World News Digest November

11 refugees – four of them babies – died on refugee journey from Turkey to Greece, AP

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

Casualties arising from the Mediterranean Migration Crisis continued during November, as governments resorted to contentious measures to deal with the problem, including border fences and other restrctions on travel. In many cases, these appeared to add danger to migrant journeys without having the deired afect of regulating refugee flows.

The Independent reported that eleven women and children had drowned in the Aegean Sea after a boat carrying refugees from Turkey to Greece sank on the morning of 1 November. It said nearly 600,000 had arrived on Greek shores since the beginnning of the year. On 2 November The Telegraph reported that the Greek island of Lesbos has run out of room to bury the bodies of migrants. CNN carried a story on 4 November saying that more migrants (more than 218,000) fled to Europe in October than in the whole of 2014. At least 3,440 have died or disappeared while attempting the journey in 2015, according to UNHCR. Reuters reported that eight migrants drowned and at least another three were missing after their inflatable boat sank off the Greek island of Kos early on 17 November.

The Local carried a story on 10 November on the Labanof Forensic Pathology Laboratory in Milan. Cristina Cattaneo, head of the laboratory, which specializes in identifying decomposed, burned or mutilated remains, described the migration crisis as “one of the most complex mass disasters in the history of forensic science.” She said Labanof had been able to identify 28 people so far, and hoped to reach many others through the International Commission on Missing Persons. Ekathimerini carried a story on 18 November on the efforts of the Criminal Investigation Department (DEE) in Athens to identify people who have died during their journey from the Turkish coast across the Aegean. The DNA lab receives samples of biological material belonging to migrants and refugees drowned in the Aegean. There is rarely a single authority tasked with collecting ante- and postmortem evidence, biological material does not always go where it needs to and, in Greece in particular, many islands don’t even have a coroner to conduct autopsies.

On 8 November the Daily Sabah, from Turkey, reported that the EU would turn to Africa’s leaders to help tackle the refugee crisis at a summit of more than 50 leaders from both continents on Tuesday and Wednesday. African countries would be called on to take back economic migrants, the report said. In return, Europe would offer development funds. Human Rights Watch issued a statement on 9 November expressing concern that EU leaders would seek to use the two-day summit of more than 60 heads of state from Africa and Europe in Malta principally as a means of persuading African governments to prevent migration. The Telegraph reported on 11 November that the EU’s controversial plan to deport tens of thousands of African migrants with improvised passports had been watered down after fierce protests from African leaders. Plans to introduce a ‘’laissez passer’’, an EU-issued travel document that would allow thousands of failed asylum seekers to be sent home, appeared to have been scrapped after African leaders said it had no precedent in international law. International Business Times reported that Egypt’s government approved a draft law on 25 November designed to crack down on illegal migration and impose harsh fines and sentences to those caught smuggling people out of the country illegally. One of the law’s articles imposes hard labor sentences and fines for anyone convicted of starting, managing, holding a position in or being a member of an organized group that smuggles migrants out of the country illegally.

On 11 November New York Magazine reported that Slovenia had started erecting a razor-wire fence on parts of its 400-mile border with Croatia. Migrants and refugees began streaming into Slovenia from Croatia after Hungary put up barriers forcing those pushing northward to find an alternative route. The New York Times reported on 15 November that after the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November “fears that Islamic terrorists might infiltrate the migrant flow have deepened” in Europe. It said “the talk has shifted sharply to security over compassion.” Amnesty International issued a report on 17 November saying that in the wake of the Paris attacks, the EU must resist the urge to further seal off its external borders, which would continue to fuel a range of human rights abuses while doing nothing to enhance security or halt the influx of desperate refugees. The report reveals how moves to fence off land borders and enlist neighboring countries, such as Turkey and Morocco, as gatekeepers, have denied refugees access to asylum, exposed refugees and migrants to ill-treatment and pushed people towards life-threatening sea journeys. In total, EU member states have built more than 235 km of fences at the EU’s external borders costing in excess of 175 million Euros. Instead of stopping people from coming, these fences have only redirected refugee flows to other land routes or more dangerous sea routes. Amnesty issued a statement on 20 November saying that new border control rules implemented almost simultaneously by the governments of Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia had resulted in large-scale renewed human rights violations. During the night of 18 November, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia all changed their border management practices without prior notice and more or less simultaneously.  The UN News Center reported that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had warned Balkan States on 24 November that border restrictions based on a refugee’s or migrant’s nationality infringed human rights, with the United Nations refugee agency reporting that 1,000 people were already stranded, 60 of them on hunger strike and 11 reportedly stitching up their mouths in protest. Medicins sans Frontieres issued a statement on 26 November saying that new measures by Balkan states to allow certain nationalities only to cross into their territories are leaving hundreds of people in transit stranded at border crossings, uncertain of their rights and without sufficient aid. The Jurist reported that Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico had said on 29 November that his country plans to file a lawsuit by 18 December challenging the EU’s plan to distribute 120,000 refugees to each of its member states. Along with Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania also opposed the new measure, but the four were outvoted by the other member states. On 30 November Reuters reported that Turkey had promised to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe in return for cash, visas and renewed talks on joining the EU in a deal struck when EU officials met Turkish Premier Ahmet Davutoglu in Brussels on 29 November.

Asian Migration Crisis

Meanwhile, governments in Southeast Asia sought to address political, judicial and humanitarian issues arising from irregular migration from Bangladesh and Myanmar to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Straits Times from Singapore reported on 9 November that 88 suspected human traffickers will be brought before a Bangkok court following a sweeping investigation triggered by the discovery of mass graves on the Thai-Malaysian border in May. Senior Thai military officials have been implicated. Human smugglers as well as traffickers routinely use Thailand as a transit point because of its relatively porous borders and strategic location as a travel hub. Just before the Thai crackdown in May, thousands of Muslim Rohingya fleeing dire conditions in Myanmar, fell into the hands of traffickers, who held them in remote jungle camps on the Thai-Malaysian border and tortured them until their relatives sent money for their onward passage to Malaysia. Those who subsequently died were buried in unmarked graves in the jungle. Amnesty International issued a statement on 16 November saying that Southeast Asian leaders due to meet at the ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur must urgently prioritize a coordinated plan to help the thousands of asylum seekers and migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh who are forced to risk abuse and death at sea. Among other things, the statement addressed censorship, enforced disappearances, unfair military trials, arbitrary detention and violent attacks that human defenders face in Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Star, a daily from Malaysia, reported on 22 November that the 10 Asean leaders had signed a key convention to provide greater protection to victims of human trafficking and to impose the harshest punishment on perpetrators.

Central American Migration

Libela, a news portal from Croatia, reported on 5 November that the flow of women from Central America and Mexico each year to escape armed gangs and domestic violence and seek refuge in the United States is becoming a refugee crisis, according to UNHCR. The number of women, some with children, fleeing rampant gang violence in parts of Mexico, and the Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, is rising, the UNHCR said in a report published on 4 November. More than 66,000 children travelled with their families or alone from the Northern Triangle region – which has the world’s highest murder rates – to the United States in 2014.

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Canada

The Canadian authorities have acknowledged the need to address structural police and judicial issues related to the disproportionate number of indigenous women who go missing and/or are victims of homicide.

The Star news portal carried a story on 31 October on Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau’s promise to call a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. The Liberal Party has committed $40 million over two years to an inquiry that is expected to examine the root causes behind the more than 1,200 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls. CBC News reported on 7 November that an inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students in Thunder Bay, Ontario is providing a preview of concerns that could be raised at the national inquiry, according to Julian Falconer, lawyer for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a political organization representing aboriginal peoples. Falconer said First Nations people are treated as ‘’less than worthy victims’’ by police. “It’s a theme that ties into not just this case but the entire picture around missing and murdered indigenous women and girls: less than worthy victims.” The Globe and Mail reported on 22 November that indigenous women in Canada are roughly seven times more likely than non-indigenous women to die at the hands of serial killers. An unprecedented 2014 RCMP report found 1,181 aboriginal females were killed or went missing across the country between 1980 and 2012. In some of the cases the victims’ loved ones said that police were initially dismissive of their concerns and did not appear to take the missing-person report seriously. On 23 November the Saskatoon Star Phoenix reported that the police chief of Saskatoon, Clive Weighill, had said cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls cannot be solved by police alone: “This is a big social systemic issue. We have to stop treating this as a crime issue.” Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte, a member of Women Walking Together — a grassroots organization supporting families of missing and murdered women — said police need a more comprehensive strategy for reporting missing persons cases to the media. The Guardian carried a story on 25 November saying that almost a quarter of homicide victims in Canada in 2014 were aboriginal, even though the country’s indigenous people accounts for just five percent of the population.

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In Egypt and other countries in the Middle East, human rights groups pointed to state involvement in prevailing high numbers of enforced disappearances.

Egypt

The Al Bawaba news portal from Jordan reported on 2 November that a Giza court had extended the detention of Esraa al-Taweel, a student and amateur photographer, by 45 more days. Taweel faces charges of “belonging to a terrorist organization” and “harming national unity” by spreading false news. She was arrested on 1 June and was denied proper care for a debilitating bullet wound she acquired covering protests marking the third anniversary of the January 2011 uprising. Taweel has been at the center of public calls by both local and international groups, demanding that Egyptian authorities halt the “enforced disappearances” of “dozens” of people. For the first 17 days of Taweel’s arrest, her whereabouts were unknown and her family were unable to contact her. Al Bawaba carried a story on 4 November saying that dozens of people had taken part in a one-day hunger strike in solidarity with Maha Mekkawy, a leading member of the al-Dostour party whose husband, Ashraf Shehata, has been “forcibly disappeared” since 13 January, 2014. Mekkawy has been on a hunger strike since 24 October demanding to know the whereabouts of her husband. “We received confirmation that he has been detained by Homeland Security but the Interior ministry denied this,” Mekkawy told Aswat Masriya. El Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence along with another eight rights groups launched a campaign on Monday calling on authorities immediately to disclose the whereabouts of those who have been forcibly disappeared. According to an October report by the center, 92 people had been forcibly disappeared, 58 others were subjected to torture and nine died in detention as a result of torture or medical negligence. The Interior Ministry’s aide for Human Rights, Salah Fouad, denied any cases of involuntary or enforced disappearances. The All Africa news portal reported on 24 November that human rights NGO, Alkarama, had sent an urgent appeal to the UN Working Group on Enforced of Involuntary Disappearances regarding the arrest by the Homeland Security of 45-year-old former Egyptian Air Force pilot Hany Mohamed Hassanin Sharaf on 18 November 2015. His family believes that his arrest was triggered by his intention of creating an opposition political party, the Civilized Alternative Party and fears that he could be tortured while in secret detention in retaliation for his political affiliations. Alkarama has documented numerous cases of enforced disappearances in Egypt, while the UN Working Group has expressed concern over its systematization.  Middle East Monitor carried a story on 24 November on Dr Tarek El-Ghandour, who died after a year in detention in Egypt. His daughter Ayah believes he died because he was denied medical care after an operation. Ayah’s father is one of 323 people who have died inside Egypt’s detention facilities since August 2013, the report said.

Syria

Human Rights Watch issued a statement on 4 November saying that Syria’s authorities have yet to disclose the whereabouts of Bassel Khartabil, a software developer and defender of freedom of information, one month after his transfer to an undisclosed location. Military Intelligence detained Khartabil on 15 March, 2012. On 3 October, 2015, Khartabil managed to inform his family that security officers had ordered him to pack but did not reveal his destination. His family has received no further information. Amnesty International issued a report on 5 November on thousands of enforced disappearances by the Syrian government over the past four years. The report reveals that the state is profiting from widespread and systematic enforced disappearances amounting to crimes against humanity, through an insidious black market in which family members, desperate to find out the fate of their disappeared relatives, are ruthlessly exploited for cash. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented at least 65,000 disappearances since 2011 – 58,000 of them civilians.

 Iraq

USA Today carried a story on 12 November from the Iraqi village of Sinuni, 270 miles north of Baghdad, where there is a mass grave containing Yazidi victims of Islamic State. It is one of 11 mass graves discovered in northern Iraq by Kurdish residents returning to areas recaptured from Islamic State. Human Rights Watch estimates that militants killed 3,000 to 5,000 people when they occupied the area in August 2014. The Sinuni grave was first discovered in February. Among the 37 skeletal remains were women and children, some of whom appeared to be toddlers. The Free Yazidi Foundation and the US-based human-rights group Yazda has detailed the massacres and the Sinuni grave in a report to the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, because Syria and Iraq are not signatories to The Hague treaty, the ICC ruled in August that it had no territorial jurisdiction over crimes committed by Islamic State militants. The Telegraph carried a story on 17 November saying that after Kurdish forces liberated Sinjar from Islamic State militants the previous week, along with 28 other villages, they discovered two graves, one containing the corpses of older women and one believed to contain men, women and children. Over the past year, Islamic State forces have kidnapped thousands of young Yazidi women to use as sex slaves: now it’s clear what happened to those not deemed ‘’attractive enough’’, the report says. The Associated Press reported on 29 November that Kurdish officials said three more mass graves have been found in the northern town of Sinjar. The discovery brings the total number of burial sites in the area to five and the total number of bodies uncovered to between 200 and 300, according to local officials.

UAE

Middle East Monitor carried a story on 2 November saying that the Association for Victims of Torture and Enforced Disappearance in the United Arab Emirates said it hopes the Abu Dhabi government will accept UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Forced Disappearance Juan Mendez’s request to visit Libyan businessmen detained in the country. In a statement issued on 1 November, the association said the UN official asked to visit the UAE to investigate accusations of torture practiced by the country’s security services against a number of Libyan detainees. “In light of the re-election of the UAE as a member of the Human Rights Council and as a gesture of goodwill, we hope the UAE will announce that it accepts the UN Special Rapporteur’s request to visit the Libyan businessmen and investigate reports about the practice of systematic torture against them in Abu Dhabi,” the statement said. Middle East Monitor carried a story on 23 November saying that the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE reported today that the three children of Mohamed Ahmed Abdouly, a Syrian rebel, have been arrested and taken into detention by Emirati authorities in the Emirate of Fujairah. Abdouly died in 2013 in Raqqa in Syria, where he was part of the Syrian rebel group, Ahrar al Sham fighting against Assad forces. The children were arrested by the security forces on 19 November 2015 and have not been heard from since.

Saudi Arabia

Amnesty International issued a statement on 23 November saying that a UN Working Group has determined that the Saudi Arabian authorities have arbitrarily detained nine peaceful activists in blatant violation of international law. “The UN Working Group’s Opinion leaves no shred of doubt – the Saudi Arabian authorities are consistently abusing the country’s vague laws to deprive human rights defenders and others of their liberty, and deny them their basic right to freedoms of expression, association and assembly,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

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In Mexico, human rights NGOs and families of the missing continued to pressure the judicial, police and political authorities to investigate enforced disappearances in a transparent way, while the prospect of a conclusive peace agreement in Colombia after more than five decades of conflict has brought the question of accounting for the missing to the forefront of public debate.

Mexico

The Telesur news portal reported on 4 November that federal officials are investigating three mass graves, with an estimated 60 bodies, that were discovered 50 miles south of where the Ayotzinapa students disappeared. ABC News reported that on 4 November Mexican and Argentine experts exhumed the body of a student who was found dead hours after 43 of his colleagues disappeared. Julio Cesar Mondragon’s remains were taken to Mexico City, where they are to undergo new testing. An independent panel formed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights determined that a first autopsy was marred by inconsistencies and contradictions. Mondragon’s family demanded new tests. Mondragon was one of six people killed in September 2014, when students from Ayotzinapa were attacked. The same group of experts previously dismantled the government’s official version that the 43 students were killed and incinerated in a giant pyre at a trash dump, saying the fire described in the attorney general’s investigation could not have occurred. Telesur reported on 7 November that judicial authorities have opened an investigation into former public officials from the state of Morelos over the discovery of hundreds of bodies in a mass grave. “We are talking about 105 corpses, more or less, related to various investigation files,” state attorney Javier Perez said. The Jurist carried a story on 9 November saying that on 8 November Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission had criticized the Mexican Attorney General’s Office and other government offices involved in the investigation of the “Missing 43″ for failing to comply with its recommendations. Telesur reported that a Mexican court had ruled on 10 November to jail Jose Abarca on charges of organized crime, illegal operations and illicit enrichment. Abarca was mayor of the city of Iguala when the Ayotzinapa teacher training students were attacked and disappeared. In January it was reported that 110 of Guerrero state’s 235 missing person cases (almost 47 percent) are from the municipality of Iguala—a city of just 110,000 people. Fox News Latino reported on 17 November that a new documentary, “Kingdom of Shadows,” directed by Bernardo Ruiz, presents three viewpoints on the human cost of the war on drugs in both the US and Mexico. The story is told partially through the eyes of Sister Consuelo Morales, a Monterrey, Mexico-based nun and rights activist. NACLA magazine reported on 19 November that at least 300 people attended the International Forum on Disappearances in Mexico in Mexico City held just four days after the one-year anniversary of the Ayotzinapa disappearances. The article focuses on mothers of the disapeared, who have built a community of mutual support. US News carried a story on 24 November about the abduction of Armando de la Cruz Salinas and his cousins on their way to the hospital in Guerrero state. After news of the 43 disappeared students ignited the national firestorm, their families agreed to join the hundreds of other families putting names on a list of missing persons. After adding the names of their missing to the lists, many families organized to go into the hills around Iguala to search for bodies of the disappeared. Over many weeks and months, government crews dug up the remains of at least 104 people from unmarked graves found by the families, only 13 of which have been identified by DNA and telltale bits of clothing. In January this year, Sanchez family found the remains of their cousins.

Colombia

The PanAm Post carried a story on 4 November saying that a large sector of Colombian society believes that the government has been excessively lenient with the FARC rebels throughout peace negotiations. Recent agreement on the search for people who have disappeared during the war comes quite late, but society has still welcomed it. The government, however, has ignored other demands such as the release of all kidnap victims who remain in the FARC’s custody. In fact, 3,000 people remain kidnapped in Colombia, according to war correspondent Herbin Hoyos. He says that handing over hostages to the government would constitute proof of FARC’s systematic crimes against humanity for which they would be criminally charged even in international courts. Prensa Latina reported on 11 November that 52 percent of those Colombians polled state that an agreement between government representatives and the FARC will be possible. The survey also revealed support for the recent agreement on transitional justice, which envisages the creation of so-called Special Jurisdiction for Peace. Colombia Reports carried a story on 19 November saying that officials in Colombia’s largest port city, Buenaventura, had found four bodies, raising concerns that rival drug trafficking organizations continue to disappear their victims in order to maintain a low homicide rate. A week ago Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas announced that the killings in Buenaventura had seen a reduction of 47 percent this year. With the discovery of the remains, various media have suggested that the homicide rate have been replaced by spikes in disappearances.

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Sri Lanka continued to forge a new approach to dealing with the legacy of enforced disappearances, while in Pakistan human rights groups and families of the missing sought redress through the judicial system.

Sri Lanka

The Colombo Page news portal reported on 5 November that the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances was to undertake an official visit to Sri Lanka from 9 to 18 November 2015, at the invitation of the Sri Lankan Government. On 8 November Colombo Page reported that Amnesty International has called on Sri Lanka’s government to fully cooperate with the UN Working Group during its first visit to the island in 15 years. AI said the group’s visit would raise the hopes of thousands of families of the disappeared. On 11 November Colombo Page reported that the UN Working Group had met with family members of two dissident Marxist party activists who went missing in 2011. The two activists of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party, Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Murugananthan, went missing on 9 December 2011 while they were preparing to launch the Movement for People’s Struggle formed by JVP dissidents in Jaffna. Family members of other missing persons also met the Working Group on 10 November.  Colombo Page reported on 13 November that the UN Working Group had begun a visit to Mannar in the Northern Province, where it had met with families of the missing and disappeared. The Sunday Leader reported on 14 November that the visit by UN Working Group had raised the expectations of families. It noted that despite the tens of thousands of reported enforced disappearances in the late 1980s alone, there were fewer than 30 convictions for abduction between 1987 and 2007. It said a final report on the Working Group’s visit will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September, 2016.

Colombo Page reported on 17 November that an activist organization representing the parents of missing persons had submitted a report to the UN Working Group. On 16 November the Dead and Missing Persons Parents’ Front (MPPF) handed over a report on 5,900 missing persons to the members of the working group. The Tamil Guardian reported on 18 November that the UN Working Group had announced that it had discovered a “secret underground detention torture center” and called on the government to reveal the existence of other such centers if any existed. Speaking at a press conference concluding the UN team’s visit, Ariel Dulitzky, said there was a high probability of other torture sites existing on the island. Drawing upon visits to mass grave sites, the Working Group added that any commission into disappearances must have the technical capacity to conduct proper exhumations with forensic expertise. The Sri Lanka Guardian carried a story on 19 November saying that the UN delegation had alleged that despite the change of government in January, relatives of the disappeared persons are still facing intimidation and threats from different state stakeholders. The Jurist reported on 19 November that the UN Working Group had stated that Sri Lanka has an opportunity properly to address the rights violations committed against disappeared citizens. The Jurist notes the current absence of a comprehensive and effective reparation program and social, psychological and economic support for relatives of the missing. The Working Group specifically endorsed the recommendation from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to integrate international professionals into the envisaged judicial mechanism in order to prosecute massive human rights and humanitarian law violations, including enforced disappearances. On 21 November The Sunday Leader reported that the underground detention cells at the Trincomalee navy camp that drew the attention of the UN Working Group could only be accessed by passing the main gate and several officers so it could not have been in operation without the knowledge of senior officers of the camp or the former Government. It said discovery of this detention cell raised concerns that similar unauthorized detention facilities may have existed in Colombo as well. On 24 November the Colombo Gazette reported that former Foreign Minister Gamini Peiris had raised concerns over the Government’s decision to give the Working Group access to the Navy camp in Trincomalee. Peiris said that no country would allow a foreign group to have access to a Navy camp, and he said the Working Group had made false claims after visiting the camp.

Pakistan

The Express Tribune, from Pakistan, carried a story on 1 November on the missing persons cases that are heard every Thursday at Court No. 4 of the Sindh High Court in Karachi. In Pakistan, families of thousands of citizens who have been detained by police and security forces for having alleged links with Taliban-style militant groups petition the high courts across the country to intervene and secure information about their detained loved ones. Zohra Yousuf, Chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says the inefficient performance of the judicial commission on enforced disappearances has again put pressure on the courts to deal with missing persons cases. The News, a portal from Pakistan, reported on 4 November that the Peshawar High Court had issued directives on 3 December in cases of “grey” missing persons – those detained in internment centers. They directed the federal and provincial governments to give direction about the future of terror suspects who have been declared ‘’grey’’ to know if they would be freed after de-radicalization or tried in proper courts. The Express Tribune carried a story on 11 November on a demonstration in Faisalabad in the Punjab on 10 November demanding the recovery of missing persons. Defense of Human Rights Executive Director Amina Masood Janjua said there was information about 25 people in Faisalabad who had been picked up: “There is no discussion about this issue in the government’s top echelons…they have deliberately ignored the plight of the families of those picked up.”  The Balochwarna news portal reported on 19 November on a press conference given by relatives of abducted Baloch people on 18 November. They claim that the Pakistani army abducted several men and women along with their children in a continuing military offensive over the past three weeks in the Bolan district in central Balochistan.

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In Spain and Cyprus, progress has started to be made in regard to missing persons issues that have been on hold for decades, while in Ukraine the authorities and others are seeking ways to address cases of enforced disappearance that occurred in the last 18 months.

Spain

New Delhi TV carried a story on 20 November on Mercedes Abril, who was just three years old when her father was executed during the Spanish Civil War. Abril has decided to register her DNA in case she dies before finding her father, one of thousands who disappeared during and after the civil war. Abril was told that her father’s remains had been secretly transferred to the mausoleum outside Madrid where former ruler Francisco Franco is buried. More than 100,000 people are thought to have been killed by Franco’s forces during the civil war and 50,000 in the following decade. Since then, the remains of just 6,300 victims have been found between 2000 and 2012 mainly in mass graves. The Telegraph carried a story on 26 November saying that on the eve of her 90th birthday, Ascensión Mendieta has received the gift she has been wanting for most of her life: the chance to give her father, executed by Franco’s victorious fascist forces at the end of the civil war, a proper burial. In what is being described by historical memory campaigners as a first, a Spanish judge has ordered that an unmarked mass grave on the edge of Guadalajara’s municipal cemetery be opened and the remains of Timoteo Mendieta be exhumed. Ms Mendieta was 13 when her father was arrested and executed for having been a union leader in his village. The dig will be undertaken by volunteers from Spain’s Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, which campaigns for the location and disinterring of victims still unaccounted for in mass graves dotted around the country.

Cyprus

The Cyprus Mail carried a story on 5 November saying that the Turkish army has given permission for excavations in search of missing persons at 30 locations in military areas in the north of the island. The announcement was made during a meeting between Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and the Turkish Cypriot member of the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) Gulden Plumer Kucuk. On 17 November the Famagusta Gazette reported that the CMP had started excavations at Agios Georgios village in Kyrenia in northern Cyprus.

Ukraine

The Mashable news portal carried a story on 1 November on the thousands of people who have disappeared in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions since the start of the conflict in April 2014. “The government doesn’t want to investigate missing persons cases, because they are afraid that some of their own soldiers may be implicated in the disappearances, ’’ says Maria Tomak, a human rights activist and journalist at the Kiev-based Center for Civil Liberties. Tomak says the task of investigating missing persons cases has fallen to local NGOs and volunteers. The Ukrinform news portal reported on 17 November that the Security Service (SBU) joint center for coordinating the search for and identifying the location of missing persons in the east of the country has reported that 774 citizens of Ukraine are missing. The head of the center said this figure includes military personnel, volunteers, journalists and civilians.