Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice might set an important precedent by reaffirming the binding nature of UN decisions for Mexican authorities

  • The Supreme Court will take a decision regarding the mandatory and binding nature of the Urgent Actions issued by the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances
  • Up to date, 414 Urgent Actions have been issued by the CED for cases of disappearance which occurred in Mexico
  • For years, victims and NGOs have faced many challenges to secure the implementation of the Urgent Actions in Mexico and denounced the lack of political will of authorities to comply with their international obligations
  • If positive, this decision will contribute to improve victims’ access to truth and justice in Mexico and abroad

After two years of litigation carried out by IDHEAS, the Supreme Court of Justice will take an important decision regarding Mexico’s compliance with international treaties and its obligations on enforced disappearances, which could set a precedent worldwide. The Court will decide more particularly on the Mexican State’s obligations with regard to the implementation of the Urgent Actions for the search of missing persons issued by the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED), and the binding and mandatory nature of these Urgent Actions for Mexican authorities.

Due to the structural impunity in Mexico, some relatives of the more than 75.000 disappeared persons have turned to international mechanisms to access justice, including the Urgent Actions of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, a body of independent experts which monitors the implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) ratified by Mexico in 2010.

The Urgent Actions procedure is a humanitarian mechanism established under article 30 of the Convention that enables the Committee to receive and consider requests, submitted by the relatives of the disappeared person or their legal representatives, their counselor or any person authorized by them, as well as any other person having a legitimate interest, that a disappeared person should be sought and found as a matter of urgency. This mechanism seeks to foster better search of the missing person and investigation of the case, as the Committee shall request the State party to provide information about the measures implemented to search for the missing person, within a time limit. In light of the information received, or if no information is received, the Committee may transmit recommendations to the State party, for example by requesting that it takes all the necessary measures, including interim measures, to locate and protect the missing person, and to provide information on the implemented measures within a specified period of time.

Mexico registers the highest number of Urgent Actions in the world just after Iraq, with  414 Urgent Actions issued by the UN CED, of which 190 have been requested by IDHEAS for cases occurred in Guerrero, Jalisco, Mexico City, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz. However, the authorities from the three levels of government and institutions, more particularly the Office of the General Attorney at the federal and local levels, have repeatedly failed to fully comply with the Urgent Actions, arguing that they are merely recommendations with no mandatory and binding nature, thus preventing families to know the whereabouts and fate of their missing loved ones.

IDHEAS succeeded in bringing this important topic before the Supreme Court by litigating the case of Víctor Álvarez Damián, victim of enforced disappearance in the State of Veracruz[1], in which local authorities’ refused to comply with the requirements of the UN experts body, apractice which, IDHEAS argues, is generalized and emblematic of Mexico’s strategy to systematically ignore the UN treaty bodies decisions, views and requests on individual cases of gross human rights violations, including enforced disappearances. Víctor Álvarez Damián, a 16-year-old teenager was forcibly disappeared in December 2013 along with 6 other young men, by Veracruz State police during the security operation “Veracruz Seguro” in the district Formando Hogar in the city of Veracruz. IDHEAS has accompanied and litigated this emblematic case of enforced disappearances, and has been the legal representative of the families of the young men during the last five years, also showcasing Victor’s mother’ story in the documentary short film “Open the Earth”. As part of the litigation process, IDHEAS presented the Amparo (legal defense request) 1077/2019 against the Prosecutor’s Office of Veracruz for not recognizing the mandatory nature of the CED’s Urgent Actions requested in Víctor Álvarez Damián’s case, and asked for this matter to be transferred to the Supreme Court because of its transcending impact for victims of enforced disappearances in Mexico.

To support its litigation strategy, IDHEAS built a support coalition of partners and a communication strategy to influence the ruling. IDHEAS and other allies, such as national and international civil society organizations, human rights and public institutions, and scholars,[2] jointly presented a serie of Amicus Curiae, with the aim of expressing its technical opinion and elements to feed the discussion regarding the importance of recognizing the binding and mandatory nature of the Urgent actions of the UN Committee. IDHEAS launched a specific website, and disclosed videos from victims in its social networks to raise public awareness on this important topic before the Court’s decision.

This ruling could set an important precedent in Mexico and the world, as it would be one of the few existing rulings from a National Supreme Court of Justice worldwide, and the first one in Mexico, that reaffirms and enforces the State’s compliance with International Human Rights Treaties at the national level. It would also be the first time that a National Supreme Court of Justice examines the mandatory nature of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances’ Urgent Actions. In case of being favorable to the victim, it will set jurisprudence for the thousands of families of victims of disappearances in other countries, who will be able to use this strategic ruling in their search for truth, justice and reparation. We hope that this ruling will strengthen the respect for human rights in our country, by sending a strong message to authorities and society as a whole on the importance of eradicating enforced disappearances, and finally ensuring that Mexico seriously complies with its international obligations regarding the protection of victims of enforced disappearance.


[2] The joint NGO Amicus curiae was co-signed by : Campaña Global por la Libertad de Expresión A19 A. C., (“ARTICLE 19”). ; Centro de Derechos Humanos y Asesoría a Pueblos Indígenas A.C. (“CEDHAPI”), Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (“CMDPDH”), Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca A.C., Documenta Análisis y Acción para la Justicia Social, A.C. (”Documenta”)., Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación, A.C. (“Fundar”),  Organización Mundial Contra la Tortura (“OMCT”),  Red Internacional de Derechos Humanos (“RIDH”), TRIAL International, and the Veracruz victims’ group “Colectivo Solecito de Veracruz”. Scholars, the National Human Rights Commission, the Instituto Federal de Public Defence, and the National Search Commission also presented their own Amicus Curiae.

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