Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Ghana: Bodies of Goil fire were not handled with dignity says former health chief

A former Director General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa has expressed disgust at the way the bodies of those who died in the fire at the Goil fuel station at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle were transported to the morgue.

He was of the view that a similar situation in other countries, especially in more developed countries, would have seen the bodies being wrapped in body bags.

“Anywhere else, all the bodies would have been put in body bags and the body bags would have been appropriately transported to the morgue.”

After last Wednesday’s floods and fire outbreak at the Goil Fuel Station, there were pictures and video footages of the dead bodies being put into the bucket of trucks and being transported to the morgues without any covering.

Prof. Badu Akosa told Citi News, the manner in which the bodies were handled was unprofessional and must not be repeated under any circumstances.

He explained that he was “very distressed the way their bodies were just hurled into the bucket of the pick-ups.”

According to him, it did not “in any way dignify the human beings who had lost their lives under such tragic circumstances. I think as a country, we can do better than that.”

Prof. Akosa pointed out that because the incident was a national catastrophe, “the first thing I would have thought that the morgues will do will be that if they do not have a cold room, they will embalm the bodies.”

“This is almost like a certificate of urgency so what you need to do is to preserve each body in as near the state in which it was brought to the morgue as possible even before relations are brought in to identify the bodies.”

He noted that the families of the victims are already apprehensive while getting into the morgue to identify their relatives “so if you expose more than one body to most people, they will not be actually looking at the body they have come to identify.”

“In most cases, you present the bodies in a manner that they can go from body to body to be able to identify.”

Wednesday 10 June 2015

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Teams return to Mount Ontake to search for bodies, eight months on

Search teams returned to the peak of Mount Ontake on Wednesday for the first time in eight months to continue looking for the bodies of six hikers missing since the volcano erupted.

The disaster left 63 people dead or missing, bludgeoned by rocks and buried beneath scalding ash. Rescue work was called off last year when winter set in.

Around 50 people, including police, firefighters and volcanologists, began an exploratory ascent of the mountain in Nagano Prefecture with a view to resuming a full-scale search next month, after the conclusion of Japan’s annual rainy season.

The 3,067-meter peak was thronged with hikers viewing the region’s spectacular autumn colors when it burst unexpectedly to life on Sept. 27 last year.

It was Japan’s deadliest eruption in almost 90 years.

Dramatic mobile phone footage taken by survivors showed rocks raining down as clouds of ash engulfed people close to the summit.

Search and rescue teams last year trudged through thick, clay-like ash to recover 57 bodies in sometimes treacherous conditions, despite fears over toxic fumes and a possible further eruption.

The operation was suspended in October as autumn’s rains began to give way to snow, which soon made the peak impassable.

“There is a part of me that feels rather worried about what it is like up there,” said senior police officer Noriyuki Hayashi, of Nagano prefectural police, as the team prepared to ascend Mount Ontake. “But we will do what we can.”

The team observed a moment of silence below the mountain, which — even in the summer months of June — still has snow-covered ravines.

Aerial footage showed the searchers’ bright outerwear set against the gray lunar landscape of the ash-covered peak.

Ontake is one of scores of active volcanoes across the country, which sits on the so-called “Ring of Fire,” where a large proportion of the world’s quakes and eruptions are recorded.

Last month, authorities evacuated Kuchinoerabu Island, off the coast of Kyushu, when a volcano erupted there.

Autopsies on bodies recovered from Ontake last year revealed many of them died from injuries caused by flying rocks.

That led to a recommendation in March that people who climb Mount Fuji — also a volcano — should carry helmets and goggles with them.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

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Forensic science in search of the ‘disappeared’

During Guatemala’s internal armed conflict (1960-1996) almost 200,000 people are thought to have been killed or 'disappeared' at the hands of repressive and violent regimes. Those lives matter. Their families’ demands are clear: they want to know what happened to their loved ones and they want their remains returned. They need truth and justice.

Guatemala’s method of uncovering human rights violations can help other post-conflict areas, says Fredy Peccerelli.

Using forensic sciences, the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) is assisting families by returning their loved ones’ remains, promoting justice, and setting the historical record straight.

A multidisciplinary process

The FAFG is a civil-society scientific organisation that works to strengthen the judicial system and respect human rights by investigating, documenting and generally uncovering evidence of human rights violations — particularly massacres and enforced disappearances — from the conflict.

The FAFG team applies techniques drawn from criminology, forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology, forensic genetics and social anthropology in a multidisciplinary human identification system.

Our investigators explain the process to families and family organisations using presentations. We speak to them as equals and give them information so they can make decisions about their participation. If we gain their trust they will share information with us about the victim, the event, and family genealogy. We also ask the relatives to provide DNA reference samples. “The FAFG’s multidisciplinary methods and approach are transferable to other post-conflict countries and situations with missing people, such as migration or natural disasters.”

Archaeologists then locate the graves using witness testimony or archaeological field surveys for depressions and other signs of graves. They then excavate, document, and exhume the remains. The grave is treated as a crime scene, so a forensic archaeologist will record all the details, such as any associated artifacts and other evidence to help determine how people were restrained and killed. This can include metal fragments (usually ballistics), rope, cords tying hands and/or feet and neck, blindfolds and gags.

Forensic anthropologists then analyse the skeletal remains to establish the biological profile of the victim. They determine characteristics such as age, height and sex based on features such as tooth development in children and differences between male and female pelvic girdle. This examination also reveals other individualising characteristics such as whether the person had previously broken bones or recovered from a disease. Forensic anthropologists also investigate the cause of death.

As part of this process a small piece of bone is cut from the left femur or tooth, as studies have shown that DNA is best protected in these dense areas of the human skeleton. The sample is then brought to our lab for analysis.

At the lab forensic geneticists compare the genetic profile of the victim obtained from the bone sample to the genetic profile of the families. Both are stored and continuously compared in our National Genetic Database of Relatives and Victims of Enforced Disappearance.

We use all of the information gathered throughout the entire process to ensure the victim’s identity is returned with dignity and certainty, thereby reconnecting families.

Setting the record straight

The FAFG’s evidence supports findings by Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission, that most victims of the civil war were Maya indigenous people living in the rural highlands, including women and children.

In Guatemala City the ideals and dreams of academics, religious leaders, student leaders, unions, and other politically motivated individuals frightened the regimes. The state responded to this fear disproportionately, killing and massacring 160,000 people and ‘disappearing’ 40,000 — rupturing Guatemala’s social fabric and forever changing the future and geography of the country.

The objective, rigorous investigations conducted by the FAFG clarify the truth so that history is properly acknowledged and recorded. The physical evidence proves what happened, supports the testimonies of families, and can be used in a court of law to hold the intellectual authors and perpetrators of the crimes responsible more than three decades since their crimes were committed.

Justice beyond Guatemala

Apart from empowering families in Guatemala, the forensic work has provided prosecutors with evidence in other parts of the world too. For example, in Bosnia FAFG personnel helped with the exhumation and the forensic investigation process that provided evidence in four genocide trials in The Hague. FAFG personnel investigated and contributed to these trials to gain justice for the families, just as we are doing in Guatemala.

As funding priorities shift according to the international development priorities that are in fashion, transitional justice (the process of coming to terms with human rights abuses) must not be pushed off the funding table — it is currently transitioning off the agendas of major donors. Civil society organisations like FAFG, that conduct forensic investigations into human rights violations, provide concrete evidence of the brutality of the past and have a huge impact on the families affected.

The FAFG’s multidisciplinary methods and approach are transferable to other post-conflict countries and situations with missing people, such as migration or natural disasters. Local capacity must be built according to local legislation, and it must involve passionate and dedicated individuals because searching for the missing is a long-term process. Once started, the process must be sustained. The families will expect it, they deserve it, and they can be empowered by it.

We must continue to listen to the demands of family members because their lives and the lives of those disappeared and killed matter. We cannot move forward as long as the disappeared and missing remain undignified and unidentified in clandestine graves throughout Guatemala and the rest of the world.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

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Search for Bodies in Capsized Eastern Star Ship Search Ends: Identification of Victims Begins, Seach for 8 Missing People Continues in River

China has confirmed that 434 bodies have been found and eight are still missing from the Eastern Star cruise ship, which capsized on the Yangtze River following a tornado on the night of June 1. Officials have began identifying the victims and releasing their bodies to their relatives.

According to local sources, DNA identification and forensic analysis is being used to help identify the victims in order to have their bodies returned to their families. Experts have already collected DNA samples from the recovered bodies.

They also finished collecting blood samples from the victims' relatives who helped in their identification. Presently, up to 281 victims have been identified through their DNA, according to CCTV. On Tuesday, encoffiners in Jianli County began to hold encoffination ceremonies for the 434 victims of the Yangtze River accident, according to Xinhua.

Min Jianxion, associate counsel for China's Ministry of Public Security, said authorities will use different methods to to identify victims from their DNA if their immediate relatives are not available.

According to CRI English, one option is to dispatch people to the residences of the victims in order to collect DNA samples from their immediate relatives and match them with the bodies found.

Experts consider DNA sampling to be one of the most reliable ways of identifing a person. China reportedly has 145 DNA testing specialists divided into 21 groups, who are responsible for collecting and matching victims' DNA. Once matches are confirmed, the personal belongings of the victims will also be returned to their relatives.

Meanwhile, insurance companies have initiated a "green channel" so that relatives of the victims of the capsized Easter Star can speed up their claims.

China Insurance Regulatory Commission deputy chairman, Huang Hong, said insurance companies have been told to make the claiming process simpler and faster. Under normal circumstances, the death certificate or certificate of permanent residence de-registration of the insured person must be presented to forward claims, however, this step has reportedly been ignored. All they have to do now is get the certificate from the government before they can avail claims.

Meanwhile, Global Times reported that the Eastern Star will be moved from the site in order to allow divers to continue their search for the missing victims. The ship will be tugged 10km upstream in Jianli County. The search for the remaining eight people would reportedly be extended to approximately 1300 km along the Yangtze River, where the Eastern Star ship capsized while going downstream to Shanghai's Wusong Estuary.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

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Families of quake victims must wait two weeks for DNA confirmation

The families of two Singaporean victims killed in last week’s earthquake must wait another two weeks for DNA confirmation before they will be allowed to take the bodies home.

Despite positive identification by the police, Queen Elizabeth Hospital director Dr Heric Corray said that the hospital is running DNA tests based on samples and data received from the families for final confirmation before they can release the bodies.

“We feel that DNA testing is required to be able to ascertain the bodies. This will be the final confirmation,” he said to reporters here today.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said one victim’s family was in Kota Kinabalu to give a DNA sample while the other family had sent DNA data through e-mail and forensic experts are working round-the-clock to identify the remains.

Earlier today, Sabah police commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said that body parts found on Mount Kinabalu were identified to be those of 13-year-old student Navdeep Singh Jaryal and 35-year-old teacher Mohammad Ghazi Mohamed from Tanjong Katong Primary School.

He said Malaysian police worked with its Singaporean counterpart to identify several body parts including arms, legs and torso picked up from the mountain summit using a disaster victim identification guide.

Meanwhile, Dr Corray said all the bodies have been claimed except for the family of the Japanese national who were likely to be arranging logistics to transport the body back following post mortem today.

“His body is still with us and we are just waiting for his family to take it. The last one was to the family of the Chinese national, who came here today,” he said.

The death toll from the magnitude 5.9 earthquake is now officially at 18, including six Malaysians, 10 Singaporeans and one Chinese and Japanese national each.

The deaths were caused by blunt trauma or injuries sustained from falling or being hit by a hard object, believed to be when the victim, who were climbing Mount Kinabalu, got hit by falling rubble from the quake.

The earthquake, some 16km northwest of the town of Ranau and in Kinabalu Park, is the largest to have hit Malaysia.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

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Ghana: Govt directs DNA tests for unidentified flood/fire disaster victims

Government has authorised the testing of DNA samples on bodies of last Wednesday’s flood and fire disaster at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra.

Speaking at the one week memorial service for the victims held at the forecourt of the State House, President Mahama said several bodies have still not been identified and a DNA test will help family members claim their relatives for the necessary funeral rites.

He said, “In due course each of the names will be released to the public to ensure that these individuals will be remembered eternally. We are still in the process of identifying the dead. To that end government has given authorization for DNA tests to be conducted on the bodies from the disaster that have not yet been identified.”

He added that “This will allow families that are unsure of the fate of their members and who are still not accounted for to be able to bring DNA samples so confirmation can be made. With this official confirmation, claims can be quickly granted for the return of their loved ones’ remains.”

He said, "We will intensify our efforts to ease the suffering of those whose lives have been affected."

The President has also asked relatives to visit the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, 37 Military Hospital and the Police Hospital to seek guidance on how to go about this.

He also revealed that the official death toll from the twin disaster stands at 152 contrary to reports by sections of the media that over 200 hundred people perished in the disaster.

"Our search and rescue is over and our provisional death toll from the disaster is 152," he said.

Over 150 people lost their lives in a GOIL fuel station explosion at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra after long hours of a heavy downpour which also flooded the city.

The inter-faith, inter-denominational National Memorial Service will be held at the forecourt of the State House.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

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