Mexico bristles at UN criticism over disappearances

People take part in a protest over the missing students from Ayotzinapa in Acapulco, Guerrero State, Mexico, on February 10, 2015 (AFP Photo/Pedro Pardo)

Mexico City (AFP) - The Mexican government bristled at a UN committee's findings that disappearances are widespread in the country and the authorities lack precise numbers of missing people.

The criticism from the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances comes as Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto faces continuing anger over the disappearance, and presumed murder, of 43 college students.

The foreign and interior ministries responded to the committee's conclusions by saying its recommendations "do not adequately reflect the information presented" by Mexico.

The committee's findings also "do not bring additional elements that reinforce the actions and commitments undertaken to resolve the challenges," the statement said, adding that Mexico was committed to "redoubling" efforts to combat the scourge.

Ten days after meeting with Mexican officials, the Geneva-based committee said the information "illustrates a context of generalized disappearances in a great part of the country, many of which qualify as enforced disappearances."

"The committee noted with concern the lack of precise statistical information on the number of persons subjected to enforced disappearances," it said in its conclusions.

The committee's Luciano Hazan told reporters it was essential to provide such figures in order to devise policies to stop the problem.

Pena Nieto's administration has changed the figure of missing people several times since he took office in December 2012, when he inherited a drug war that has left tens of thousands of people dead or missing since 2006.

The official figures went from 26,000 to 8,000, before rising again to 16,000 and settling at 22,000 last year.

The committee's Rainer Huhle said out of the thousands of enforced disappearances, only "six persons (had been) put to trial and sentenced for this crime," suggesting criminals were acting with impunity.

He said there was an "obvious discrepancy between the obligation of the state to punish and prevent this crime and its ubiquity in many parts of the country."

Mexican prosecutors have come under fire over the investigation into the disappearance of 43 aspiring teachers who were abducted by local police in Iguala, Guerrero state.

Investigators say the police handed the young men to a drug gang, which killed them and burned their bodies.

Human rights groups have slammed the government's declaration that the students were dead, saying it was premature because unanswered questions remained in the case, especially since DNA tests had only confirmed the death of one student.

Relatives say that the remaining students are still alive and suspect the prosecutor is just keen to close the case.