Mexico has made a priority of passing laws against forced disappearances and perfecting a database to track missing people, the country's permanent representative to the U.N. in Geneva said Monday.

Mexico's delegation faced the first of two days of questions from the U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances, which is monitoring implementation of the 2006 International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The meeting came at a difficult time for Mexico, with the September disappearance of 43 college students at the hands of local police having captured the world's attention. Family members of some of the missing students were present as committee members asked Mexican officials about the case's investigation.

"The causes of this (the student disappearances) I believe have little to do with the institutional framework and more to do with the temporary situation that some parts of the country find themselves in, specifically the state of Guerrero," Mexican Ambassador Jorge Lomonaco said in an interview after the meeting.

Still, he said passage of a law put forward in late November that lays out the charges and penalties for forced disappearances would be a "fundamental tool."

According to the latest official figures, there are 23,271 people missing or not located in Mexico, of which 621 are being sought by the federal Attorney General's Office's Search Unit. The numbers were provided by the office's general prosecutor for human rights, Eliana Garcia, on Jan. 19 to a forum in the Chamber of Deputies.

According to Mexico's attorney general, the students from a rural teacher college in Ayotzinapa were detained by police in the city of Iguala and then handed over to the Guerreros Unidos gang, which killed them, burned the remains and disposed of the ashes in a river. DNA evidence has confirmed the identity of only one of the students, leaving the victims' families skeptical of the government's account.

The Mexican delegation told the U.N. committee that the investigation is continues.

Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, Mexico's undersecretary for multilateral affairs and human rights, told the committee that "the forced disappearance of the students from Ayotzinapa makes it clear, once again, that we must continue paying attention to the problems associated with poverty, exclusion and corruption, to confront organized crime and the violence that goes along with it."

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Associated Press writer Maria Verza in contributed to this report.