UN raises concerns over Mexico's 'alarming' numbers of missing persons

By Stefanie Eschenbacher

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances on Tuesday raised concerns over what it called an inadequate investigation of the "alarming" number of disappearances in Mexico, its consequential low convictions, and "almost absolute impunity".

In Mexico, 111,896 people are currently registered as missing in the interior ministry's official database, a number that does not include the many more people who went missing and were later found dead.

Most have disappeared since 2006, when then-President Felipe Calderon declared a "War on Drugs," mobilising the armed forces to fight the increasingly powerful cartels and unleashing a wave of violence that continues to rock the country.

In late July, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced a revision to the government database, suggesting that the real numbers of disappeared is in fact lower.

The president's comments raised alarm. Experts and even some government officials have instead said the numbers are likely much higher as families often do not report disappearances - either for fear of reprisals or because they doubt the ability of the authorities to do anything for them.

The U.N. committee also urged the government to ensure transparency of the methodology used to update the database. So far, no details about possible changes have been made public.

The interior ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Changes to the database should involve groups representing victims and be independently and impartially coordinated by the National Search Commission, the committee said, while also including measures to avoid revictimisation and protect data.

Reuters spent four years documenting the work of independently formed search groups across 10 Mexican states. Around 180 such groups have sprung up.

Mayra Gonzalez, whose sister went missing in 2016 and was later found murdered, is one such activist. "It's important that the cases are made visible," she said.

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Additional reporting by Raul Cortes; Editing by Hugh Lawson)