July Monthly World News Digest

ICMP’s Daily World News Digest brings together news stories dealing with enforced disappearances and missing persons cases from around the world. It offers a snapshot of daily events and over a longer period it highlights key trends.

Mediterranean Migration Crisis

Fatalities and maritime rescue efforts were recorded throughout July as a result of the migratory pattern in the Mediterranean generated by conflict and sustained by ruthless human trafficking. Faced with an unprecedented flow of asylum seekers European governments struggled to fashion a response.

On 30 June the International Organization for Migration reported  that migrant arrivals in Italy had topped 20,000 in May and June respectively. Approximately 2,900 migrants who were rescued in the channel of Sicily in the last two days of June brought the total number of migrants arriving in Italy in the first half of 2014 to about 66,500 according to the IOM – a slight increase from 63,884 rescued in the same period last year. Among rescued migrants brought to the ports of Lampedusa, Catania, Pozzallo (Sicily), and Reggio Calabria on the Italian mainland, the most numerous were Eritreans, Nigerians, Gambians, Malians, Senegalese and other sub-Saharan nationals. The Italian Navy announced on 30 June that it had begun efforts to recover the bodies of an estimated 750 or more migrants lost in the channel of Sicily in a sinking in April, considered the worst tragedy in the Mediterranean since 2000. IOM reported on 10 July that some 150,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea to date in 2015. Almost all arrivals were registered in Italy (74,947) or Greece (75,970). Over 1,900 migrants died in the Mediterranean in the first half of the year, more than twice the number during the same period in 2014.

The Tribune daily newspaper from Greece reported on 8 July  that at least 17 persons were missing after a refugee ship with over 30 undocumented migrants onboard sank in the Aegean Sea. Sixteen persons, including a pregnant woman and a child, were rescued immediately after the ship sank between the Greek islands of Farmakonisi and Agazonisi in an operation carried out by Greek-Turkish rescue teams on Tuesday. The nationalities of the passengers were unknown. The paper reported that about 61,000 migrants had arrived in Greece by sea since the beginning of 2015 – double the figure recorded in 2014 – including around 30,000 refugees from Syria.

On 7 July IOM reported  that a new study had revealed a consistent pattern of young migrants, refugees and asylum seekers held in Libya in arbitrary detention in squalid, cramped conditions for months at a time without any form of due process.

IOM reported on 14 July  that approximately 4,800 migrants had been rescued in the Mediterranean and brought to Italian and Greek ports in the previous weekend.

Migrant Report carried a story on 14 July  saying that as many as 100 bodies believed to be sub-Saharan migrants had been found in the sea and the shores of Tajoura, a coastal town about 10kms east of Tripoli, according to spokesman for the capital’s anti-immigration department. They were believed to be the victims of a shipwreck off Tajoura, believed to be the worst tragedy in the Mediterranean since 18 April, when 850 migrants are believed to have lost their lives in a single shipwreck off Libya.

The Guardian carried a story on 9 July reporting that the conflict in Syria had driven more than four million people – a sixth of the population – to seek sanctuary in neighboring countries, making it the largest refugee crisis for almost a quarter of a century. UNCHR said the total number of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and other parts of north Africa stood at 4,013,000. With at least 7.6 million people forced from their homes within Syria, almost half the country’s people are either refugees or internally displaced. The conflict, now in its fifth year, has killed more than 220,000 people. The UN predicts there will be 4.27 million Syrian refugees in the region by the end of 2015; at the end of last year, one in every five displaced people worldwide was Syrian. IOM carried a story on 21 July saying that the latest IOM Iraq Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) has identified more than 3.1 million Iraqis displaced by conflict since the beginning of 2014. This number includes over 250,000 individuals displaced from Ramadi, the capital of Anbar governorate, since April 2015. The DTM has identified 3,112,914 persons displaced by conflict in Iraq.

The Balkan Route

The overland migrant route from Greece to northern Europe has developed into a social and legal challenge to governments in Central Europe and created new opportunities for people traffickers in the Balkans, according to reports.

In mid-June, Hungary said it was considering building a four-meter-high fence along its border with Serbia to stem the flow of illegal migrants. On 1 July Balkan Insight reported that at a joint meeting of the two governments in Budapest, Hungary had stressed that the proposed fence is not directed against Serbia. Another proposed measure is to organize mixed joint patrols of Serbian, Hungarian and Austrian police on the Serbian border with Macedonia. Frontex, the EU agency that manages cooperation between national border guards, has reported the largest number of illegal crossings occurring at the land border between Hungary and Serbia.

Amnesty International issued a report on 7 July on the thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants – including children – who make the dangerous journey across the Balkans. It said they are suffering violent abuse and extortion at the hands of the authorities and criminal gangs and being shamefully let down by a failing EU asylum and migration system which leaves them trapped without protection in Serbia and Macedonia.

Balkan Insight reported on 14 July that the Hungarian Army has started to prepare the terrain near Morahalom, a small southern border town of about 6,000 people, for the four-meter-high fence designed to stop illegal migrants. It said the authorities were erecting an “experimental” fence, no more than 150 meters long. Similar short stretches of fencing are to be built at ten locations, where the Hungarian authorities say they are “most exposed to the pressures of migrants”. Over 70,000 illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Africa and Syria have arrived in Hungary since the beginning of this year, a sharp increase on the figures for 2014 and 2013. The arrivals reach Hungary on a route that leads from Turkey through Serbia and Macedonia. The b92 news portal from Serbia reported on 14 July that after the Hungarian army had started building the fence, migrants had continued to arrive from Serbia.

20th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide

Preparations for the marking of the 11 July anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide were overshadowed by a dispute between Russia and other members of the UN Security Council over a UN resolution condemning the genocide. Despite the fact that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Court of Justice and other courts have assembled copious documentary evidence of the systematic slaughter that took place in the days after the UN Safe Area was occupied by Bosnian Serb troops in 1995, Serbia and Russia continue to question the nature of the crime and the manner in which it is memorialized.

On 30 June Balkan Insight reported that after initially refusing to attend the 20th anniversary commemoration, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic had said he was now ready to go in order to help reconciliation. Nikolic said he could attend the 11 July commemoration but restated his opposition to a proposed UN Security Council resolution condemning the massacres as genocide. The b92 news portal carried a story on 30 June saying that a draft Russian resolution on Bosnia strongly condemns and deplores the most serious crimes committed during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. ABC News reported on 1 July that the UN General Assembly would commemorate the Srebrenica anniversary but Russian opposition had placed in question the prospect of a Security-Council resolution. Britain’s UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said ”the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide is a moment to pause and reflect on the lessons learned of the darkest moments in UN history and commit to making ‘Never Again’ a reality.”

On 1 June the UN News Centre reported that during a commemorative event in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had paid tribute to the victims of the Srebrenica genocide, which, he said, “will forever weigh on the collective conscience of the international community.”

Euronews carried a story on 2 July citing a UK statement that the draft Security Council resolution does “not seek to bring up painful divisions nor point the finger of blame,” and noting that the British draft strongly condemns the genocide at Srebrenica and any denial of this genocide, while a rival Russian text instead condemns “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.” Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Petr Iliichev described the British draft as “divisive” because “it focuses on only one aspect of the conflict.” US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said “Those who deny the genocide in Srebrenica today only embarrass and humiliate themselves.”

The Guardian reported on 3 July on preparations for the anniversary. It said that according to Amor Masovic, director of the BiH Missing Persons Institute, the remains of 7,100 of the dead have been found out of total of 8,372 missing. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), it said, has similar figures.

The Moscow Times carried a story on 5 July saying that Serbia had asked Russia to veto the British UN Security Council resolution. Serbian state television said President Tomislav Nikolic has sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin “pleading” for a Russian “no”.

On 7 July Balkan Insight carried a story saying that an artwork made up of 100,000 ceramic bones would be installed to commemorate the Srebrenica victims whose remains were found in mass graves. Velma Saric, the president of the Post-Conflict Research Centre NGO in Sarajevo, said the exhibit would be installed for the genocide anniversary commemoration and would then become a permanent part of the Srebrenica memorial.

On 6 July the World Post reported that about 70 percent of citizens surveyed in Serbia strongly believe that the genocide never took place.

On 8 July the New York Times reported that although two international tribunals based at The Hague have ruled that the events in Srebrenica in 1995 constituted genocide, Russia had vetoed the UK resolution that condemned the massacre as a “crime of genocide,” with its ambassador to the UN, Vitaly I. Churkin, calling the language “confrontational” and “politically motivated.” The report continued that in Srebrenica, relatives still scour the nearby forest for bones. According to the International Commission on Missing Persons, 6,930 victims have been identified from 17,000 body parts found in dozens of mass graves. But around 1,000 victims from the massacre have still not been identified.

Balkan Insight reported on 9 July that Bosniak politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina had described the Russian veto as an insult to the thousands who were killed. Srebrenica Mayor Camil Durakovic said the veto was a “slap in the face of the victims”. Durakovic said the resolution would have helped people in Bosnia and Herzegovina to face up to the past. “Everyone is talking about reconciliation, but without truth we cannot have reconciliation.”

The b92 news portal reported on 9 July that Members of the European Parliament had adopted a resolution on Srebrenica which strongly condemns the crime and marks it, in accordance with the judgments of the ICTY and the International Court of Justice, as genocide.

On 11 July Sarajevo Times reported that weavers from the Bosnian women’s group, Association Bosnian Family (BOSFAM) had commemorated the 20th anniversary with a powerful exhibition of quilts, woven with the names of over 200 genocide victims, including their own relatives.

The b92 news portal carried a story on 13 July saying that a day after the commemoration in Potocari, Serbs remembered victims in nearby Bratunac. Sixty-nine Serb civilians and soldiers were killed by forces led by Naser Oric on 12 July 1992, the portal reported.

Balkan Insight carried a story on 15 July saying that a new exhibition in Belgrade, “Srebrenica Today” examines the situation in Srebrenica two decades after the Dayton Peace Agreement.

ICMP and Srebrenica

A large number of international media outlets reporting on the Srebrenica anniversary cited the work of ICMP, which has been responsible for identifying almost 7,000 of the victims, around 90 percent of the total number of missing, using a DNA-led process. Columns written by ICMP’s Commissioners and Director-General were also widely published ahead of the 11 July anniversary.

On 7 July the Huffington Post published an opinion piece by ICMP Commissioner Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan describing the remarkable response of families of the missing in the years since the Srebrenica genocide. Queen Noor wrote that she has spent long periods over the last two decades in the company of the Mothers of Srebrenica, who are “among the bravest and most inspiring people it has ever been my privilege to meet.”

The International Business Times published an article on 8 July written by ICMP Chairman Thomas Miller and ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger, stressing that that “recognizing and communicating the nature and scale of the crime” is an indispensable basis for ensuring that it is not repeated.

On 8 July BBC1 broadcast A Deadly Warning: Srebrenica Revisited, in which journalist Myriam Francois-Cerrah travelled to Bosnia with a group of British students on a trip organized by the UK charity Remembering Srebrenica. A substantial portion of the documentary covered the work of ICMP and its contribution to understanding what happened at Srebrenica in 1995.

The Guardian carried an article on 9 July by Kathryne Bomberger which examined the nature and scale of the genocide and added that “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.”

British minister at the Department of Health Alistair Burt, who has been an ICMP Commissioner since December 2013, published an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph on 10 July saying that Srebrenica has emerged in the post-Cold War world as a symbol of political and moral failure on a catastrophic scale.

Pieces by ICMP Commissioners Wim Kok , Rolf Ekeus, and Knut Vollebaek  appeared in their respective languages and in English in a variety of media platforms.

Yahoo News reported on 10 July that “ICMP is one of the few genuine success stories to emerge from the impoverished, fissiparous post-war Western Balkans”. ICMP’s innovative DNA approach has been exported around the world, helping to identify victims of natural disasters and political violence everywhere from the United States and the Philippines to Chile and Iraq, the news portal said.

Forensic Magazine from the United States carried a story on 13 July relating the Srebrenica genocide to the rapid development of forensics, and reported that ICMP is moving beyond the Balkans and taking its mission to investigate and help prosecute slaughter on the global stage. ICMP employs massive DNA databases and wide-ranging investigations of crimes against humanity. It was the first organization to use DNA for identification of large numbers of missing persons.

The Gulf Today, published in the United Arab Emirates, reported on 19 July that the identification of the dead demonstrates the ability of technological advances to produce a flood of factual information. In the largest DNA identification project ever, the International Commission on Missing Persons has collected 22,268 blood samples from Srebrenica survivors and matched them to 6,827 bodies. ICMP is expanding internationally and applying the DNA identification system it developed to tragedies in other parts of the world. “Huge advances in DNA identification have made it possible,” said Kathryne Bomberger, director of the project. Though there had been a decade of progress in Bosnia after the 1995 peace accord ended the war, Bosnian Serb denial of the Srebrenica massacre is growing.

Crackdown in Egypt

Media reported throughout the month on a systematic crackdown on dissent in Egypt.

AllAfrica reported on 30 June that a 25-page report, Generation Jail: Egypt’s youth go from protest to prison, focuses on the cases of 14 young people who, it says, are among thousands to have been arbitrarily arrested, detained and jailed over the past two years in relation to protests. More than 41,000 people have now been arrested, charged or indicted with a criminal offence, or sentenced after unfair trials, according to estimates by Egyptian human rights activists. More than a year after coming to power, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has shown no sign of easing its repressive rule, allAfrica said. A new wave of arrests in mid-2015 saw at least 160 people detained in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance, according to the Egyptian activist group Freedom for the Brave.

The rfi news portal from Egypt reported on 3 July on the second anniversary of the military coup, stating that hundreds have died and hundreds are on death row. President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi promised stability, security and economic growth, the portal said, adding that his record has so far been lackluster and he has failed to stamp out opposition, according to many observers. “The Sisi regime created the threats that it now faces,” said former US diplomat Michele Dunne, a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace scholar who was denied entry in Egypt in December. There are reports that 40,000 people have been detained, some of them still being held incommunicado. There are concerns that at least 160 arrests may be considered enforced disappearances.

Allafrica carried a story on 7 July saying that Alkarama had sent a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (SRCT) urging this body to ask the Egyptian authorities to refrain from adopting a new draft anti-terrorism law. Approved both by the Cabinet and the Supreme Judicial Council on 5 July 2015, the draft law is a de facto emergency law, Alkarama says, as it gives extraordinary powers to the security forces and to the President of the Republic while jeopardizing Egyptian citizens’ fundamental rights. “Torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings are now familiar to Egyptian citizens because they have been made commonplace by the authorities since the military coup. With this new law, the authorities will have a new tool to further stifle any kind of dissent, without any reaction from the international community,” said Rachid Mesli, Alkarama’s Legal Director. Allafrica reported on 14 July that Alkarama had sent an urgent appeal to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) regarding four young men who went missing following their abduction by members of the police and the army between 22 April and 28 May 2015. Alkarama argues that they may be subject to torture or ill-treatment in secret detention inside a Homeland Security facility or one of its affiliated centers.

The Cairo Post carried a story on 11 July saying that activist Khaled el-Sayed had been released hours after reportedly being held by Cairo airport authorities and banned from traveling to Qatar. Sayed was prevented from boarding a plane for Doha, where his wife works. He was missing for over 30 hours, without any official statements on his whereabouts or the reasons for him being held, his wife Hoda Mahmoud told the Cairo Post. Sayed said he had not been informed about the reasons for his detention, saying what happened to him was an “enforced disappearance crime”. Sayed, a former member of the dissolved Revolution Youth Coalition, was arrested in 2014 during the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, and spent almost two month in jail, during which he claimed he was tortured.

Allafrica reported on 16 July that according to an Alkarama researcher, at least 3,200 children have been arrested and detained since the July 2013 military coup, many of whom were also tortured and ill-treated or detained with adults.

On 20 July Human Rights Watch called on the Egyptian authorities immediately to disclose the whereabouts of people who have been illegally detained and hold those responsible to account. “The failure of the public prosecution to seriously investigate these cases reinforces the nearly absolute impunity that security forces have enjoyed under President al-Sisi,” it said

Unrest and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria

The authorities in Nigeria, faced with a ruthless insurgency in the northeast of the country, have been accused of violating basic human rights ostensibly because of overriding security considerations.

Human Rights Watch carried a story on 1 July saying that greater respect for human rights and the rule of law are essential if Nigeria is to manage continued economic, social and security challenges effectively. It said the conflict in the northeast of the country has involved the most egregious human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch believes that around 7,000 civilians have been killed since 2010 and more than a million people are displaced. The Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram has targeted civilians, abducted hundreds of women and girls, forcefully conscripted young men and boys, and destroyed villages, towns, and schools. In responding to Boko Haram, Nigerian government security forces have been implicated in serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including incommunicado detention, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

The News, a web portal from Nigeria, carried a story on 15 July saying that Ogun state in Southwest Nigeria now holds the national record for being the most unsafe, where people disappear without trace, according to Arinze Orakwe of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and Other Related Matters. Orakwe was speaking at a Media Roundtable on Trafficking in Persons organized by the European Union. He linked the high rate of human disappearance to the use of human organs for rituals.

The Puls, Nigerian news portal, reported on 15 July that Boko Haram terrorists had killed 25 people in Borno State on 13 July. Many villagers had gone missing after the attack leading to fears that they had been pressed into Boko Haram’s ranks.

Human Rights Watch carried a story on 19 July quoting its Washington Director, Sarah Margon, as saying that Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Washington “is an important moment to re-evaluate the US-Nigeria relationship, but any closer ties and assistance should be approached with caution.” Margon noted that “If the US is discussing further financial or technical support for Nigeria’s security forces it should insist on clear benchmarks on how they will ensure respect for human rights.” In responding to Boko Haram, Nigerian government security forces have been implicated in grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including incommunicado detention, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances, HRW said.

On 22 July, the international news channel France 24 quoted President Buhari as saying that Boko Haram would be defeated by a new African force within 18 months. At the same time, the World Bank said $2.1 billion in loans could be made available to rebuild areas devastated by the militants. Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed more than 13,000 people since 2009 and displaced an estimated 1.5 million others.

Mexico

Corruption, narco-trafficking and a lack of accountability are cited as the main reasons for shockingly high rates of disappearances and kidnapping in Mexico.

VICE News carried a story on 1 July saying that more than nine months after the disappearance and likely massacre of 43 student teachers in Mexico, a team of human-rights investigators tasked with looking into the case had stated that they are still waiting for access to soldiers who might have witnessed or even participated in the attacks. The five members of a special independent panel convened by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said Mexican authorities have not answered a request they filed three months ago to gather testimonies from soldiers.

Amnesty International reported on 3 July that the Mexican civilian authorities must urgently investigate a recently uncovered military document that seems to indicate that the killing of 22 people in June 2014 was not the outcome of a clash between soldiers and a criminal gang as the military reported, but the direct result of an order to “take down criminals”.

On 12 July the Globe and Mail reported that six women are being killed every day in Mexico. Over the past two decades, the killing or disappearance of women has become so frequent, a new term has entered the country’s lexicon: femicidio. “This issue’s been going on for a long time … the mistreatment of women, especially women of colour, the abuse of women, the disappearance of women. And it’s not only happening on the US-Mexico border, it’s also happening on the US-Canadian border,” says Enrique Morones who runs Border Angels, a volunteer group based in San Diego, that fights for immigration reform. According to the UN, more than 2,500 deaths of women in Mexico every year can be attributed to gender-targeted violence. The National Citizen Femicide Observatory, or OCNF, says at least six women are targeted and killed every day in Mexico. Of those, less than a quarter are investigated.

The Tele SUR news portal from Latin America carried a story on 16 July saying that Mexico holds first place worldwide in kidnapping. Over 90 percent of cases go unreported, it said. In June 2015 alone, instances of kidnaping increased by almost 30 percent; the nongovernmental organization National Citizen Observatory (ONC) predicts that this upward trend will continue. In June, 178 cases of kidnapping were reported in Mexico. In 2013, El Universal newspaper cited government statistics that in 2012 alone 105,000 cases of kidnapping were reported.