Mexico cannot move forward ‘without addressing the shadows of the past’, says UN rights chief

UNICEF/Luis Kelly Children playing in a UNICEF-backed child-friendly space in Jesús Martínez ‘Palillo’ Stadium, a temporary shelter in Mexico City, Mexico, November 2018.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Concluding “five intense, interesting and rewarding working days” in Mexico, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday that the country was going through a “crucial” period where it needed to reckon with “the shadows of the past”, before it can move forward.

Recalling enforced disappearances, clandestine graves, tortured detainees and other human rights violations, Michelle Bachelet said in a statement she delivered in the capital, Mexico City, that she was heartened the new Government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, had committed as a “State responsibility” to “search for the disappeared and establish truth and justice for the families and victims”.

“My Office will be an ally that will not hesitate to assist in the investigations”, she affirmed. “We will acknowledge when authorities fulfil their commitments to the families of the victims, and we will also point out any lack of progress in the case”.

Recognizing that disappearances continue, Ms. Bachelet said that “adequate mechanisms” must be put into place, such as a truth commission “to guarantee the establishment of the truth for the victims and for society in general”.

‘The wounds that are not clean, will not heal’

Throughout her visit, she met with families of disappeared children, government officials and many others, noting that more than 40,000 Mexicans have officially disappeared – a quarter of them women and girls – and 26,000 unidentified bodies registered, along with 850 unmarked graves. “These figures are deeply disturbing” Ms. Bachelet noted.

“The search for truth is closely related to the search for justice. The wounds that are not clean, will not heal,” she declared. “The open wounds of the past, and those that persist in the present, demand truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition. Healing will not come automatically; it will be the result of concrete actions and policies. Change and results are needed and possible.

Ms. Bachelet lauded President Obrador’s willingness “to put human rights at the centre of his Government”.

“I recognize his determination and express my readiness and that of my Office in Mexico to support this important policy change”, she stated.

She pointed out that even before assuming office, the Government had invited her to visit, and that she had done so at the very beginning of the President’s mandate, calling the move “an openness to strengthen cooperation with international organizations” to foster a society that respects human rights.

“The first steps in this direction are fundamental”, she stressed, saying that “the Government has acknowledged the State’s responsibility for serious and widespread human rights violations, and has apologized” for decades of infractions.

“More importantly”, she continued, “it has taken some steps to unveil the truth, provide justice, give reparations to victims and guarantee the non-repetition of these violations”.

Highlighting the emblematic Ayotzinapa case, where 43 students of a teaching school disappeared, their alleged murder subsequently covered up amidst corruption and mismanagement allegations, the UN rights chief said the Government and her team would collaborate and finally unearth the full truth.

“My Office will be an ally that will not hesitate to assist in the investigations,” she said. “We will acknowledge when authorities fulfil their commitments to the families of the victims, and we will also point out any lack of progress in the case.”

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