Friday, 17 July 2015

Lahore: consistent procedure needed regarding unidentified bodies

Muhammad Younas, an official at the Edhi Welfare Foundation Lahore, throws a pile of files at a big table. The record, carrying pictures and available details about hundreds of unidentified bodies, have been compiled for years.

“All these bodies, temporarily buried in Miani Sahib, — one of the oldest and biggest graveyards of the town, have a permanent status now because the percentage of the bodies’ identification is quite low,” recalls the officer. Photographs are meant to be shown to those who come looking for their missing loved ones.

In the past six months, Edhi Foundation in Lahore has buried as many as 170 unidentified bodies with the help of police and Municipal Corporation. Most of the unidentified bodies are of men.

The number of unidentified bodies, sadly, is growing day by day in the dense cities of the country where law and order is fast becoming a challenge. The reason of death changes from area to area due to circumstances like heat wave, use of drugs, murder etc.

The procedure of identifying such bodies is delayed or overlooked in some cases.

In February this year, the federal government told the Supreme Court of Pakistan that as many as 4,557 bodies were found in the country over the past four years. The Punjab police submitted a report before the apex court stating that as many as 1,299 unidentified dead bodies were found in the province in the last two years. Out of them 1248 were buried and 51 were sent to the mortuary.

According to the stated procedures, police told the court, “If a body is unidentified, the officer making the investigation shall record a careful description of it — all marks, peculiarities, deformities and distinctive features. He shall take the finger impression in addition to taking all the reasonable steps to secure identification, have the body photographed and in cases where such action appears desirable, a description published in the Criminal Intelligence Gazette.” These unidentified bodies are temporarily buried in a graveyard of the concerned union council.

In the past six months, Edhi Foundation in Lahore has buried as many as 170 unidentified bodies. Most of the unidentified bodies are of men. In case unidentified bodies have been handed over to a charitable organisation for burial, the concerned secretary of the union council will follow through the burial proceedings. Law also binds the police to carry post-mortem of every unidentified body to know the cause of death and, if the person is known to have been murdered, the police are supposed to make all investigations into the matter.

However, an old worker at Edhi Foundation, asking not to be named, says the procedure is not implemented in letter and spirit. “The usual practice is to have postmortem of the body which is then handed over to Edhi for burial. If the police discern the dead person’s status, they store the body in the official mortuary for a certain period.” However, a senior police officer Ejaz Shafi Dogar says that police cannot rule out the defined procedure to handle unidentified dead bodies. “We are supposed to do maximum effort for the identification of the body and maintain the record.”

“There is need to make sure that police take finger prints of the unidentified body soon after its recovery for NADRA identification,” the Edhi official suggests, adding, “with the increasing population in big cities, the number of unidentified bodies is increasing gradually which should be a matter of concern for the government.”

Not many people know that the unidentified bodies, kept in the official mortuary, become the property of the dead house after six months, and are usually sold to medical colleges for dissection purposes.

“In many cases, police neglect can be seen in delaying or overlooking the procedures. Sometimes, the bodies are kept unidentified because their identification can expose some crime, adding to the police work which they don’t like to do,” says Dr Naseeb R Awan, Head of Forensic Department of King Edward Medical College. “There is no system followed so the concerned departments also try to shift their responsibilities to others,” he says. “There is need for serious efforts to review the laws, rules and procedures regarding unidentified bodies so that they are identified. It is also important to make the efforts transparent.”

Friday 17 July 2015

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Philippines coal mine collapses, 3 dead, 6 missing

Three people were killed and six others were still unaccounted for when an open pit coal mine in the central Philippines collapsed on Friday due to heavy monsoon rain.

Antique provincial governor Rhodora Cadiao said three people had died and rescue workers are digging to recover six workers who were buried alive at the Panian coal mine site on Semirara island.

"Three workers were found and brought to a hospital but they were declared dead on arrival," Cadiao said, adding rescue teams are using heavy equipment to recover the six people buried by the collapsed coal mine.

She said it was raining heavily for days on the mine site, on an island off the main island of Panay in the central Philippines. "The accident happened around 3 a.m. while the workers were working on a water system," said Cadiao.

There were only nine workers at the site when the accident happened, said Isidro Consunji, CEO of Semirara Mining & Power Corp, confirming all were buried alive.

"Three bodies have been recovered as of this time and digging continues to look for six others," he said. "That's as far as I know. Some of our mining equipment has also been damaged. We don't have the complete details yet."

The Department of Energy on Friday suspended operations at the mine and a government panel will investigate the landslide, said Zenaida Monsada, the officer-in-charge at the department.

"We have directed Semirara Mining Corporation to focus on search and rescue operations," Monsada said in a statement.

Semirara a unit of Philippine conglomerate DMCI Holdings Inc , is the country's largest coal miner.

In a statement, the company said it complied with the suspension order but is "coordinating with national and local authorities to keep them updated on other necessary measures, including ensuring the adequate supply of coal for power generation".

In 2013, five people died and five others were missing in a landslide in the coal mine on Semirara island.

Friday 17 July 2015

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It never happened: How to deny genocide in the face of science

Scientific advances in DNA identification over the past 15 years have helped war-crimes investigators document to an unprecedented extent the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys around this town in 1995.

Yet even as these technological advances uncovered more damning evidence, many Bosnian Serbs have grown increasingly more resolute in their denial.

Last Friday night, two Bosnian Serb men standing beside a memorial to Serb war dead were a telling example. They insisted that Serbs are the victims of an international plot. They fervently argued — despite 93 mass-grave exhumations and 6,827 DNA identifications of the dead — that the mass killings have been grossly exaggerated.

Biased historical narratives, of course, have existed throughout history. The identification of the dead in Srebrenica demonstrates the ability of technological advances to produce a flood of factual information. Yet in many cases, the scientific statistics appear to have only given those willing to manipulate the numbers more arrows in their quiver.

The two Bosnian Serbs contended that roughly the same number of victims died on each side during the 1992-1995 war. When I asked how such a vast subterfuge had been carried out, one said the answer was simple. “As far as the Muslim side,” he told me, “there is a bigger lobby in America.”

The following morning, interviews with a dozen other Bosnian Serbs living near Srebrenica produced similar answers. As tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims drove past their homes to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the mass killings, Serbs dismissed the gathering and the idea of 8,000 dead as a “farce,” a “circus” and “make believe.”

“It’s definitely not correct,” said Budimir Todorovic, a 60-year-old electrician, as he calmly drank coffee with his family in his front yard as busloads of Bosnian Muslims drove by. “It’s not 8,000.”

Milan Rakic, a 48-year-old store owner, accused Muslims of stealing the bodies of Orthodox Christian Serbs and interring them in the town’s sprawling cemetery complex.

“There are a lot of Serb bodies buried in this memorial,” he said.

One elderly widow said that some Bosnian Muslims listed as dead in the Srebrenica memorial were, in fact, living in Germany. “The number is exaggerated,” she said. “There are many living people whose names are engraved on the gravesites.”

The woman, like the other Serbs interviewed, was genial and polite. The Serbs expressed regret about the war — the woman declared it “horrible, horrible.” But they echoed the arguments of Bosnian Serb nationalists who still dominate politics here. The nationalists contend that foreign powers, primarily the United States and Britain, stage-managed everything from the war itself to the burial of bodies in Srebrenica.

They dismissed the annual commemoration as a “provocation” also organized by meddling outsiders. They said the crowds were so large because “Western NGOs” paid people to attend.

“Everything is well coordinated,” one man standing at the memorial for Serb war dead told me. “No one from here is guilty for what happened.”

Denial is evident outside Bosnia as well. Disparate groups, including left-leaning academics, Russian government-controlled media and some right-wing Americans who talk about a Muslim takeover, scoff at the number of 8,000 dead.

In fact, the annual commemoration and cemetery here have become a global symbol of the international community’s failure to stop the killing in Bosnia. U.N. officials arrived in Srebrenica in 1993 and declared it a United Nations protected “safe area.” When Serb forces attacked it two years later, Dutch peacekeepers and U.N. commanders did little to defend the enclave, and it fell to Serb forces on July 11, 1995. Two weeks of mass expulsions and mass executions followed.

Twenty years later, an estimated 50,000 Bosnians and several thousand foreigners attended the anniversary commemoration last weekend. Dozens of foreign dignitaries did as well, with former President Bill Clinton saying the world must prevent more such killings.

In the largest DNA identification project ever, a nonprofit group called the International Commission on Missing Persons has collected 22,268 blood samples from Srebrenica survivors and matched them to 6,827 bodies.

“Huge advances in DNA identification have made it possible,” said Kathryne Bomberger, director of the project. “The science is moving rapidly.”

Along with 93 mass graves that have been exhumed, investigators have found bodies at 314 “surface sites” in the surrounding mountains. Yet the work is not over. With 8,000 men reported missing from Srebrenica and the nearby town of Zepa, another 1,200 bodies are believed to be scattered in the woods or in mass graves not yet located.

Finding the dead has been vastly complicated by a grisly Bosnian Serb effort to conceal evidence. Several months after the executions, Bosnian Serb forces dug up many of the mass graves and reburied the bodies in dozens of locations. In the process, many corpses were dismembered.

Body parts from single victims have been found at multiple sites. In one case, parts of the body of one victim, 23-year-old Kadrija Music, were discovered in five different mass graves 20 miles apart.

While the DNA identification of the bodies has received widespread praise, the uneven sentencing practices of the U.N.-created International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has elicited scorn from both Muslims and Serbs.

Bosnian Muslims hailed decisions from the tribunal, as well as the United Nations International Court of Justice, that ruled genocide had occurred in Srebrenica. But they criticized some of the sentences as far too short.

Meanwhile, Serbs insist they have been the victims of the court. They assailed the tribunal for ultimately acquitting Naser Oric, commander of Bosnian Muslim forces in Srebrenica, though they say he is responsible for many deaths

“How many Serbs need to be killed for people in the world to see that Serbs are people, not animals?” asked Rakic, the store owner, who said his uncle was one of Oric’s victims. “Animals have rights but not the Serb people?”

International war-crimes investigators, however, say there is no proportionality in the deaths in Srebrenica or Bosnia as a whole. The say several hundred Serbs died in the fighting around Srebrenica, but the vast majority of them were Serb military forces.

Across the country, Bosnian Muslims made up 65 percent of the war dead and Serbs 23 percent, according to prosecutors. Yet Bosnian Muslims made up 44 percent of the population, according to a census conducted two years before the war. Serbs made up 31 percent.

Meanwhile, Bosnian Serb news accounts lay out a different narrative. They report that 1,300 Serb civilians died around Srebrenica, and a total of 3,267 Serbs were “murdered” across eastern Bosnia.

Dismissing the Bosnian Serbs’ statements as irrelevant conspiracy theories would be easy. But their assertions had an eerie familiarity. In conversations around the world, extremist Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, as well as some on the far right and far left of U.S. politics — have all featured similar arguments.

The stories usually involve a nefarious plot by outsiders to destroy their culture or faith, or future. They say they have had to act in self-defense. As the victims of the plot, they have no choice but to respond.

There is usually some distant, all-powerful covert force — the CIA, the Mossad, oil-rich Arab potentates — deftly stage-managing each event. Local people are helpless victims, with no responsibility for what occurs.

When I asked the Bosnian Serb men about the future of the former Yugoslavia, they said it would be decided in London and Washington. “Basically, how the English and Americans decide,” one told me. “That’s how it will be.”

Though there had been a decade of progress in Bosnia after the 1995 peace accord ended the war, the country has been moving steadily backward over the past 10 years. Bosnian Serb denial of the Srebrenica massacre is growing. Bosnian Muslim resentment of that denial is simmering.

Violence erupted at the 20th anniversary commemoration. Groups of young Bosnian Muslim men hurled stones and slurs at Serbian Prime Minister Alexander Vucic, a wartime ultranationalist now turned pro-Western moderate, forcing him to flee.

The International Commission on Missing Persons, meanwhile, is expanding internationally and applying the DNA identification system it developed to tragedies in other parts of the world. It is identifying the missing in Iraq, Chile and South Africa, as well as victims of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and the passengers shot down in a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.

Yet scientific and technological advances seem to have changed few views. One new conspiracy theory circulated by Serb nationalists is that the remains recently buried in the Srebrenica memorial are Filipinos who died in typhoon Haiyan.

Friday 17 July 2015

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MMDA asks owners of funeral homes to ready body bags, Philippines prepare for disaster

With the “Big One” likely to cause 35,000 deaths, owners of funeral parlors are not only being asked to participate in the “Metro Manila Shake Drill” but also prepare to provide cadaver bags.

The exercise to be conducted by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is scheduled on July 30 to prepare residents for what the Philippine Volcanology Commission says is a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that is due to hit the capital anytime.

In a news briefing on Thursday, MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino urged members of the Philippine Mortuary Association (PMA) to participate in the disaster simulation as well as to extend their services should the worse happen.

Public service not business

Urging morticians and funeral parlors to view this as a public service and not as a business, Tolentino requested each member of the 400-strong PMA to provide 500 cadaver bags.

He said operators of mortuaries had an important role to play in times of disasters, such as taking care of the dead and the prevention of the outbreak of epidemics.

“We need to establish definite roles for every sector involved in disaster preparedness and management as each and everyone should be ready to provide necessary services to the public in times of disaster,” Tolentino said.

The MMDA has projected 35,000 deaths in case of a massive earthquake, with Manila and Quezon City expected to have the most number of casualties.

Mass burial site identified

Earlier, the MMDA identified an area in Macapagal Boulevard as the designated mass burial site during the earthquake simulation. The MMDA and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) are set to sign a memorandum of agreement with the PMA on Monday on disaster preparedness and response.

The deal includes the training of at least five of the MMDA’s personnel in embalming with the help of the PMA and the Department of Health. In turn, the MMDA and NDRRMC will provide training in rescue operations for funeral parlor personnel and community coordination in their barangays in times of disaster.

For their services, Tolentino said the government would pay them back with the barangays (villages) expected to pay for the cadaver bags used in their respective areas.

Ready to help

According to PMA chair Renato Dychangco, the group was prepared to deploy personnel to assist in preserving and identifying the bodies in the event of a massive earthquake.

The Metro Manila Shake Drill, amid the ringing of alarm bells and audio recording of a rumbling earthquake, has been scheduled on July 30 from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the capital region, except in Pasig City, where it will be held from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Friday 17 July 2015

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