Coordination between the search and criminal investigations concerning disappeared persons

Ana Srovin Coralli
Publication Year
Europe and Central Asia / The Americas
Thematic Area
Law & Policies / Mechanisms / The Search Process
Criminal Justice / Human Rights / Transitional Justice
Open access

The relationship between the criminal investigation of and the search for disappeared persons is often referred to as a matter of considerable concern because of the potential tension between the different objectives pursued by these two processes. However, to date, the concrete challenges arising when the two processes are at odds with each other and the ways to overcome them have not been analyzed indepth. This study aims to close this gap by analyzing two contexts with different approaches to conducting and coordinating searches and criminal investigations concerning disappeared persons. Based on extensive desk research and 22 interviews with representatives of institutions involved in the processes of search and criminal investigations in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Mexico, the study encompasses different perspectives on the coordination in both countries. By illustrating the specificities of both contexts and showing how they have influenced coordination, the key objective of this study is to extend the relevance of their experiences to countries with similar or different institutional contexts.

The experiences of BiH and Mexico reveal different approaches to the coordination and the interplay between the search and criminal investigations: in BiH, the search and criminal investigations are seen as two inherent parts of the same process. Despite the existence of specialized institutions for the search and others whose mandate is to investigate crimes related to missing and forcibly disappeared persons, the interdependence and relationship between the search and criminal investigations is duly reflected in domestic legislation and practice. In Mexico, the approach adopted is not per se the opposite to that of BiH: the investigative authorities lead the criminal investigation, but also bear the obligation to establish the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared person. At the same time, the search has been assigned to a separate, autonomous mechanism, with the objective of improving previous practices in this domain.