Human Rights Watch released a report Wednesday that documents 249 disappearances in Mexico since December 2006, when then-President Felipe Calderon launched a war on organized crime that "produced disastrous results."
The report urges new President Enrique Peña Nieto to implement a comprehensive and effective plan to combat the crisis.
"The nearly 250 cases documented in this report by no means represent all the disappearances that occurred in Mexico during the Calderon administration. Quite the opposite, there is no question that there are thousands more," the New York-based rights group says.
It recalled that a provisional list compiled by Mexico's interior ministry and federal Attorney General's Office contains the names of more than 25,000 people who were disappeared or went missing during Calderon's administration and whose fate remains unknown.
The report said that in 149 of the 249 cases researchers "found compelling evidence that state actors participated in the crime, either acting on their own or collaborating with criminal groups."
HRW harshly criticizes Calderon, who "denied security forces had committed any abuses, despite mounting evidence to the contrary."
"Only in his final year did he acknowledge that human rights violations had occurred, and take a handful of positive - though very limited - steps to curb some abusive practices," the report said of Mexico's previous president.
"However, he failed to fulfill his fundamental obligation to ensure that the egregious violations committed by members of the military and police were investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice," HRW said.
But the rights group did highlight progress made in investigating disappearances in the northeastern state of Nuevo Leon, where local rights defenders estimate more than 1,000 people have gone missing since December 2006.
HRW said that in fact-finding visits in 2010 and 2011 to investigate enforced disappearances (cases in which state agents participated directly in the crime, or indirectly through support or acquiescence) and other abuses it observed a "climate of near-total impunity similar to what we had found in several other states of Mexico."
But a shift subsequently occurred when families of the disappeared, "catalyzed by a grassroots victims' movement and partnered with a local human rights group ... collectively demanded that authorities begin to take the investigations seriously," HRW said.
It added that "under considerable pressure, state officials agreed to work with the families in investigating their cases."
Although prosecutors have yet to obtain a conviction, more than 50 suspects have been charged in seven of the cases probed through "working meetings" with families and human rights activists, the rights group said. EFE