Relatives of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students marched yesterday to mark 19 months since they taken away by police, just days after the release of another damning report into the Mexican government’s handling of the investigation.
On Sunday, an international group of experts (GIEI) appointed in March 2015 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said that the government had “stonewalled” their investigation, thwarting efforts to find the truth.
The group, which is now leaving Mexico after the government chose not to renew its mandate, presented a 608-page document highlighting major doubts over the official version of what is alleged to have taken place in Iguala back in September 2014.
In January 2015, following what public prosecutor Jesús Murillo Karam classified as an “exhaustive” and “serious” investigation, the government concluded that the students were kidnapped then murdered by a drug cartel, with their remains incinerated in a nearby rubbish dump.
This version, called the “historic truth” by Karam, has been challenged by relatives of the missing students as well as various international groups.
The GIEI’s two comprehensive reports also debunk, as this theory. In September, the group said that there was “no scientific proof” to support the government’s verdict, adding that “things did not happen as described.”
In the follow up report released on Sunday, the group confirmed that it found inconsistencies, errors, omissions in the official investigation. It also stated that key evidence from testimonies and confessions from the alleged perpetrators was gathered “under torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.” Adopting United Nations guidelines relating to torture, the panel determined that 17 suspects were tortured. Forced confessions are not permitted in Mexican courts.
Further concerns were raised pertaining to the failure of the government to fully check phone records, which could have depicted where students were taken that night. Other doubts were raised over whether evidence – including a bone fragment identified as belonging to one of the victims, Alexander Mora – was gathered correctly.
Francisco Cox, a Chilean lawyer on the GIEI panel stated that he “has not a single piece of evidence” to warrant changing the existing conclusion that the 43 students were not incinerated as purported.
However, while challenging the official version, the panel lamented not being able to come up with definitive answers to what really happened that night. Claudia Paz, a GIEI member and former public prosecutor in Guatemala said that: “we are unable to respond to the question that we asked ourselves every night for the last year and a month and that all of the fathers and mothers still ask.”
In its presentation the group said that its progress had been stymied by a lack of cooperation by the government after the September report was released. It reported that requests for information were ignored or took a long time to be answered, while also claiming that a smear campaign was undertaken in local media. The report notes that: “The group has suffered a campaign trying to discredit its members as a way to question their work… certain sectors are not interested in the truth.”
The Mexican government denied these claims, saying it had cooperated fully and adding that it will continue to investigate the findings of the GIEI, which have criticised Mexico’s human rights record and exposed widespread corruption, negligence, and abuse in the country’s security forces and judicial system.
Alejandro Valencia, a Colombian lawyer who also forms part of the five-person panel explained on Sunday that: “The Ayotzinapa case has put the country at a crossroads, from which it has yet to emerge, and for that it needs a strengthening of the rule of law and of the defence, the guarantee and respect for human rights.”
Meanwhile, the premature departure of the GIEI group represents another blow for the relatives of the disappeared students, who continue to demand answers over the whereabouts of their loved ones.