Mexico to spend $20m on search for those missing in drug war

Government to create new forensic institute and dedicate $20m to identify Mexico's estimated 40,000 missing people.

    Mexico's top human rights official has unveiled a new government plan to search for the tens of thousands of people who have disappeared during the country's drug war.

    President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's government will create a forensic institute and dedicate more than $20m to help find and identify the country's estimated 40,000 missing, Alejandro Encinas told reporters on Monday.

    The undersecretary for human rights at the interior ministry said there were more than 1,100 registered but unexplored secret grave sites and around 26,000 unidentified bodies around Mexico.

    "Unfortunately, our territory has become a huge clandestine grave," said Encinas before adding that the new forensic institute, known as the National Search System, will begin operating in March.

    The vast majority of the missing in Mexico are young people who fall prey to organised crime. The search for the disappeared has largely been led by families of the victims. 

    International groups have helped investigate some high-profile disappearances, including the case of 43 students who went missing in 2014.

    The incident became emblematic of the surge in violence and corruption during Enrique Pena Nieto's presidency, which led to Lopez Obrador's landslide victory last year.

    Political will

    During the campaign, Lopez Obrador presented a strategy that leaned heavily on "transitional justice" - which often involves leniency for those who admit guilt, as well as truth commissions to investigate atrocities and the granting of reparations for victims.

    Encinas said the government of Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, will pay special attention to migrants, who he said accounted for about eight to 10 percent of the missing.

    The government will devote extra resources to heavily trafficked corridors, Encinas said, such as the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

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    Over the past year, these states have become transit hubs for thousands of Central American migrants who entered Mexico in large caravans, seeking to settle in the United States to escape poverty and violence.

    The new plan looks "impressive on paper", said Al Jazeera's John Holman, reporting from Mexico City.

    "But the previous government also passed legislation to find the disappeared, particularly after more than 40 students were taken by the police in league with a gang. But they were never found.

    "And the key ingredient was missing both in the search for them and the wider effort to help thousands of others. There was a profound lack of political will to actually change things."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies