‘Helping to build social peace in Mexico’

Maximilian Murck, Manager of the Strengthening the Rule of Law Project in Mexico, on the origins, key findings and next steps of the cooperation.

Klaus Ehringfeld
Tonatiuh Figueroa

Mr Murck, two German forensics experts worked with colleagues in Mexico for six months on more rapid and reliable identification of victims of violence. Why?

Maximilian Murck, Manager of the Strengthening the Rule of Law Project in Mexico
Maximilian Murck, Manager of the Strengthening the Rule of Law Project in Mexico

The pressure on social peace in Mexico is comparable with that in post-conflict regions. More than 61,000 individuals are officially recorded as having disappeared in the country. Thousands of graves have not yet been exhumed, and there are more than 37,000 unidentified human remains. We can assume that these include many of those who have disappeared. 

Forensic institutions have a growing backlog of cases for identification. Meanwhile, families and those searching for loved ones cannot be certain what has happened to them. Not knowing, keeping hope alive and being unable to grieve puts huge strain on relatives. We hope that increasing the number of identifications will help build social peace in Mexico and improve citizens’ trust in the rule of law. 

How was cooperation established? 

During a visit to Mexico by the German Government’s Federal Commissioner for Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance, the two forensics experts from the University of Frankfurt were introduced to high-ranking Mexican politicians including the governor of the state of Jalisco in the west of the country. This established an important foundation for goal-oriented cooperation on the basis of trust. Implementation of the project has demonstrated the advantages of close local interaction between those responsible for political cooperation (through the German Embassy in Mexico) and those involved in technical cooperation (our GIZ project). 

What are the most important lessons learned from the last few months? 

Mexican experts often do good forensic work, but it is difficult to use the results to identify individuals because responsibilities are unclear, data is of poor quality, and the processes are not well organised. The Mexican-German team focused on this area and has shown how important cooperation between public prosecutors, the police, the National Search Commission and forensic pathologists is. 

My priority has been to devise joint solutions: we do not want to offer ‘in-service training’ that implies superiority on our part. When the issue is so sensitive, you need a pragmatic approach. We are often asked how we deal with the visible consequences of violence on this scale. The answer is that our motivation within the team is to achieve specific outcomes – that is, identifications. 

What are the next steps? 

As a result of our work together, the institute in Jalisco now has its own identification department. And over the course of this year, we are also cooperating with a non-governmental organisation to set up a database to link ante-mortem and post-mortem data. Support for the exhumation of around 80 bodies in the state of Tamaulipas had to be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the next few months, however, the plan is to roll out the experience gained with the current project in other states and at national level. For example, we have joined forces with the United Nations (OHCHR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross to support implementation of an extraordinary mechanism for identifications. Our goal is to establish a group of international experts like the “Identification Commission (IDKO)” of the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), by the end of 2020. 

And what is the more general situation with regard to human rights in Mexico? 

The high number of homicides, the very low clear-up rate and widespread corruption are clear indicators of shortcomings in the rule of law and respect for human rights. The current Government’s acknowledgement that there is a major human rights crisis is an important prerequisite for making improvements. So far, unfortunately, there have been few structural changes to the current security architecture. A major challenge – and one that Mexico has in common with Germany – is ensuring that data is shared among states and federal government. We want our project to provide some specific examples of how the rule of law can be made more effective – including, and especially, within a federal system. 

Published: September 2020

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