1 in 3 search commissions has fewer than 10 people

One in three state search commissions operates with fewer than 10 people in its structure, while those of Oaxaca and Yucatan remain single-person: in those two states, a single person is in charge of searching for hundreds of disappeared, 406 and 330, respectively. 
The one in Colima, although at the end of 2021 it was reported by the National Search Commission (CNB) to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) as a one-person group, for this year it already has three people in charge of searching for 962 disappeared. 
In some commissions, the information reported by the CNB on their structures is contradictory to what they themselves record in their most recent diagnoses to access the 2022 federal subsidy. In most cases, this is because they rely on temporary employees, whose hiring is, in turn, subject to federal recourse; Therefore, they return to work until the first five or six months of the year have passed. 

In other cases, without counting temporary employees, only four people are looking for 4,259 disappeared, as happens in Michoacán, or 1,128, as happens in Nayarit. In Sonora, only three officials are searching for 4,249 disappeared, as reported by the state commission in its diagnosis this year, obtained through a request for information. Meanwhile, in San Luis Potosi, 35 people are looking for 568, but in Quintana Roo only six are looking for 565 and in Durango six are looking for 707. 
Other states, even with a broader structure, face more adverse scenarios: in Baja California, where a record of one thousand 265 missing persons is reached, there are two permanent employees in the commission, compared to 18 temporary ones who depend on obtaining resources. In addition, this body went from having 25 people in 2021 – already with the temporary ones – to 20 in 2022.
The commission of Tamaulipas, an entity with 11,065 missing people, has a structure of 14 members, while the CDMX, which already accumulates 3,636 disappeared, works with 11 officials in 2022. Even some of the largest commissions, such as the 76-member Mexico State Commission, say their resources are insufficient and they lack the necessary training. 

“The Search Commission of the State of Mexico is one of the CLBs with the largest number of personnel and has sought to hire people with profiles according to the functions they carry out. However, specialization is required both in the area of cabinet search and in field search. In addition to this, despite having the largest number of personnel, this is insufficient to address the problems that afflict the entire state territory in relation to the number of cases of disappearance that are reported, “reads the diagnosis presented by the entity to the CNB this year.
Read more: Despite disappearance crisis, state search commissions left $230 million pesos unused of the money they received in three years
The Chiapas commission, where so far there is a record of a thousand missing people, has nine permanent and five temporary employees, and poses a much more difficult scenario. The agency assures that it has 13 basic computer equipment with internet, three printers and a copier, but not with the consumables or the necessary stationery; Of the resources for the operation of the Commission’s activities, such as travel expenses for search actions, he points out that they are scarce because the budget allocated is insufficient. However, in 2021, that commission returned just over 6 million of the more than 8 that had been granted. 
“The materials used in some of the cases were purchased with resources from the personnel working in the commission to perform the minimum functions required, including the cleaning service, which minimizes the operational capabilities of the commission, not only because of the small number of personnel, but also because of the technical and resource limitations for the performance of the functions entrusted,” It points out your diagnosis.
In Chihuahua, where the commission has 20 people, of which nine are state investigation agents and seven agents of the Public Ministry, the agency recognizes that its staff does not have certification in the search for people or a specialization with respect to the Homologated Search Protocol and the Additional Protocol for the search of girls. children and adolescents.
For the Michoacan agency, its resources are insufficient in the face of the growing needs of the local context. In addition, it raises the need to improve the equipment of its areas for the search, the pantheon and the forensic identification laboratory, as well as the expansion of the capacity of Information processing to generate context analysis, disappearance patterns and case follow-up record, as reported in its diagnosis for 2022. 
The documents presented by the commissions of Sonora and Zacatecas reveal dependence on temporary hiring. The first explains: “To date in this commission there are only three people working, and the pertinent arrangements are being made so that the personnel who were for fees are reinstated as soon as possible, as well as it has been requested that this commission be provided with more personnel.”
Meanwhile, the Zacatecas commission assures that it has lawyers, criminologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, social workers, systems engineers and experts in the field of forensic sciences, but depends on eventual “to give better results.”
Graphics: Andrea Paredes (@driu.paredes) and Jesús Santamaría (@re_ilustrador)
National Search Commissioner Karla Quintana acknowledges that understaffing remains one of the biggest problems for state commissions. However, he says that staff cannot rely solely on the federal subsidy that states receive, but that state co-participation must also be used for their hiring.
“Staff cannot rely on states’ share of subsidies alone; They would have to have hired personnel and add it through the state co-participation of 10%. Then there are many complaints at the beginning of the year that ask at what time the subsidies are going to fall so that they can hire the people of the commissions, when we allow that to encourage people, but in reality maintaining a structure corresponds to the entities. The operation cannot depend on that,” he said.
In addition, he explained that, for the construction of the next guidelines, they are looking for ways so that local commissions cannot acquire a greater amount of goods than the personnel they have to operate them. 
The UN CED report on its latest visit to Mexico warns that, although the creation of all the commissions has been an important step, “very few have sufficient human and material resources for their operation, and some are one-person.” 
“Both the federal government, through the CNB, and the National Search System, have reiterated to the governors of the states their obligation in the construction, strengthening and maintenance of local search commissions.”
The General Law and citizen oversight
The General Law on Disappearance of Persons It establishes that the national and local commissions must have, at least, a specialized search group, a context analysis area and an information management and processing area, in addition to the necessary structure for the fulfillment of their functions. 
Article 62 specifies that these bodies must also have State Citizen Councils to function as consultative bodies. In response to requests for information to the commissions, only eight were able to account for the installation and formation of their citizen council: Baja California, Baja California Sur, Coahuila, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Morelos, Puebla and Zacatecas. However, Coahuila, with a council of 16 people installed since 2019, said that “so far it has not been consulted for any action.” 
Citizen councils must have a balanced participation, and above all surveillance and feedback, to verify that the commissions are functioning as expected from society and the government, says Édgar Chávez, coordinator of the Project on Forced Disappearance in Mexico and Latin America of the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM).
This complementarity implies not only that they are installed, but also that they are provided with a secure infrastructure to meet. Chavez says this helps citizens know what they have a commission, how it works, what powers it has and what people can do if they have a family member missing.
“We are supposed to be the allies, in this case, the state councils or the people we are accompanying, or that we also do this exercise of accompaniment of the authorities, and allies of the victims, because they are there to see that it really works or provide information of where you are not looking or something is not being done well,” Says. 
Although 21 state commissions referred to the number of people assigned to the Specialized search groups, Durango not only indicated that his citizen council has not been formed, but also that it does not have a specialized group and, therefore, did not apply to report any search action.  
Meanwhile, the comisIn Puebla, he said that he does not have specific personnel for the specialized search group, but that in each action brigades are deployed that vary in number of people. Jalisco and Zacatecas reserved the names of the public servants who make up that group, citing security reasons, but the second did reveal the identity of their citizen advisors.  
In each commission, the number of search actions can vary from the 12 carried out by Tabasco in 2021 or the 16 in Colima in 2022 to the more than a thousand reported by Puebla in 2021 and 2022. Only 17 entities reported the search actions they have carried out in the last four years. 
Jalisco – which today occupies the first place in number of disappeared – reported that it does not have that statistic, Aguascalientes said that it was not possible to refer to these actions, Guerrero that does not have the information because its databases are in the process of being formed, and Quintana Roo reserved it arguing that they are related to acts of investigation.

Organizations also take on costs and search work
The microsites Disappear in Baja California, promoted by Elementa DDHH, and Tus Derechos, of the Justice Center for Peace and Development, AC (CEPAD), are two examples of civil society initiatives in the face of gaps in information and work of the authorities, in addition to the disorder and precariousness with which the commissions operate.
The first is a project that gathers information on disappearances in Baja California, defined as a “living” space with constant updates for the construction of collective memory, while the second is intended to provide information about the rights they have, where to demand them and what procedures victims or relatives can carry out in cases of disappearance of people and torture.
Renata Demichelis, from Elementa DDHH, reports that when they arrived to work in Baja California, in 2019, they found an entity in which there was no documentation about the phenomenon and that, in addition, is very far from the debates in the center of the country, is not part of the focus of attention and has faced abandonment.
Faced with the shelter of a speech that minimized insecurity in the state, particularly in Tijuana, and without reliable information, the Victims Law had just been adopted and the first call to occupy the title of the search commission had been launched. The institutions that were supposed to provide solutions and attention to the crisis were just beginning to be created.  
“We took on the task, first, of trying to fill those information gaps, nobody knew how many people were missing in Baja California; and second, to begin to do this institutional monitoring: how they began to be configured, to ensure that, if there was no local law, at least the objectives of the General Law were followed, and so on. This is how the project came about, which at the time involved looking for information and not taking your finger off the line on how the new institutions were going to be configured,” explains Demichelis.
Over time and accompanying collectives, they also detected the realities that families constantly faced, and that were not documented either. Finally, after three years they looked for the best way to give an outlet to all the information, and Disappearing in Baja California became a useful tool for various actors, which also opens with the contrast of the figures reported by the state prosecutor’s office between 2007 and 2021 – more than 14 thousand missing persons – and those housed by the RNPDNO, just one thousand 154.
“We have seen a lot of discrepancies, and we are still working on the hypotheses, but we know, because the prosecutor declared it, that they are reclassifying the folders, we do not know well what it consists of, but in the last records, worth the redundancy, and it is part of the phenomena of double and triple disappearance, folders disappear, they report less and we know that it is not that they are finding people or that remains are being identified; That has been a consequence of publishing the information,” says the activist. 
With this project, they have also discovered that there is no adequate documentation of the reports that come directly to the commission, and that is why it is not even a source for the microsite. From that body, they have perceived absolute opacity, which is a combination that arises from ignorance of the law to the deliberate position of not wanting to be accountable. To this is added a way of acting reactive to the requests of the collectives. 
“They sit down and wait for the collectives to tell them ‘I need to go to this search point and I need you to accompany me and I need you to come with me’, practically the commission does not do its job if it is not because the collectivThey ask you for it. Another very serious factor is the profiles; operate on a budget and understaff; So, they are really temporary contracts, three months, which is problematic in itself, but also they do not meet the profiles to occupy those positions, “he adds. 
In the west of the country, faced with a context of impunity – to date only 36 sentences have been issued for the crime of disappearance at the national level – and particularly in Jalisco, CEPAD has perceived that the responses of the authorities have not helped to guarantee the rights to truth, justice and integral reparation. 
Faced with this, families frequently approached the organization to know their rights, to consult what to do in the event of a disappearance, what authorities exist, what their functions are and what actions they can take. There was no response, which led to the construction of the microsite Your rights, to provide information to victims and strengthen their knowledge so that they safely and autonomously know the procedures before the authorities and have clarity in their proceedings.
“We have seen, on many occasions, a situation of capacity exceeded in the context and it has been a saturation in terms of that pain, that suffering of the victims and that lack of information and lack of guidance on what they should do. We try to gather our knowledge, our experiences, and together and building these tools with families, think about what could really serve to respond to their needs,” explains Anna Karolina Chimiak, from CEPAD. 
Created in 2018, the Jalisco commission was one of the first before the publication of the General Law, but also in response to a strong demand from the relatives of disappeared persons, recalls the activist. At the beginning it was extremely weak, with only one to three people employed. Over the years, it has grown and begun to shape the areas mandated by law, plus one of attention contemplated by local law.
“The search area is one of the most tried to reinforce because the practices most focused on the cabinet were very present, through trades, and given the constant demand to operationalize the search actions in the field, it was one of the bets to reinforce that area, as well as that of management and processing of information. who has worked on missing persons data. However, one of the great pending is the creation of the state registry of missing persons, which has already been in non-compliance for a year,” he says. 
In addition, for the area of context analysis the same intention was not given to strengthen it, partly because the state commission does not have internal regulations and has not been able to generate more places, as CEPAD has learned. Another pending is the effective presence of psychologists for victim care and accompaniment in search operations. 
Despite the strengthening intentions that the commission has expressed to the association, it is one of the states that since 2019 has returned significant amounts of the federal subsidy: 5 million 700 thousand of the 9 million 600 thousand that it received in 2019, 7 million 300 thousand of the more than 17 that it received in 2020 and just over 12 of 33 million that were granted in 2021. With a structure of 45 people, he said in response to a request for information that he has no list or statistics of his field searches. 
Edgar Chavez stresses his concern that in Mexico the necessary follow-up mechanisms still do not exist when there is no family member who can search for the disappeared. When there is an investigation and no one to follow up, the folders are simply closed. Particularly, in disappearances that come from decades ago, due to age or health, it is possible that the family can no longer go out to look for or review the investigation folder, if there is one.
“There are several things we have to rethink in this country; Unfortunately, they are accumulating, and I believe that something important and repetitive in families as a requirement is non-repetition. If we don’t make a before and after of what we have right now, it’s going to be a cumulative for decades, and then, we’re going to keep looking for new people, and others and others, and it’s an endless cycle,” he concludes.
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Original source in Spanish

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