The World Today for March 09, 2021

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‘Disappearance’: The Noun, The Weapon

Mexicans uncover on average two clandestine graves a day. They often belong to some of the 79,000 people who have disappeared in Mexico since 2006. “It’s the worst crisis of the disappeared in Latin America since the Cold War, when military-backed governments kidnapped and secretly killed their leftist opponents,” wrote the Washington Post.

Some of the missing people died in violence tied to drug cartels, NBC News explained. Homicides are at a record high in Mexico due to turf battles between crime syndicates. Others, like activists who protested against police brutality last summer, say that police threatened them with “disappearance” after forcing them into unmarked trucks, the Guardian reported.

The epidemic is taking a toll on the loved ones of those who have been “disappeared” whether they run afoul of corrupt politicians and police or drug cartels and other criminals. Families have banded together, braving danger, to hunt for the remains of their loved ones, the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote. Some go at it alone.

Take Guadalupe Aragón Sosa, who went searching for her 44-year-old son Carlos after hearing that he was murdered in Tijuana. His DNA didn’t turn up in databases. He was not in the photographs of unclaimed corpses. She searched an area where killers were known to dispose of their victims. She found more than 10 bodies. None belonged to her son.

Later, as the Los Angeles Times detailed, she discovered her son’s corpse had been buried in a public cemetery. She still doesn’t know why he had been killed. But at least she found him.

Meanwhile, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed to listen to those searching for their loved ones. But he has yet to set realistic goals in ending the disappearances or setting up systems to find people once they are missing, according to InsightCrime. In 2019, he and other Mexican leaders pledged to identify all the bodies and genetic material that had been found in unmarked graves around the country. The coronavirus pandemic and the sheer size of the task have stalled the project.

Mexican lawmakers have proposed linking cell phone data to a biometric registry – fingerprints, facial recognition and other physical characteristics. They believe the registry would curb kidnapping, Reuters wrote. The measure has triggered a backlash from critics who say it would compromise privacy – autocratic countries like China and Saudi Arabia tend to require biometric data.

Regardless, a high-tech solution might not get to the heart of the matter, say critics. And until something or someone does, tens of thousands of friends and family of the disappeared will continue to grieve, in limbo.



Masks Versus Veils

Swiss voters narrowly approved a controversial proposal to outlaw full-face coverings in public, a move seen by civil rights activists as discriminatory against Switzerland’s Muslim minority, ABC News reported Monday.

Provisional results of Sunday’s national referendum showed that more than 51 percent supported the ban, which will make it illegal to completely cover one’s face in public – except, of course, for masks to prevent transmission of Covid-19.

The new measures include bans on full-face coverings in restaurants, shops and streets and make it illegal to wear traditional Muslim garb such as burqas and niqabs.

However, there are exceptions for religious sites, too.

The government will have two years to draft legislation for the nationwide ban.

Switzerland now joins other European countries including France and Denmark that have banned full facial coverings.

Human rights organizations, however, criticized the ban as discriminatory against the country’s Muslim community which makes up 5.5 percent of Switzerland’s 8.5 million population.


Poverty and Bombs

A series of blasts rocked the port city of Bata in Equatorial Guinea this week, killing at least 98 people and injuring more than 600, the BBC reported Monday.

Officials said that badly stored dynamite and stubble burning by nearby farmers caused the huge explosion that damaged nearly every building and home in the country’s largest city.

Authorities said the death toll could rise as some victims remain trapped in the rubble.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema called the explosion an accident and blamed it on the “negligence” of those tasked with storing the dynamite and munitions at the Nkoantoma military base, according to the Washington Post.

He ordered an investigation into the blast and appealed to the international community for aid.

Africa’s only Spanish-speaking country, Equatorial Guinea gained independence from Spain in 1968.

Obiang has been ruling the impoverished country since a 1979 coup and has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations. Despite being rich in oil and timber, more than half of its 1.5 million population live in poverty, according to the United Nations and World Bank.


Offense, Defense

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi assured the European Union this week that China will take steps to ratify laws against forced labor even as it stopped short of presenting an immediate action plan, Politico reported.

The issue of forced labor has become a major point of contention for EU lawmakers as they prepare to review the EU-China investment plan signed in December.

Critics claim that the deal fails to address concerns over the labor conditions of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. Tens of thousands are allegedly in forced labor camps.

Wang said that China has agreed to make “continued and sustained efforts” to pursue the ratification of two International Labor Organization clauses on forced labor.

He praised the bloc for agreeing to the investment pact with China while noting that the deal is not meant to drive “a wedge between the US and Europe.”

China’s top diplomat also defended Beijing’s overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system, saying that the territory had “no democracy whatsoever” before its handover from Britain to China in 1997.


Lost Pilgrims

India’s Roopkund Lake is not the average tourist destination by any stretch of the imagination.

Known as the “mystery lake,” this remote place is about 16,500 feet above sea level on Trisul mountain and is strewn with hundreds of skeletons whose origins have perplexed researchers for decades, the BBC reported.

Since its discovery in 1942, archeological teams have found the remains of an estimated 600-800 people around the body of water, which they later dubbed the “lake of skeletons.”

Scientists aren’t exactly clear what happened there but a new comprehensive study has shed some light on the origins of the bones – and added some additional questions.

An international research team found that the individuals were genetically diverse and their deaths were separated in time by as much as 1,000 years. Their findings showed one group was “closely related” to people living in present-day Europe, particularly those living on the Greek island of Crete.

The team also found no evidence of a plague, weapons or goods, concluding that the isolated lake was not a battle site nor a trade route.

However, credible accounts and evidence taken from local temples suggest the ancient people might have been pilgrims traveling the area who later met their demise in a “mass death during a pilgrimage event.”

But big questions still linger about the European group: Did they travel that vast distance to attend a Hindu pilgrimage?

“We are still searching for answers,” said lead author Eadaoin Harney.

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 29,045,447 (+0.16%)
  2. India: 11,244,786 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 11,051,665 (+0.29%)
  4. Russia: 4,293,750 (+0.22%)
  5. UK: 4,235,989 (+0.11%)
  6. France: 3,969,612 (+0.14%)
  7. Spain: 3,160,970 (+0.38%)
  8. Italy: 3,081,368 (+0.45%)
  9. Turkey: 2,793,632 (+0.48%)
  10. Germany: 2,514,691 (+0.24%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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