How statistics is helping to achieve human rights in Mexico


  • Author: Carlos Gómez Grajales
  • Date: 02 September 2013
  • Copyright: Image appears courtesy of iStockPhoto

I would dare to say that most people believe Statistics are an exclusive branch of the government. At least, official statistics are, we think. Measuring criminality, economic indicators and education performance: those are certainly the state duties. Well, let me tell you that, at least in Latin America, society has learned that gathering and divulging Statistics should not be exclusive of the government. Some clear examples show that data can become a powerful tool, a way to strengthen the role of the people, to pressure for a better government and, I would even add, to protest.

thumbnail image: How statistics is helping to achieve human rights in Mexico

This fact came to me a few days back, when a Mexican private organization detailed a plan to develop a database that summarizes all the information about the persons that have disappeared in the country in recent years. As some of you may have heard, armed conflicts for the territories that allow moving drugs to the United States have caused an increase in criminal activities within Mexico. As a result of this, disappearances have also been more common, along some other criminal activities. And even though the government is actively investigating most cases, an initiative was devised to pressure the government for more tangible and clear results. This program is named #PorTodosLosDesaparecidos (#ForAllTheDisappearedOnes) and it has reunited many groups of organized civilians with the sole purpose of creating a digital map that will list each of the 27,000 disappeared persons. This approximate number, along with all the information that the map will contain is based on the official statistics that the Humans Right Mexican Commission has registered.
The initiative is quite interesting for a number of reasons. First, because they actually try to filter the official information to make it more reliable and current. The map will compress the registered data of the disappeared people from two official sources and even contrast that with the information of the victim's family when possible. This to reduce false, outdated or duplicate cases. Another interesting fact is that the platform, which will be based on Crowdmap, will classify each case according to certain specific details, such as if the disappeared person was a journalist, a woman or if he/she was last seen around government officers. With the help of about 600 hundreds collaborators, the platform has already registered about 4,000 files of disappeared persons in the map, which includes persons disappeared not only in Mexico but also in the United States.

The founders of the project state that this effort is a form of protest against what they describe as "the lack of action and political will of the Mexican state". It is easy to understand why offering easy access to statistics can become a form of pressure for any government: numbers usually give more weight to any argument and make it more reliable. A president can easily deny that people's lives are worsening, but it is impossible to argue against a dramatic yearly reduction in the GDP. It is therefore not surprising that society has learned that its collective efforts can become more powerful with the use of data to back it up. Additionally, this initiative has some more inherent positives, as it has been also devised as a platform for promoting a deeper and easier contact among victims, families and media, as well as a tool to aid the official investigations.

#PorTodosLosDesaparecidos is already live and working and even after its relatively slow start, it has already had an effect in Mexican society. It has proved that official statistics are a powerful resource for society, for civil organizations that can now ask the government and demand results that would be contrasted with reliable numbers. It is then not surprising that some other, bigger and more known organizations in the country have already announced a bigger initiative devoted to map the information of all the murders committed in Mexico in the last decade. Journalists, academics and even members of the hacking collective Anonymous have already bowed support for this project.

These two initiatives are a refreshing form of political presence that I think will be more common in the future: individuals who share genuine, statistical information with society as a form of collective protest: moving the spotlight to highly sensitive statistics that will push the government to react and to justify each of its actions, not with rhetoric, but with statistics.


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Published features on are checked for statistical accuracy by a panel from the European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics (ENBIS)   to whom Wiley and express their gratitude. This panel are: Ron Kenett, David Steinberg, Shirley Coleman, Irena Ograjenšek, Fabrizio Ruggeri, Rainer Göb, Philippe Castagliola, Xavier Tort-Martorell, Bart De Ketelaere, Antonio Pievatolo, Martina Vandebroek, Lance Mitchell, Gilbert Saporta, Helmut Waldl and Stelios Psarakis.