MEXICO CITY — The discovery of 129 bodies in clandestine graves during months of searching for 43 missing students highlights a crisis of disappearances in Mexico, Amnesty International said Monday.
The international human rights watchdog called the situation troubling not only in the state of Guerrero, where the students disappeared last September, but in other parts of the country.
"This latest macabre revelation confirms what we had already found: The sheer magnitude of the crisis of enforced disappearances in Guerrero and elsewhere in Mexico is truly shocking," Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty's Americas director, said in a statement.
According to the most recent figures provided by the Interior Department, nearly 25,000 people are officially listed as missing or disappeared in Mexico since 2007.
Amnesty's statement came in response an Associated Press report Sunday in which federal officials, acting on a freedom of information request, said the bodies had been found in 60 clandestine graves between October and May. Only 16 of the remains had been identified as of July 13.
Amnesty considers "enforced disappearances" to be those that happen at the hands of or with the complicity of authorities. It is not known how many of the 129 victims may fit that description.
None of the corpses have been matched to the students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers college, who disappeared after a deadly clash with police Sept. 26 in the city of Iguala. Prosecutors say the 43 students were seized by police, handed over to drug gang members, killed and incinerated at a garbage dump.
The victims' families and many others doubt the official story, however. Relatives continue to pressure the government for an account they deem credible, and the high-profile case has drawn international attention to the broader problem of people going missing in regions afflicted by drug cartel violence.
"If it weren't for the persistent determination of the families of the Ayotzinapa students, as well as human rights defenders and journalists in demanding from the Mexican authorities a comprehensive response to the enforced disappearance of the young men, we might never even have known about these mass graves and the dimensions of the crisis," Guevara-Rosas said.
Since the students' disappearance, community police groups, victims' relatives, activists and authorities have collaborated to search for clandestine graves. Each Sunday they comb the hills around Iguala looking for any sign of disturbance to the terrain, marking anything they find and then reporting it to forensic experts.
The number of bodies and graves found could possibly be higher, the federal attorney general's office said, because its response to the freedom of information request covers only those instances in which its mass grave specialists got involved.
Of the 25,000 people listed by the government as missing, more than 11,000 of the cases were registered since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office Dec. 1, 2012.
Pena Nieto's government has agreed to create a national database of the disappeared that would be comprehensive and include DNA evidence.
Associated Press writer Maria Verza contributed to this report. Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi