By Lizbeth Diaz and Rebekah Ward
MEXICOCITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s government vowed on Monday to identify thousands of human remains that have accumulated in morgues and mass graves during more than a decade of gang violence and stirred anger among bereaved families.
The government said it would initially commit 400 million pesos (16.48 million pounds) to work through the backlog, including updating forensic databases, establishing five new forensic centres, bringing in experts and using new technologies.
More than 200,000 people have been killed in gang-fuelled violence, and over 40,000 have disappeared since former President Felipe Calderon sent in the armed forces to tackle Mexico’s powerful drug cartels at the end of 2006.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist who took office in December, has vowed to end the lawlessness and bring justice for the families, calling previous governments the violators “par excellence” of human rights in the country.
Still, 2019 is on track to be the most violent year on record, and protesters shouted at the president during a news conference in which the plans were unveiled.
“There will be all the support and all the funds necessary to address this outcry,” Lopez Obrador said at the event in his presidential office. “This is the worst legacy left to us by past governments.”
Thousands of bodies and remains have piled up from the ad hoc burials given victims of the violence, raising public ire over chronic impunity in Mexico.
Criminal gangs often bury the bodies of rivals or victims in clandestine graves. Some exhumed bodies appear to have been doused in acid or dismembered before burial.
“We must find a way forward … that guarantees us dignified treatment and identification of the bodies,” said Alejandro Encinas, the deputy interior minister responsible for human rights.
The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) said that between January 2007 and September 2016, Mexican prosecutors reported the discovery of 855 clandestine graves, from which 1,548 bodies and 35,958 additional body parts were exhumed.
Encinas acknowledged that many bodies and body parts across the country had yet to undergo autopsies. Remains often lie in mass graves without ever being identified by relatives or officials. A shortage of experts has exacerbated the problem.
“This has led to a profound forensic crisis that we now need to face,” Encinas said.
(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Additional reporting and writing by Rebekah F Ward; Editing by Dave Graham and Peter Cooney)