Parents of two missing teachers college students in Mexico called for help from the United Nations this week in Geneva, Switzerland, as a high-ranking government delegation acknowledged "challenges" in Mexico over the issue of forced disappearances.
The parents, who were invited to Geneva by the Tlachinollan human-rights group in Guerrero state, spoke before the UN's Committee on Enforced Disappearances while wearing and holding images depicting their missing. Mexican diplomats presented a report to the commission on Monday and Tuesday.
"The parents asked me to ask [the UN], that the government return our children," parent Hilda Legideño told the UN media center UNifeed.
The government report charts Mexico's steps toward strengthening human-rights protections under the law, and also lays out Mexico's ongoing efforts to comply with a 2006 global convention against forced disappearances, defined as the use of state power to deprive the liberty of citizens unlawfully and against their will.
"Our presence here today before you is a result of the obligation to be accountable under this convention," Juan Gomez Robledo, a diplomat in Mexico's foreign ministry, told the commission, according to AFP.
The case of the 43 disappeared students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School generated "unprecedented interest" around the world into the country's tens of thousands of documented missing persons, said Rainer Huhle, rapporteur for Mexico at the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, during the session on Tuesday.
The group of young men were attacked and kidnapped by police in the city of Iguala, Guerrero, before being handed over to a drug cartel that allegedly executed and incinerated the group at a nearby dump in September 2014. The case generated international scrutiny and sparked waves of demonstrations across Mexico and in cities around the world.
The meetings this week came at a difficult time for Mexico's government. A key figure — the precise number of people missing in Mexico — remains unknown. The number has fluctuated in the past two years between roughly 23,000 and 26,000 people.
In the latest official figures, there are 23,271 people missing in Mexico, although independent observers and human-rights workers say that number is probably much higher. Only 621 of those officially missing are currently being sought by Mexico's federal missing-persons search unit.
"Nevertheless, due to the lack of information, it is not possible to determine in how many cases there is evidence of enforced disappearance with the help or awareness of public officials," Mexico's National Human Rights Commission said in a separate report delivered to the UN body.
Mexican human-rights advocates, however, told VICE News the government is once again paying lip-service to the issue without properly solving it.
"Mexico affirms everything but completes nothing," said Alma Gomez, director of the Chihuahua Women's Human Rights Center, which sent a delegation to the Geneva sessions.
Bernabé Abrajan, father of one of the missing Ayotzinapa students, told journalists after the hearing in Geneva that the meetings proved unsatisfactory. "Our government has deceived us. We do not trust them," he said, according to the AFP account. "A good response would be to tell us 'We have your kids'."
Mexican authorities also managed to downplay complaints that forced disappearances are a systematic problem in Mexico.
"The causes of [the student disappearances] I believe have little to do with the institutional framework and more to do with the temporary situation that some parts of the country find themselves in, specifically the state of Guerrero," the Mexican ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Jorge Lomonaco, told the Associated Press in an interview after the meeting.