Migrant Disappearances in Honduras: Family collectives at the center of the search for answers and justice
Since 2015, students in the International Human Rights Clinic (“Clinic”) have worked to address the disappearance of Central American migrants in Mexico. We have collaborated with organizations like Fundación para la Justicia y el Estado Democrático de Derecho (FJEDD), Peace Brigades International (PBI), and several Mexican, Honduran, Guatemalan and Salvadoran human rights organizations to examine how these four countries have tackled the issue. Specifically, we have looked at how each of these countries has responded to its international and regional legal obligations to conduct effective investigations, prosecute perpetrators and identify and repatriate remains in cases of disappearances. Our goal is to soon publish a comprehensive report centered around the demands of those principally affected by the issue — the family members of the disappeared.
This fall, we had the privilege to partner with FJEDD, el Consejo Noruego para Refugiados (NRC), and el Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC) to submit a joint report concerning migration in Honduras ahead of the country’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2020. Our contributions to that submission follow from the fieldwork done by IHRC students that came before us. In 2017, Clinic students went to Honduras and spoke to various organizations, including the family collectives Comité de Familiares de Migrantes del Centro de Honduras (COFAMICENH) and Comité de Familiares de Migrantes Desaparecidos del Progreso (COFAMIPRO). The perspectives collected during these meetings in Honduras will form the basis for our contribution to this report.
Long before the Central American migrants’ caravans of 2018 made news in the United States, COFAMICENH and COFAMIPRO have been organizing caravans of family members to search for migrants who disappeared as they made their way to the United States from Honduras. These organizations also independently create registries of their missing loved ones, provide resources and engage in advocacy to promote the interests and concerns of their members. The groups take on a holistic approach to dealing with this crisis. For example, COFAMICENH offers psychosocial workshops for family members and COFAMIPRO has led workshops to inform Honduran youth on the risks of emigrating to the United States.
In our meetings with both organizations in 2017, representatives of the family collectives had many concerns in common.
The collectives would like to see the Honduran government conduct effective investigations and properly repatriate remains. During the COFAMICENH interview, for example, a representative told Clinic students the story of the Suazo family. Mauricio Suazo was killed on the Mexican side of the border near McAllen, Texas. Although his body was identified using a relative’s DNA sample, it took 27 months for his torso to be repatriated to Honduras. Over five years later, Mauricio’s family was still fighting the Mexican government to receive the rest of his remains.
Given the instability Honduras is currently facing, migration is unlikely to stop. Hondurans leave their country not only to flee gang violence, but also to escape pervasive poverty and environmental disruption. As of September 2019, Honduras had become the top country of origin for migrants on the U.S southwest border. As Hondurans continue to migrate, the government must take action not only to address the previously mentioned root causes, but also to counter the crisis of disappearances and address the concerns of the family collectives.
In the past few years, the Honduran government has taken some steps in order to streamline the process of investigating disappearances. In 2018, for example, the Honduras National Congress enacted the Law of the National Registry of Data of Missing or Disappeared Persons. The law aims to establish a mechanism that permits the organization and concentration of information in an electronic database regarding missing or disappeared persons. Local civil organizations and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances have demanded and continue to demand for a register of this type to be established in Honduras.
Given that in the past family collectives have been the entities responsible for creating databases of their missing loved ones, once implemented the law will hopefully shift the burden away from these organizations.
Additionally, in September 2018, the government also established a roundtable to craft a response and to adhere to the recommendations made by the UN Committee on Migrant Workers. Some of the recommendations being analyzed include undertaking every possible action to search for missing migrants and establishing effective mechanisms to repatriate remains. While this roundtable does not necessarily mean that effective change will happen, we see the Honduran state engaging with its international legal obligations.
As Honduras continues work on the growing problem of migrant disappearances by looking to fill in the gaps in their compliance with international legal obligations, one hopes that the concerns and demands of family members like Margarita Reina Laínez, who has been searching for her son for 35 years, will remain at the center of the push of change.
Brief Bio: Patricia Vazquez is second year student at Boston University School of Law. She was born in Cuba and grew up in Havana, Cuba and Oak Park, IL. Patricia has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Boston College. After graduation, she hopes to continue promoting international human rights.