At the Human Rights Program we have worked with two sources of information for the process of documenting clandestine graves in Mexico: 1) Media reports from national and local press and; 2) official information obtained through freedom of information requests. We have faced challenges for the documentation of both sources, but also advantages. This is how we have obtained and worked with them:
Media reports: First we have to consider that documenting clandestine graves from the media means that we are registering a specific form of social production of information. This means that it is conditioned by certain elements such as the level of coercion towards the media, the levels of violence in some entities and others. Therefore, we are reporting only a fraction of the whole universe of clandestine graves in the country. Nevertheless, we have gathered information from most of the states in Mexico.
Our press reports were obtained using a media monitoring site called Eficiencia Informativa. This is a public site that allows anyone to collect information from the national and local media in a variety of topics, in different years. We have used 5 main categories in order to obtain the press reports about clandestine graves. These categories in Spanish are: 1) Fosas clandestinas; 2) Fosas cuerpos; 3) Fosa ejecutado; 4) Masacre fosa y; 5) Fosa común. The site showed us all of the reports that had these keywords from 2007 till 2016. This has allowed us to collect more than 3,000 reports about clandestine graves in Mexico.
The reports that were incorporated into our database were broken down into 17 categories of analysis. For our study called Violencia y terror. Hallazgos sobre fosas clandestinas (http://www.ibero.mx//files/informe_fosas_clandestinas_2017.pdf?_ga=2.60633903.329604420.1512405972-113757551.1502979970), those analyzed corresponded to the state and municipality in which they were located, the year, the number of graves, bodies and/or remains (fragments) exhumed. It must be noted that, according to our methodology for examination of media archives, a clandestine grave had to fulfill the following characteristics: a) contain the bodies or remains of one or more person; b) that the bodies or remains were described by the reports as buried or semi-buried; c) that the legality of the site where the grave was found was in doubt and; d) that they were discovered by an individual and/or authority.
It is also important to consider that some reports that talked about the same event showed different figures regarding the number of bodies or graves. As a consequence, we decided to count the lowest figures, given the impossibility of confirming each case through an adequate forensic investigation. This means that we can only give estimations about the magnitude when we use media reports.
Other aspects that are important lie on the precision of the municipality or locality that notes report; how may days did the media talked about the same event and how many journals talked about it (if it its reported in different days with different journals it increases the probability that the event did happened); and if the note was signed by the author or not.
Official Information: The information of clandestine graves has been obtained through freedom of information requests directed to the Procuraduría General de la República (Federal Attorney General’s Office, PGR), the Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Ministry of Defense, SEDENA), and the state prosecutors’ offices for the 32 states of Mexico. These requests were made by the Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos (CMDPDH) and then shared to us.
The first challenge lies on the fact that not all of the institutions provided information about clandestine graves. For example, from the 32 state prosecutor’s offices we only received data from 12 of them. The latter means that the rest do not have registers of clandestine graves (even though we have reports from the media), or they do not want to share the information. Both possibilities are grave and are an example of the problems we are facing in Mexico regarding access of information.
The second challenge lies on the fact that the information is shared in different ways. For example, the PGR provided the number of clandestine graves found, the number of bodies exhumed and identified, and the state and municipality in which they were located. For its part, the SEDENA provided information exclusively about the number of clandestine graves found, and the state and municipality in which they were located. The number of bodies exhumed and identified was not given. The same inconsistencies are observed with the state prosecutor´s offices (we have also noticed sub-register problems in the figures).
The third challenge is that these institutions do not share their info with each other. This means that each has different figures. The problem is that there has not been an effort from the federal government to centralize this data and have a unique register confirming each of the cases.
This is why it is important to document clandestine graves findings with different sources of information. The media may observe findings that have not been observed by the official institutions and vice versa. The other option is that we can have reports of the same event from different sources. This is important in order to identify the magnitude of the phenomenon.