By MEREL HAENEN
On Oct. 21, 2019, relatives of Mónica Ruth Rojas reported her disappearance after she did not return after a day’s work from a factory only a few blocks from her home in Tlalnepantla, State of Mexico (EdoMéx).
A year later, her lifeless body was found not far from where she was last reportedly seen, differentiating her case from mounting number of disappeared persons in Mexico, which at that time totaled more than 79,000.
An uninterrupted demand for justice from Rojas’ family and the accompanying human rights organization I(dh)eas ensued.
An uncommon outcome was reached in August 2022, when the trial court of Tlalnepantla sentenced a man to 17 years and six months of prison for his involvement in the deliberate concealment of the alleged murder.
By that time, Mexico had reached to a record high of more than 105,000 disappearances, according to Mexico’s National Registry of Missing and Unlocated Persons.
And according to a report drawn up by the UN’s Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) in 2021, on average, only between 2 and 6 percent of enforced disappearances culminate in a criminal sentence.
Between January to July of this year, at least 848 women have disappeared from the densely populated State of Mexico, which flanks the country’s capital.
The grounds where Rojas was last sighted is among the nation’s regions with the highest rate of disappearances of women, alongside Tamaulipas and Jalisco.
EdoMéx surpasses the national average, of which women account for 41 percent of all disappearances, with missing women in the state representing approximately 52 percent of all cases.
The state’s spate of targeted violence against women, with a notable concentration of seven municipalities out of the state’s 125 boroughs being disproportionately affected, prompted the declaration of two separate gender alerts being issued in 2015 and in 2019 to ensure compliance with national and municipal measures in the eradication and prevention of gender-based violence.
As a crime that too often succumbs to impunity, the disappearance of a person requires immediate and coordinated action from local authorities.
During a press conference in Mexico City on Friday, Sept. 2, to announce the sentencing in the case of Rojas, I(dh)eas lawyer Isabel Suárez said that, despite the gender alert having been declared in the same month shortly before Rojas went missing, “authorities did not act in accordance with the protocols on how to proceed in the first 24 to 72 hours of someone’s disappearance.”
Suárez said that while these were clearly mapped out in Mexico’s General Law on the Forced Disappearance of People, Tlalnepantla authorities never bothered to visit the alleged crime scene until a week after her disappearance, thus “losing important evidence in the process”.
Rojas’ case is not an isolated incident, but rather an attestation of a deep-rooted problem in Mexico that is only increasing due to government indifference and legal impunity for the culprits.
Suárez pointed out the systematic recurrence of similar cases, stating that “gender-based violence in Mexico is a reality at an all-time high,” and Rojas’ case is far from an anomaly.
Rojas’ sister, who also spoke during the press conference, recalled how their family often felt as if they had exhausted all avenues of appeal in their search for justice, adding “if anything, we are an exception to the norm, as only a handful of families are ever granted justice or able to retrieve the body of their missing loved one”.
On Tuesday, Aug. 30, the UN office in Mexico presented an updated edition of the publication “Enforced Disappearances in Mexico: A Perspective from the United Nation’s Bodies” in light of the acclaimed campaign of the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
During a round table discussion, Mexican Undersecretary for Human Rights, Population and Migration Alejandro Encinas, under the leftist government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party, blamed the problem the common on the country’s frail judicial institutions, upon which the nation is more reliant than ever.
Encinas highlighted the extraordinary mechanisms in place that he said are meant to bolster the state’s institutions in case of not being able to comply with their responsibilities.
He said that, despite the existence of national search commission, complemented by a national search system, the various prosecutor’s offices deflect their duties, arguing that “they lack the resources and capacities” to meet their responsibilities, outsourcing their duties to local or national search commissions.
They also blame the victims, he said, claiming that the country’s missing and disappeared should “exercise their right to be looked for.”