Friday, 10 July 2015

More than five thousand bodies found in Colombian mass graves

Groups of experts were able to find until today four thousand 332 mass graves in Colombia, in sites where more than five thousand bodies were exhumed during the past six years, the general attorney Eduardo Montealegre confirmed.

These efforts are part of the missing persons search mechanisms, implemented by the research body to clarify crimes that have occurred in the context of the armed conflict.

The research body also seeks to return the victims bodies to their families, the official said. According to estimates, some 45,000 Colombian were target of the phenomenon known as enforced disappearance during the confrontation, which has lasted more than 50 years.

The general victim´s figure is around 6.8 millions, mostly of them were displaced from their places of origin because of the violence.

Friday 10 July 2015

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Forensic artist’s images reunited tsunami dead

It takes more than a keen eye and an agile hand to give a semblance of life to the dead.

But for former police forensic artist Shuichi Abe, 65, it is a profession he aims to pass down through generations of police officers after his groundbreaking work in identifying victims from the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

“The eyes and mouths have changed in autopsy photos. You have to think about when they were still living,” said Abe, who is now retired from the Miyagi Prefectural Police.

Abe’s most daunting work began in January 2012.

Using his trusty pencil and the top forensics data available, he began the task of reconstructing the faces of victims from the Tohoku disasters to reunite them with their loved ones.

But being able to flesh out faces that have been charred beyond recognition or bloated from months at sea, with only the vaguest traces of humanity remaining, is a tall order.

“The best thing is when there is no work to be done at all,” said Abe, who is on a mission to teach his unconventional methodology to police officers around the country.

Abe recalls the autopsy chamber where the bodies of victims lay squeezed side by side in coffins when he was an assistant deputy chief of the forensics division at the time of the 3/11 disasters. Only the agonizing screams of family members clutching at their loved ones would break the silence.

Spending most of his time simply staring at the photos of the dead, Abe painstakingly restored many of the faces of the victims who could not be identified through DNA analysis because too much time had gone by.

He is able to return that certain sparkle to lifeless eyes even when faces have been all but obliterated.

“I want to return names to people who are called by numbers,” said Abe, who has completed 97 forensic art portraits.

Inquiries began streaming in from people who thought they might have recognized loved ones after the portraits were publicized in May 2012. Twenty-four bodies were positively identified.

He received a letter from a kindergarten student that said “Thank you for finding my granddad.”

In early June, Abe traveled to Aomori to teach police officers interested in the forensics art field. As material, he used 22 photos of victims from the Tohoku disasters. Some were frustrated they are unable to produce a likeness.

“I wouldn’t call (their portraits) good yet. Also, there’s not enough time (to teach them),” said Abe.

The work of a forensic artist is never done.

Friday 10 July 2015

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12 migrants drown, 500 rescued in Mediterranean off Libya

Twelve migrants died on Thursday when their overcrowded rubber dinghy sank off the coast of Libya, the Italian Coast Guard said, while some 500 were rescued in the latest episodes in the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

The corpses of the victims were found in the sea by the Coast Guard ship Dattilo some 40 miles north of Libya, a Coast Guard spokesman said. The Dattilo saved 106 people from the same dinghy, which was "half submerged" when help arrived.

The Dattilo is still involved in other rescue operations involving boats in difficulty, the spokesman said.

A total of 393 other migrants were saved in four different operations carried out by the Dattilo on Thursday. Another 106 migrants were saved by two Coast Guard frigates operating off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.

No details were available on the nationalities of the victims or those rescued.

Tens of thousands of migrants fleeing war and hunger in Africa and the Middle East have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece this year, with the vast majority departing from the coast of Libya. More than 2,000 are estimated to have drowned.

Friday 10 July 2015

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24 dead in Bangladesh charity handout stampede

A stampede during a Ramadan charity handout killed at least 24 people in Bangladesh on Friday as hundreds of desperately poor people tried to get their hands on free clothing, police said.

The stampede in the northern city of Mymensingh erupted when crowds of people tried to force their way into a factory compound through a small gate after massing outside before dawn, according to local police chiefs.

Television footage from the site showed scenes of utter devastation, with hundreds of torn and blood-spattered sandals abandoned at the gate of the chewing tobacco factory, which is located around 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

"We have so far recovered 24 bodies. Most of the dead are poor and emaciated women and two children," Mymensingh police chief Moinul Haque told AFP, putting the number of injured at more than 50.

Kamrul Islam, the senior officer at a police station near the factory, said the death toll was likely to rise further while local media said scores of people had also been injured.

"We have handed over 24 bodies to the relatives," Islam said.

Many of the victims were ferried by cycle rickshaws to a nearby hospital with television footage showing relatives rushing through the entrance and corridors, cradling the lifeless bodies of their loved ones in their arms.

"My wife had gone there to collect some clothes for herself and for our children," Mohammad Robiul, a rickshaw-puller, told the Somoy Television news channel.

"I don't know what will happen to my kids," Robiul, who lost his wife in the tragedy, added before bursting into tears.

A witness told the bdnews24 website that the stampede began when a number of people fell to the ground as a melee erupted.

"As the gate was opening, everybody ran towards it, pushing and shoving each other and then they started falling," said rickshaw-puller Dulal Mia.

"Once one person fell to the ground, another 15 to 20 people fell, too. The people got killed when they closed the gate."

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed deep shock over the tragedy, according to the state-run BSS news agency.

In a condolence message, the Prime Minister offered prayers and "conveyed profound sympathy to the bereaved families", the agency said.

Meanwhile, the religious affairs ministry said it would pay each family 10,000 taka (around $125) to cover the cost of the funerals of their relatives.

Police and local officials said that the owner of the factory and six other people have been arrested for failing to ensure public safety.

"Legal action will be taken against them," District Governor Mustakim Billah told reporters.

A special police committee has been set up to investigate the tragedy and is due to report its findings within the next three days.

Police said up to 1,500 people had massed outside the factory at around 4:45 am (2245 GMT on Thursday) after the owners had announced they would distribute free clothes to poor people in accordance with Islamic ritual.

Rich Bangladeshis often distribute free clothes to poor people during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on June 19.

But the handouts have sparked several deadly stampedes over the years.

Around 40 people were killed in a similar stampede at a garment factory in the northern city Tangail in 2002.

Factory safety has been a major issue in Bangladesh since the collapse of a clothing manufacturing complex in April 2013 that left more than 1,100 people dead, making it one of the worst industrial accidents in history.

Friday 10 July 2015

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Why we are excavating the dead of Srebrenica

On Saturday, world attention will focus for a few hours on the town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia. The systematic killing that took place 20 years ago constitutes the only recognised genocide on European soil since the second world war.

Weeks after the killings, the perpetrators returned, excavated the mass graves with mechanical diggers and transported bodies and body parts to secondary graves in an attempt to disperse and conceal evidence of the crime. This was an enormous undertaking considering that almost 8,000 people had been executed.

For nearly two decades, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), of which I am director general, has worked with families of the missing, local Bosnian authorities and domestic and international courts to locate and identify the victims of Srebrenica. This has made it possible for families to bury their dead with dignity, and it has made it possible to piece together what happened and to prosecute some of those who were responsible for the murders.

On Saturday, at a ceremony that will be attended by world leaders as well as tens of thousands of mourners, more than 100 newly identified bodies will be laid to rest in the cemetery at Potocari, near Srebrenica.

The killers’ attempt to hide evidence by scattering body parts made the usual identification process using articles of clothing, distinguishing physical features and identity documents almost impossible. In 1999, ICMP made the decision to harness a new technology, DNA, to identify the victims. Many observers were sceptical about the efficacy of what was then an untried approach – but it turned out to be astonishingly successful: the number of identifications increased exponentially. Today, almost 7,000 of the 8,000 missing from Srebrenica have been identified using DNA.

Beyond Srebrenica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as other countries in the region of the western Balkans, including Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, more than 40,000 persons went missing during the brutal conflicts between 1991 and 2001. Today, more than 70% of those persons have been accounted for.

However, accounting for the missing has also involved establishing why they went missing and who was responsible, and it entails upholding the rights of survivors.

The vast majority of the missing in Bosnia and Herzegovina were male, which means that women became single heads of their households and had to deal with often hostile and usually male-dominated authorities when trying to assert their rights to justice and social and economic benefits.

Those who killed in Srebrenica in July 1995 believed they could get away with murder. They thought they could erase the identity of their victims permanently. They were wrong.

The work of ICMP, in particular the scientific evidence of the identity of victims from the conflicts of the 90s, has made it possible to piece together an incontestable narrative of crimes, and to present this evidence in numerous trials, including those of Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić.

While this is something that gives substance to the familiar cry of “Never again,” it will be up to the countries in the western Balkans, and in particular Bosnia and Herzegovina, to engage in an honest reckoning with the past, rather than narratives based on chauvinism or denial.

At the end of last year, the Netherlands, the UK, Sweden, Belgium and Luxembourg signed a treaty establishing ICMP as an international organisation in its own right, and by the end of this year we will move our headquarters from Sarajevo to The Hague, where we intend to play a key role in implementing what is emerging as a new global consensus on missing persons – whether the cause is armed conflict or migration or crime or natural disaster.

Once, when I was visiting a woman whose son had been missing for more than a decade, my host took a small blue tin of skin cream and opened it carefully. She pointed to the indentation on the smooth white surface of the ointment. It was her son’s fingerprint, the only physical memorial of his presence on this Earth.

There are no ways of quantifying human love, but there are tangible and useful ways of dismantling the legacy of hate. Accounting for the missing and safeguarding the rights of survivors, including the rights to truth and justice, is among those ways.

Friday 10 July 2015

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