Friday, 20 February 2015

Genetic bank operated by families of missing Mexicans

The lack of response by the Mexican government on the issue of missing people in the country has pushed many of the victims' families into becoming genuine experts on research and forensic science so much so that they are now operating a genetic bank without government intervention.

Involved in the project are researchers Ernesto Schwartz and Arely Cruz, as well as family members such as Julia Alonso, whose son went missing in New Leon state in 2008.

"Unfortunately, we have become experts, but not because we wanted but due to the misfortune of having a government like the one we have," Alonso told reporters at a press briefing Thursday.

It was held to announce the positive identification of Brenda Damaris Gonzalez, the first body to be identified through the project which has funding from Durham University in Britain.

Without a genetic test to prove it, Juana Solis, the mother of the young girl who went missing in 2011 also in New Leon, would not have believed that the bag of remains handed to her was her daughter.

Which is why she turned to the Civil Governance Forensic (GFC) team and her case became the seed for the citizens' project along with the knowledge acquired by the two researchers during their work in Colombia.

In fact, it was in that country that they came up with the idea of a model of civic participation in the field of forensic sciences.

Until now, the project has received funding of $386,000 from the British university to perform independent DNA tests for the families of the missing as well as to set up a genetic bank.

Rodolfo Franco, one of the GFC founders, told Spanish news agency Efe that one of the main objectives of the project was so that "the government sees that citizens can be organised to participate in forensic matters" and got motivated to extend their cooperation.

The project has three steps. The first is "to shape a citizen administration that will manage a database", that has already been fulfilled thanks to a group of victims, all public figures known for fighting for the cases of the missing.

Among them is Tita Radilla, the daughter of Rosendo Radilla who disappeared in 1974 after being arrested by the Mexican army, a case for which Mexico was found guilty by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

According to Radilla, it is clear that "there is no response, no clarification of facts" by the government and there are "bodies that are buried when there are hundreds of families searching for their families, and, even then, those human remains are put in mass graves without identifying them".

The second step of the project, which is still under way, is the collection of data of the families of the people who have disappeared. Until now, it has managed to gather data from more than 600 families, many of them from Iguala in the state of Guerrero.

On Sep 26 last year, 43 students went missing in that state. Since then, dozens of mass graves have been discovered with unidentified bodies, prompting the family members to question the disappearances and search for their loved ones through such initiatives.

The third step has yet to start, explained Franco, and will be the creation of a bio-bank with genetic samples from the families which could be matched with the information from bodies.

Currently, there is enough funding to conduct tests on more than 1,500 people, but the aim is to continue bumping up that number, given that the figure is still falls woefully short of the more than 27,000 people that remain missing in Mexico today, Franco said.

Friday 20 February 2015

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Nigerian church collapse: family questions identification of victim

The family of a Nigerian church collapse victim has given government officials an ultimatum – grant us permission to conduct our own DNA tests or face court.

In a letter to the director-general of health Malebona Matsoso, Lwandle Mkhulisi appeals to government officials to grant the family permission to have tests conducted to verify whether the body given to them two weeks ago was that of his sister Patricia Mkhulisi.

“We, the above named person’s family, we are really concerned about the correct identity of the remains that we have received, as we did not receive any proof of identity. We therefore request permission to conduct our private DNA test as we are not going to conduct any burial until we are satisfied with the deceased’s identity,” the family said.

Matsoso has until the end of Friday to give a “satisfactory” answer, failing which the family will approach the high court.

Mkhulisi’s sister’s body was among the last 11 bodies brought back into the country following delays that tested the patience of family members.

Although they were given strict instructions not to open the body bag for fear those around the body it could contract the Ebola virus, Mkhulisi’s family defied the orders, saying they needed evidence the body they were about to bury was that of his sister.

Mkhulisi said on Friday morning: “We are very angry that the government is preventing us from getting closure. We can’t find any distinguishing marks on the body and the gap in her teeth… there’s no gap there.

“They are insisting we shouldn’t open the bag. What is very odd… nothing is broken… it’s a full body. What’s horrifying is that there’s no skin… but the bones are intact,” Mkhulisi said.

When told the bodies were being brought back “we were relieved and hoped we’d get closure”. But two weeks on, the family still can’t lay their sister to rest.

“It took us a long time to accept that she’s one of those who died. She has two children and the youngest one is really broken. My mother is also not coping,” he said.

A Government spokeswoman could not be reached for comment on Friday morning.

Friday 20 February 2015

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Bodies of Nigerian church collapse victims examined by families

Most of the KwaZulu-Natal families whose relatives died in the Lagos church building disaster on Thursday said they were certain they had buried the correct bodies as they had examined them before the burials. “Even though government officials had told us not to open the bags in which the bodies were put in, we did not heed the advice – we opened the bag and examined the remains. We definitely buried the right person,” Lindo Wittle, whose cousin, Nokuphila Precious Maphumulo was among the 85 South Africans who died in the Nigerian church tragedy, said.

Five KZN residents: Maphumulo from Ezimbokodweni, Durban couple Dicky and Dennis Ngcobo, Sabelo Myeni from Jozini and Nomusa Nyawo from Ngwavuma, were among the 85 South Africans who died in the Lagos tragedy.

Their bodies were buried in the province following their repatriation from Nigeria in November last year.

At the time of the bodies’ arrival in the country, South African government officials had advised relatives not to inspect the bodies – which were in black bags, as there were in an advanced state of decomposition.

“We heard about the incidents. However, we are not concerned at all because we opened the bag and checked her – we are satisfied as a family that we buried the right body,” Thulani Zungu, the spokesperson for Nyawo’s family said.

Myeni’s brother, Joseph Khumalo, said while he did not inspect the remains himself, the family elders did.

“Ordinarily, I would have viewed the body but was told not to. However, other members of the family did check and they told us that it was her,” he said.

Friday 20 February 2015

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Chinese New Year celebrations, AirAsia Victim Identification QZ8501 closed

Out of respect for the celebration of Chinese New Year , the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team will postpone the victim identification process of AirAsia plane QZ8501 in the hospitals in Surabaya.

"Tomorrow the process of identification of the holiday, because as we respect our colleagues who are celebrating Chinese New Year, " said Head of Public Relations of East Java Police Kombespol Awi Setiyono in Post Crisis Center of East Java Police Headquarters on Wednesday (18/02/2015).

Awi said the decision has been discussed with the family who today are in the waiting room of the AirAsia Post Crisis Center, and turns the approved family day off day.

"In addition, tomorrow is also red dates, and DVI teams are also no data that must be managed for the process of reconciliation," he added. According to Awi, DVI team is dependent upon DNA samples were sent to the Indonesian Police Headquarters, which until now still no results.

So there is no data to be processed by the DVI team. "Because tomorrow off, then hopefully on Friday that DNA data has been sent, so there are more bodies were identified," said AWI. To date a total of bodies and body parts that have AirAsia DVI team received as many as 104. Of that amount, a total of bodies that have been identified through day 53 numbered 96.

Includes 2 parts of the body and the first bodies were later declared as non-human but primates. While the rest, 8 bodies divided into five bodies intact and 3 parts of the body, it is stored in a cold room Hospitals Surabaya for further identification process is carried out. The aircraft AirAsia QZ8501 Surabaya-Singapore flight declared lost contact On December 28, 2014 last.

155 passenger aircraft and 7 crew fell in the Strait Karimata, Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan. Until today, the process of search and evacuation of victims is still underway by the Basarnas team.

Friday 20 February 2015

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