Family members visit Washington DC to obtain international technical assistance in the search and investigation
10 months ago, on January 15, 2023, Ricardo Lagunes Gasca, human rights and indigenous territories lawyer, and Professor Antonio Díaz Valencia, leader of the Nahua indigenous community of San Miguel de Aquila, Michoacán, Mexico, were victims of forced disappearance for successfully defending indigenous rights in court, and claiming the right to a legitimate indigenous representation. Ana Lucía and Antoine Lagunes Gasca, Ricardo's brothers, after having knocked on every door to find them, traveled to Washington DC with their representatives to obtain international technical assistance in the search and investigation .
During this first tour to the United States - part of an international advocacy plan - the family members and their representatives had the opportunity to talk with various actors about the emblematic nature of the defenders' case, in the context of the worrying phenomenon of violence, and disappearances of environmentalists in Mexico. Since the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) classified this case as emblematic in its report on urgent actions, we reinforced advocacy work with countries who share concerns about violence against defenders in Mexico, and have an international agenda on business and human rights.
On November 9, 2023, the relatives and representatives presented the case to the Department of State of the United States of America, exposing concerns regarding the forced disappearance of environmental defenders, the main shortcomings in the investigation and search for Ricardo and Antonio, as well as requested, among others, commitment and collaboration to achieve technical assistance for the humanitarian recovery of the defenders. Julián Vázquez Guzmán, Ricardo's litigation partner in the Southeast Legal Advice and Defense organization, highlighted the impact that the disappearance of a defender has on the communities and people he represents and the intimidating effect for other defenders.
Family members spoke with CNN in Spanish and have gone to Washington DC to demand that international bodies, Mexico and other actors in a position to help find them, join their efforts to activate the International Humanitarian Recovery Mechanism for Antonio and Ricardo (MIRHAR). This mechanism is a space that, with the help of independent and interdisciplinary experts, will expedite the search and facilitate access to truth and justice. MIRHAR sets its eyes on a future finding missing defenders with dignity, taking into account that Colima and Michoacán register a high number of clandestine graves, and that Tecomán became the municipality with the highest number of finds in the country. For humanitarian crises of this caliber, humanitarian solutions are needed. María de Jesús Ramírez Magallón, Ricardo's wife, and Brenda Díaz Valencia, Antonio's daughter, emphasized that the humanitarian searches will benefit the entire Collective and Network of Missing Persons in the region.
On November 10, 2023, in conversation with the State of Mexico, with the mediation of the Inter-American Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner, the family members proposed the steps to follow to activate the humanitarian recovery mechanism. In this regard, they proposed that MIRHAR initially have an independent expert who proposes a comprehensive strategy with all the information distributed in multiple investigation and search jurisdictions. Regarding the forensic search, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) offered itself as an international expert for the families.
Alejandra Gonza and Thomas Antkowiak, lawyers for the families, highlighted that the solid proposals aimed at finding Ricardo Lagunes Gasca and Antonio Díaz Valencia are based on CED Guiding Principles for the Search for Missing Persons, in comparative experiences and good practices aimed at a more effective response in the search for the truth in cases of forced disappearances. They indicated that they will continue the dialogue with the State within the framework of the High Level Table formed for the implementation of the precautionary measures of the IACHR, the urgent actions of the CED, and the urgent appeal of the Special Procedures the UN, as well as will intensify their work with other countries that can help in the search.
10 months without answers to the question: Where are they? Those of us who are looking for Ricardo and Antonio will not lower our arms #UntilWeFindThem