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More than 100,000 people officially missing in Mexico

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Mexico City (AFP) – More than 100,000 people are now missing in violence-ridden Mexico, a grim milestone that the UN rights chief on Tuesday called a “tragedy of enormous proportions”.

Rights groups have called for urgent action to tackle the disappearances that have exploded in years of spiraling drug-related violence.

The National Missing Persons Registry, which has tracked disappearances since 1964, said as of Monday the fate of 100,012 people was unknown. About 75% are men.

The Movement for Our Missing warned the figure was “certainly much lower than the number” of actual cases, calling on the government to address the crisis “comprehensively and immediately”.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the disappearances represented a “human tragedy of enormous proportions”.

“No effort should be spared to end these human rights violations and abuses on an extraordinary scale, and to uphold the rights of victims to truth, justice, reparation and redress. guarantees of non-repetition,” she added.

Only 35 of the disappearances recorded have resulted in convictions – a “staggering rate of impunity” that is “mainly attributable to the lack of effective investigations”, Bachelet’s office said.

“Scheme of impunity”

The UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances have described the situation as “heartbreaking”.

Enforced disappearances are a daily phenomenon in Mexico, “reflecting a chronic pattern of impunity”, they added.

The UN committee, made up of independent experts, warned in April that Mexico was facing an “alarming upward trend in enforced disappearances”.

Organized crime groups were primarily responsible for the disappearances, “with varying degrees of involvement, acquiescence or omission on the part of officials”, he said.

The committee’s report was rejected by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who said his government would not tolerate impunity or corruption.

Frustration at the slow progress of official investigations has led the families of the missing, especially the mothers, to form groups that search for clandestine graves using pickaxes and shovels.

The crisis is being fueled by state apathy, said Cecilia Flores, leader of one such group in northwestern Sonora state who is looking for her sons Alejandro and Marco Antonio.

“If the authorities had done their job, there wouldn’t have been so many disappearances,” she told AFP.

“For them, one missing person is one less criminal and one more statistic,” Flores said.

“Staggering Number”

Authorities say some 37,000 unidentified bodies are being held in forensic services, although civil organizations warn the number could be much higher.

Authorities are working to consolidate a database of the missing with genetic samples, though many corpses have been buried unidentified as morgues are overflowing.

The International Committee of the Red Cross described the 100,000 missing as “a staggering number that highlights the immediate need to strengthen prevention, tracing and identification mechanisms for missing persons and their families”.

Mexican mothers whose children have disappeared hold a banner with their photos during a protest demanding government action on Mother’s Day in the city of Guadalajara Ulises Ruiz AFP/File

However, he acknowledged the “significant progress” made by Mexico in certain areas, including identifying the dead and alleviating the pain of the families of the missing.

“The first hours are the most important,” said Marlene Herbig, head of the ICRC’s missing persons program in Mexico.

“When someone goes missing, their loved ones have the right to know what happened. Knowing the fate of missing people is above all a humanitarian act.”

The first reported disappearances in Mexico date back to the authorities’ so-called “dirty war” against left-wing movements from the 1960s to 1980s.

Mexico has also recorded more than 340,000 deaths – mostly attributed to organized crime groups – since 2006, when a major military anti-drug offensive was launched.