July 22, 2019
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Inconsistent data mars effort to learn full scope of Mexico's secret graves

 Forensic officials exhume bodies found in a clandestine grave on March 20, 2017, in the central Mexican state of Morelos. EPA-EFE/Tony Rivera/File

Forensic officials exhume bodies found in a clandestine grave on March 20, 2017, in the central Mexican state of Morelos. EPA-EFE/Tony Rivera/File

Zoilo Carrillo

Mexico City, Jun 20 (efe-epa).- Although Mexico's government has vowed to do its utmost to locate and identify tens of thousands of missing citizens, a report presented here Thursday reveals the serious complications involved in resolving a myriad of cases and investigating clandestine graves and remains of murder victims.

During the presentation of the study "Violence and Terror: Findings on Clandestine Graves in Mexico 2006-2017," the authors noted that the search for more than 40,000 people officially registered as missing in Mexico is marred by conflicting information provided by authorities.

These problems are intermingled with other difficulties, including the weakness of the country's justice systems, according to the report, which represents the most systematic effort to date at quantifying the extent of this humanitarian tragedy in the Aztec nation.

One of the coordinators of the study, Jorge Ruiz, said that only 24 of the country's 32 state attorney general's offices provided information to the different organizations involved in putting together the report.

"The rest told us ... that discoveries of clandestine graves had not been catalogued in their states, even though we know that's the case because they'd been documented by family members or because they'd been reported on in the media," he said.

And the data that was provided was riddled with inconsistencies, even when the source was the same AG's office.

Despite those problems, the study's results show that a total of 1,606 secret graves holding 2,489 bodies and 584 human remains were discovered in Mexico between 2006 and 2017.

Only 434 of the bodies recovered from the burial sites have been identified.

The rest are still nameless victims of a larger human tragedy that particularly affected the states of Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Veracruz, Sinaloa and Zacatecas, all of which have a major organized crime presence.

The general conclusion, according to Denise Gonzalez, another of the study's coordinators, is that the number of clandestine graves will only continue to grow.

She also lamented that even after analyzing all the data provided by the state AG's offices and taking into account press reports about secret graves that indicate thousands of these discoveries were made "the real magnitude of this vast problem" remains unclear.

"We can't say that the figures that are here are the final ones," Gonzalez said, adding that new clandestine graves are still being found.

Ruiz, a member of the Mexico City-based Ibero-American University's human rights program, said in that regard that the study's results merely indicate the reported number of secret graves.

Clarifying the real number of these graves remains a puzzling challenge for the time being.

With respect to those responsible for these crimes, the study showed the participation of the security forces and not just organized crime gangs.

A surge in homicides in Mexico began in 2006 with the coming to power of then-President Felipe Calderon, who made a militarized struggle against drug trafficking the centerpiece of his six-year mandate.

The president of Ibero-American University, David Fernandez, said that federal forces not only carry out killings but also "disappear people; that's what this report says."

He added that "36 sentences (have been handed down) against soldiers for crimes against civilians, four of them for forced disappearance."

For his part, Jan Jarab, the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico, urged authorities to create a registry with transparent information.

He added that the only way to combat the horror of widespread clandestine graves is with strategies against impunity.

Lastly, the head of Mexico's new National Search Commission, Karla Quintana, acknowledged that the main problem is a "lack of information."

Last month, Quintana said since the commission was reactivated in March it has received 481 reports of missing people.

She said then that of those missing persons 15 have been found alive and four dead.

Mexico has located 222 clandestine graves and 337 bodies since December 2018, when leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office for a six-year term.

Despite the magnitude of the problem, the experts attending Thursday's presentation recognized the efforts being carried out by the new administration and its willingness to recognize that the federal government also shares responsibility for this human rights tragedy.

zch/mc

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