 2011.

[359] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Cristina Palacios, Tijuana, Baja California, May 26, 2011.

[360] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Gerardo Baca Portillo, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, April 8, June 20, and August 4, 2011.

[361]Amparo for Deprivation of Liberty and Incommunicado Detention (Amparo por privación ilegal de la libertad y la incomunicación), filed by Gerardo Baca Portillo before District Judge from State of Chihuahua (Juez de Distrito en Turno en el Estado de Chihuahua), Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, March 3, 2009 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[362]Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Gerardo Baca Portillo, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, April 8, June 20, and August 4, 2011.

[363]Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Gerardo Baca Portillo, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, June 20, 2011.

[364]Ibid.

[365]National Human Rights Commission, Recommendation 44/2009, July 14, 2009, http://www.cndh.org.mx/sites/all/fuentes/documentos/Recomendaciones/2009/044.html (accessed September 20, 2011).  

[366] Code of Military Justice, art. 293. 

[367]SEDENA, “Statistics of the Military Personnel Charged and Convicted for Human Rights Violations during the Current Administration” (Cifras de los militares procesados y sentenciados vinculados con violaciones a los derechos humanos, durante la presente administración), http://www.sedena.gob.mx/images/stories/imagenes/SERVICIOS/DRECHOS_HUMANOS/PROCESADOS__Y_SENTENCIADOS.pdf (accessed October 19, 2011).

[368] National Human Rights Commission, Recommendation 40/2011, June 30, 2011, http://www.cndh.org.mx/sites/all/fuentes/documentos/Recomendaciones/2011/040.pdf (accessed September 27, 2011).

[369]SEDENA, “Statistics of the Military Personnel Charged and Convicted for Human Rights Violations during the Current Administration,” http://www.sedena.gob.mx/images/stories/imagenes/SERVICIOS/DRECHOS_HUMANOS/PROCESADOS__Y_SENTENCIADOS.pdf (accessed October 19, 2011).

[370]SEDENA, response to information request 0000700066811 submitted by Human Rights Watch on April 25, 2011, June 16, 2011 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[371]Federal Criminal Code (Código Penal Federal), http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/ref/cfpp.htm (accessed September 20, 2011), art. 280.

[372]SEDENA, response to information request 0000700092011 submitted by Human Rights Watch on June 9, 2011,  August 10, 2011 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[373] Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, 33 I.L.M.1429 (1994), entered into force March 28, 1996, ratified by Mexico on February 28, 2002.  See also International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by General Assembly Resolution 61/177 of December 20, 2006, ratified by Mexico on March 18, 2008, arts. 3 – 12, 24, 25.

[374] International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, art. 4: “Each State Party shall take the necessary measures to ensure that enforced disappearance constitutes an offence under its criminal law”.

[375]Federal Criminal Code (Código Penal Federal),http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/ref/cfpp.htm (accessed September 20, 2011), art. 215.

[376] “United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances concludes visit to Mexico,” Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, press release, March 31, 2011, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10907&LangID=E (accessed September 20, 2011).

[377]National Campaign against Forced Disappearances, (Campaña Nacional contra la Desaparición Forzada), “Report on Forced Disappearances in Mexico 2011, (Informe sobre la desaparición forzada en México 2011), March 21, 2011, http://www.comitecerezo.org/IMG/pdf/_espanol_informe_sobre_la_desaparicion_forzada_en_mexico_2011_gtdfonu_21-03-11.pdf (accessed September 20, 2011).

[378]  Criminal Code of the State of Chihuahua (Código Penal del Estado de Chihuahua), http://www.inegi.gob.mx/est/contenidos/espanol/sistemas/pryCMD/codigos/cp08.pdf (accessed September 20, 2011), art. 165: “Al servidor público que con motivo de sus atribuciones, detenga y mantenga oculta a una o varias personas, o bien autorice, apoye o consienta que otros lo hagan sin reconocer la existencia de tal privación o niegue información sobre su paradero, impidiendo con ello el ejercicio de los recursos legales y las garantías procesales procedentes, se le sancionará con prisión de quince a cuarenta años y de trescientos a mil días multa, destitución e inhabilitación para el desempeño de cualquier cargo, empleo o comisión hasta por diez años.”  See also Oficial Newspaper of the State of Baja California ( Periódico Oficial de Baja California), “Decree No 407” (Decreto No 407), September 24, 2010, http://www.bajacalifornia.gob.mx/portal/gobierno/legislacion/periodico/2010/SECC-III-24-09-2010.pdf (accessed September 20, 2011).

[379] Government of the State of Guerrero, “Law to Prevent and Sanction the Forced Disappearance of People in the State of Guerrero Number 569” (Ley Para Prevenir Y Sancionar La Desaparición Forzada De Personas En El Estado De Guerrero Numero 569), http://mexico.justia.com/estados/gro/leyes/ley-para-prevenir-y-sancionar-la-desaparicion-forzada-de-personas-en-el-estado-de-guerrero-numero-569/ (accessed September 20, 2011).

[380] Criminal Code of the State of Guerrero ( Codigo Penal del Estado de Guerrero), http://www.ordenjuridico.gob.mx/Estatal/GUERRERO/Codigos/GROCOD07.pdf (accessed September 20, 2011).

[381]Code of Military Justice (Código de Justicia Militar), http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/4.pdf (accessed September 20, 2011).

[382] Guerrero State Human Rights Commission, Recommendation 122, November 16, 2010, http://www.coddehumgro.org.mx/coddehumgro2011/archivos/recomendaciones2010/REC.122.pdf (accessed June 10, 2011).

[383] Email from Hipólito Lugo Cortés, General Representative for the Guerrero State Human Rights Commission (Visitador General de la Comisión de Defensa de los Derechos Humanos del Estado de Guerrero) to Human Rights Watch, August 3, 2011.   

[384] Criminal Code of the State of Nuevo León, http://sg.nl.gob.mx/Transparencia_2009/Archivos/AC_0001_0002_0053361-0000001.pdf (accessed September 20, 2011), articles 354-358.

[385]Amparo Law (Ley de Amparo), http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/20.pdf (accessed September 20, 2011), arts. 17, 117. 

[386] Juicio de amparo 821/2010.

[387] Nuevo León State Prosecutor’s Office, document in which the Nuevo León State Prosecutor’s Office responds to amparo 17098/D. Amp/2010, November 23, 2010.

[388]SEMAR, document in which the Navy denies having detained at any point Jehú Abraham Sepulveda Garza, in response to amparo 17098/D. Amp/2010, November 14, 2010. 

[389]San Pedro Garza García Police Department (Dirección de Policía, San Pedro Garza García), “Informational Record, Re: Check of Suspicious Person” (Tarjeta Informativa, Asunto: Chequeo a Persona Sospechosa), November 12, 2010,  addressed to Prof. Camilo Cantú Aguilar, Chief of Municipal Security (Secretario de Seguridad Municipal), signed by police officers Felipe de Jesús Álvarez Macías and José Luis Roman Sandoval.

[390] Human Rights Watch interview with Janeth Olazaran Balderas, wife of victim, and Blanca Nelly Sepulveda, sister of victim, Monterrey, Nuevo León, December 10, 2010. Human Rights Watch interview with Janeth Olazaran Balderas, Monterrey, Nuevo León, October 4, 2011.

[391]Ibid.

[392]Nuevo León State Prosecutor’s Office, document in which prosecutors admit amparo, 17098/D. Amp/2010, November 23, 2010.

[393] “Testimonial Declaration” (“Declaración Testimonial”), José Francisco Meneses Gonzales, lieutenant commander of the Navy (Teniente de Fragata Cuerpo General de la Armada de México), as provided to Nuevo León State Prosecutor’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Nuevo León), Monterrey, Nuevo León, November 25, 2010 (on file with Human Rights Watch). While the quotes cited above were drawn from Meneses’ testimony, his statement was corrobrated by the testimony of Arnulfo Alejandro García, provided the same day. “Testimonial Declaration” (“Declaración Testimonial”), Arnulfo Alejandro García, third petty officer of the general infantry of the Navy (Tercer Maestre Cuerpo General Infantería de Marina), as provided to Nuevo León State Prosecutor’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Nuevo León), Monterrey, Nuevo León, November 25, 2010 (on file with Human Rights Watch).   

[394]Ibid.

[395] Ibid.

[396]SEMAR, document in which the Navy denies holding Jehú Abraham Sepulveda Garza, in response to amparo, 17098/D. Amp/2010, November 14, 2010. 

[397] Adrian de la Garza Santos is currently the attorney general for the state of Nuevo León, having been promoted from his previous position as chief of the investigative judicial police since the time of Sepulveda’s disappearance. 

[398] Human Rights Watch interview with Janeth Olazaran Balderas, Monterrey, Nuevo León, October 4, 2011.

[399] Human Rights Watch interview with Janeth Olazaran Balderas, Saltillo, Coahuila, March 30, 2011.

[400]File 352/2011 (Oficio 352/2011), first investigative agent specialized in crimed committed by public servants (agente investigador número 1 especializado en delitos cometidos por servidores públicos), Nuevo León State Delegation of Federal Prosecutor’s Office (Delegación de la Procuraduría General de la República en el Estado de Nuevo León), Monterrey, Nuevo León, April 28, 2011. File in which civilian investigator transfers jurisdiction in the investigation into Sepulveda’s case to the military prosecutor’s office.

[401] Human Rights Watch interview with Janeth Olazaran Balderas, Monterrey, Nuevo León, December 10, 2010.

[402] Footage from two security cameras located across the street from the club, March 1, 2010, provided to Human Rights Watch by the victims’ relatives in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, September 3, 2010 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[403] Human Rights Watch interview with María Guadalupe Orozco Urdiera, María del Rosario García Orozco, Laura Estela García Orozco, Víctor Eduardo García Orozco, Claudia Orduña Vázquez, and Félix Pita García (relatives of victims), Chilpancingo, Guerrero, September 3, 2010. Unless otherwise noted, the version of the victims’ relatives is drawn from this account.

[404] Dulce Marely Salgado Chong, Alma Rosa Vázquez Ocampo, Petra Jiménez Bahena, Félix Pita García, and Juana Villa Izazaga, “Indirect Amparo” (Amparo Indirecto), filed with fifth district judge in the state of Guerrero (Juez Quinto de Distrito en el Estado), March 2, 2010.

[405]Daniel Lira Gurrión, secretary of the Fifth District Court in the state of Guerrero (Secretario del Juzgado Quinto en el Estado de Guerrero), “Amparo, List of the Agreement Published on March 3, 2009” (Amparo, Lista del acuerdo publicado el día 3 de Marzo del 2009).

[406]Human Rights Watch interview with Maria Guadalupe Orozco Urdiera, Maria del Rosario García Orozco, Laura Estela García Orozco, Víctor Eduardo García Orozco, Claudia Orduña Vázquez, and Félix Pita García, relatives of victims, September 3, 2010.

[407] Dulce Marely Salgado Chong, Alma Rosa Vásquez Ocampo, Petra Jiménez Bahena, Félix Pita García, and Juana Villa Izazaga, formal complaint to the Guerrero State Human Rights Commission, March 4, 2010.

[408] Ibid.

[409]María del Rosario García Orozco and Félix Pita García, formal complaint to the National Human Rights Commission, March 6, 2010. 

[410] National Human Rights Commission, Second Investigative Unit (Segunda Visitaduría General), “Official Record” (Fe de Hechos), File 153654, March 9, 2010.

[411] Letter from Marat Paredes Montiel, National Human Rights Commission, Second General Visitor (Segunda Visitador General), Second Investigative Unit (Segunda Visitaduría General), Re: Notification of Closure of Investigation (Asunto: Se notifica conclusión), letter notifying victims’ relatives of closure of investigation of complaint, file (oficio) 22439, May 7, 2010. Letter documents visits by officials from the commission to the 47th infantry battalion, the 3rd special forces battalion, the 41st and 50th infantry battalions, and the 35th military zone. Also notes the responses to information requests by the Army, Navy, Ministry of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública Federal, SSPF), Federal Prosecutor’s Office, Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office, Guerrero State Ministry of Public Security and Civil Protection (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública y Protección Civil del Estado de Guerrero), and Ministry of Public Security of Iguala, Guerrero (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública del Municipio de Iguala, Guerrero).

[412] Ibid. According to the National Human Rights Commission’s letter, the Army responded via documents DH-V-2521 and DH-VI-2946 on March 12 and 29, 2010, respectively. Both responses were signed by the Army General Director of Human Rights (Director General de Derechos Humanos de la SEDENA).

[413]Ibid. According to the National Human Rights Commission’s letter, the Ministry of Public Security of Iguala, Guerrero (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública del Municipio de Iguala, Guerrero), responded on March 22, 2010. 

[414]Human Rights Watch interview with María Guadalupe Orozco Urdiera, María del Rosario García Orozco, Laura Estela García Orozco, Víctor Eduardo García Orozco, Claudia Orduña Vázquez, and Félix Pita García, Chilpancingo, Guerrero, September 3, 2010.

[415] Letter from Marat Paredes Montiel, National Human Rights Commission, Second General Visitor, Second Investigative Unit, Re: Notification of Closure of Investigation (Asunto: Se notifica conclusión), to victims’ relatives, file (oficio) 22439, May 7, 2010. According to item VII, which summarizes the Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office’s response to the commission, state prosecutors opened an investigation (averiguación previa) HID/SC/04/0249/2010-03 into the crime of “deprivation of liberty” [“privación de la libertad”] on April 22, 2010 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[416] Letter from Alma Leticia Orduña Vásquez, Petra Landa Tapia, Epifanía Ibarra Villalobos, Félix Pita García, Laura Estela García Orozco, María Guadalupe Orozco, Enrique Alejandro García, Dulce Marely Salgado, Juana Villa Izazaga, and María Nelia Hernández Villa to Ángel Aguirre Rivero, Senator and President of the Senate’s Communications and Transport Commission (Comisión de Comunicaciones y Transportes), April 24, 2010 (on file with Human Rights Watch). 

[417]Letter from Marat Paredes Montiel, National Human Rights Commission, Second General Visitor, Second Investigative Unit, Re: Notification of Closure of Investigation (Asunto: Se notifica conclusión), to victims’ relatives , file (oficio) 22439, May 7, 2010.

[418] Letter from María Guadalupe Orozco Urdiera, Félix Pita García, Alma Rosa Vásquez Ocampo, Petra Landa Gómez, Genaro Chacón Ramírez, and Juana Villa Izazaga to Felipe Calderón, President of Mexico, July 12, 2010. Processed via the National Network for Citizen Services (Red Federal de Servicio a la Ciudadanía).

[419] Letter from Juan Manuel Llera Blanco to María Guadalupe Orozco Urdiera, 22173466-44, July 26, 2010. Processed via the National Network for Citizen Services (Red Federal de Servicio a la Ciudadanía).

[420]Letter from Brigadier General Julio Álvarez Arellano, Chief Administrative Officer of the Army’s Office of Attention to Civilians (Jefe de la Oficina de Atención Ciudadana de la Oficialía Mayor de la SEDENA), AC/P- 00002956, August 17, 2010.

[421] Letter from Brigadier General Julio Álvarez Arellano, Chief Administrative Officer of the Army’s Office of Attention to Civilians (Jefe de la Oficina de Atención Ciudadana de la Oficialía Mayor de la SEDENA), AC/P-0003081, August 28, 2010.

[422]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with victim’s relative, Iguala, Guerrero, June 30, 2010. The identity of the individual has been kept anonymous out of concern for his/her safety. 

[423] Ibid.

[424]Email communication from victim’s relative to Human Rights Watch, October 21, 2011. The identity of the individual has been kept anonymous out of concern for his/her safety.

[425]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission’s special representative for attending to victims in Ciudad Juárez, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, April 1, 2011.

[426]Set of six photographs taken on March 27, 2010 by one of the victim’s family, and provided to the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission on March 28. Copies of photographs were provided to Human Rights Watch by the commission on April 1, 2011. The photographs depict the location of the tunnel where truck was found, the absence of the license plate, and the keys found on the floor of the driver’s seat (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[427] Complaint filed by Rosa María Vázquez, mother of two of the victims, before Jose Luis Armendariz Gonzalez, president of the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission, and Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, March 28, 2011.

[428]Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission, Official Record (Acta Circunstanciada) in which Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson documents the set of six photographs provided by the family and the telephone calls made to  municipal police, the federal prosecutor’s office, the Army, and the offices of the Assistant Attorney General's Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime (SIEDO) in Mexico City requesting information about whether her family members were in their custody, they all stated that they had not detained the four men, March 28, 2011.

[429]Email from Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission’s special representative for attending to victims in Ciudad Juárez, to Human Rights Watch, May 6, 2011.

[430]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, April 1, 2011.

[431]Delta stands for Special Tactical Attack Division (Departamento Especial Logístico Táctico de Ataque). The group was originally formed in 2005 under the administration of Ciudad Juárez’s previous mayor, Héctor Murguía Lardizábal. It was reconstituted in October 2010. “Agents Link Ex-Military Deltas with Abduction and Multiple Homicide” (Agentes ligan con 'levantón' y multihomicidio a deltas ex militares), El Diario, April 15, 2011, http://www.diario.com.mx/notas.php?f=2011/04/15&id=c31bf7fbe0e66d9ffe6de28a900414bf (accessed May 18, 2011).  See also “Delta Group Surrounded by Controversy Since Its Creation”(Desde su nacimiento rodea la polémica al Grupo Delta), El Diario, April 17, 2011, http://www.diario.com.mx/notas.php?f=2011/04/17&id=ebbe9a93efda9ad99c73e736eb45638d (accessed May 18, 2011).

[432] “Teto Orders Investigation of Police Kidnappers” (Ordena Teto indigar a policias plagiarios), El Mexicano, March 31, 2011, http://www.oem.com.mx/elmexicano/notas/n2023615.htm (accessed May 18, 2011).

[433] “Mexico: Investigate Enforced Disappearances in Ciudad Juarez,” Human Rights Watch press release, Washington, DC, April 4, 2011 (http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/04/04/mexico-investigate-enforced-disappearances-ciudad-Juárez).

[434]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, April 15, 2011.

[435] Email from Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson to Human Rights Watch, May 6, 2011.  See also “Preventive Detention Ordered for Three Municipal Police Officers in Custody” (Dan formal prisión a los tres policías municipales detenidos), El Diario, April 15, 2011, http://www.diario.com.mx/notas.php?f=2011/04/15&id=cfcfeb22d5bd5c08c1255d14eea66812 (accessed May 18, 2011).

[436] According to the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission Ombudsman Carlos Gutiérrez Casas, “The commission requested information from [the municipal police], which responded that it was already working with the state prosecutor’s office to resolve this situation. But even though three officers have now been charged, the information provided here and to the prosecutor’s office shows that these three are not the only ones involved, and that approximately 15 officers participated in this disappearance.” [“La CEDH solicitó información a esa dependencia y respondió que ya está colaborando con la Fiscalía General para resolver esta situación. Pero, ahora, aún cuando hay tres consignados, los datos que han sido proporcionados aquí y a la propia Fiscalía establecen que no son los únicos involucrados, entonces aproximadamente hay 15 elementos que participaron en esta desaparición.”] As quoted in Juan de Dios Olivias,  “Demand that Investigation Include to Other Police Officers” (Exigen ampliar investigación a otros policías), El Diario,  April 14, 2011, http://www.diario.com.mx/notas.php?f=2011/04/14&id=936cc8e4066f350adf735c3eb37dd902 (accessed May 18, 2011).

[437] ”Police Chief in Juárez Killed” (Asesinan a mando policiaco en Juárez), SDP Noticias, April 15, 2011, http://sdpnoticias.com/nota/37570/Asesinan_a_mando_policiaco_en_Juárez (accessed June 10, 2011).

[438]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Gustavo de la Rosa, October 17, 2011, Mexico City.

[439]Ibid.

[440] Ibid.

[441] Fernando Camacho Servín, “Juarez Mayor Plays Down Accusation against Police Chief for Disappearances” (Minimiza el alcalde de Juárez acusasion contra jefe policiaco por desapariciones), La Jornada, September 10, 2011, http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/09/10/politica/010n1pol (accessed September 11, 2011).

[442] Letter from José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director, Human Rights Watch, to President Felipe Calderón, “Human Rights and Public Security,” September 24, 2010, http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/09/17/mexico-letter-president-calderon. See section of the letter, “Tijuana Is Not a Model of Public Security,” which documents human rights violations perpetrated by Julian Leyzaola, then-chief of municipal police of Tijuana, Baja California, and his officers, including arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, and torture. 

[443] Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Guerrero), “Testimony and Judicial Declaration of Eyewitness Claro Albiter Rebollar” (Comparecencia y Declaración Ministerial del Testigo Presencial Claro Albiter Rebollar), FRZC/AM/01/08/2010, February 19, 2010 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[444] Ibid.

[445]Human Rights Watch interview with Rosa Iris Alcocer Atrisco, Chilpancingo, Guerrero, September 2, 2010; Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Guerrero), “Testimony and Judicial Declaration of Rosa Iris Alcocer Atrisco” (Comparecencia y Declaración Ministerial de Rosa Iris Alcocer Atrisco), FRZC/AM/01/08/2010, February 8, 2010.

[446]Rosa Iris Alcocer Atrisco, formal complaint against the Army, as made to the Guerrero State Human Rights Commission, November 27, 2009.

[447]Human Rights Watch interview with Rosa Iris Alcocer Atrisco, Chilpancingo, Guerrero, September 2, 2010. And, Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Guerrero), “Testimony and Judicial Declaration of Rosa Iris Alcocer Atrisco” (Comparecencia y Declaración Ministerial de Rosa Iris Alcocer Atrisco), FRZC/AM/01/08/2010, February 8, 2010 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[448]Federal Judicial Branch (Poder Judicial de la Federación), 7th District Court (Juzgado Séptimo de Distrito), Chilpancingo, Guerrero, 198/2010, February 10, 2010.

[449]Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office, document in which the 35th Military Zone responds to information request and denies involvement in the detention of Roberto González Mosso, File (oficio) 5368, February 18, 2010 (on file with Human Rights Watch); Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office, document in which the state prosecutor responds to request for information and denies involvement in the detention of Roberto González Mosso, DEGRO/0621/2010, February 17, 2010 (on file with Human Rights Watch); Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office, document in which the Assistant Attorney General's Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime (SIEDO) responds to request for information and denies involvement in the detention of Roberto González Mosso, DEGRO/0621/2010, February 17, 2010 (on file with Human Rights Watch). 

[450]Email from Hegel Mariano Ramírez, August 1, 2011. According to the family, the number assigned to the case by military prosecutors is FRZC/AM/01/08/2010.

[451] Ibid.

[452]Ibid.

[453] Human Rights Watch interview with María Juliana Ramírez Camacho, aunt of the victim, Monterrey, Nuevo León, December 11, 2010. According to the aunt, the number of the case file with the state prosecutor’s office is AP 150/2007-II.

[454]Human Rights Watch interview with Maximina Hernández Maldonado, mother of the victim, Monterrey, Nuevo León, December 11, 2010. According to the mother, the number of the case file with the state prosecutor’s office is AP 147/2007.

[455]Sinaloa is a state with a high incidence of drug-related violence, and is the base of one of Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations, the Sinaloa Cartel. The mother of the victims said she took the comment to mean that he was willing to hurt or kill her if she did not provide the information he wanted.  

[456] Letter from UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to human rights organization Citizens in Support of Human Rights (Ciudadanos en Apoyo de Derechos Humanos, CADHAC), September 2, 2011 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[457]Testimony of Luis Federico Rivera Eguía, provided on September 16, 2011, Nuevo León State Prosecutor’s Office, Investigation (Averiguación) 147/2007/11-3, Monterrey, Nuevo León (on file with Human Rights Watch), provided by CADHAC.

[458]Testimony of Jesús Eligio Mena, provided on September 16, 2011, Nuevo León State Prosecutor’s Office, Investigation 147/2007/11-3, Monterrey, Nuevo León (on file with Human Rights Watch), provided by CADHAC.

[459]Email from CADHAC to Human Rights Watch, October 28, 2011.