On October 1, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives held a virtual hearing addressing enforced disappearances in Latin America. The committee heard from four witnesses about different responses to enforced disappearances in Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Grace Fernández, of civil society group Searching for the Disappeared-Mexico (Buscando Desaparecidos México) and the Citizen’s Council of the National Search System, spoke as a representative of the families of the disappeared. Her brother, Dan Jeremeel, was forcibly disappeared in the Mexican state of Coahuila in 2008, and despite efforts by her family his whereabouts remain unknown.
As Fernández highlighted in her testimony, authorities supplied many explanations for his disappearance, “anything but that something bad could have happened to him.” Her family’s case is a tragic example of how government neglect has led to the victims’ families leading the response to Mexico’s disappearance crisis. Their work has led the government to adopt a General Law on Disappearances, which created a framework for the government’s response. Families also pushed the Mexican government to implement an Extraordinary Mechanism for Forensic Identification, to address the hundreds of thousands of remains and bone fragments in the authorities’ hands that have yet to be identified.
As Fernández pointed out, efforts by families of the disappeared has led to the implementation of much-needed policies; however, as Fernández put it, “Corruption and impunity make disappearances possible.” Indeed, endemic corruption, lack of action by prosecutors, and scarce funding are all currently getting in the way of families knowing the truth about what happened to their loved ones. Meanwhile, disappearances in the country are still increasing.
Fernández closed her testimony by pointing out how the international community, especially the United States, can play a role in encouraging the government to act, asserting that when U.S. policymakers “show interest in Mexico, [the government] worries about how to look their best.” Funding from USAID, additional resources to address Mexico’s forensic challenges, cooperation with U.S. prosecutors, and business engagement on human rights as an extension of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) are among her recommendations for the United States to support Mexico’s efforts to combat forced disappearances.
The other witnesses for the hearing are: