Mexican teaching students still missing two years on
The case of the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students in Mexico is as shocking as it is baffling.
Nearly two years ago, students from a teachers’ training college in Mexico’s southwestern state of Guerrero were hauled off buses in the city of Iguala. Six people were shot and killed and 20 wounded.
Forty-three students have not been seen since.
Police involved in capture of teaching students
The Ayotzinapa Normal School trains people to become teachers in the state’s poorest rural schools. The students usually come from poor, indigenous families.
There were accusations that police and soldiers, who were stationed nearby, did nothing to help the students as they were under attack. An Amnesty International report quoting an independent panel said “the municipal, state and federal authorities had close to real-time awareness of what was happening as the crimes were being committed.”
What exactly happened that night is far from clear. But four months ago The New York Times published an account from witnesses who said that police officers encircled one of the buses, ‘detonated tear gas, punctured the tires and forced the college students off the bus. ”We’re going to kill all of you,” the officers warned, according to the bus driver.’ The students were put into police vehicles and taken away.
Government blocks the path to justice
Families of the missing, NGOs and human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, say the government is not doing enough to find the students.
From the beginning, the government’s investigation has been lacking. The Federal Attorney General’s office failed to secure footage from surveillance cameras, and failed to interview key witnesses – two of the bus drivers weren’t questioned until seven months after the kidnapping. One of the buses was never examined.
A few days after the disappearances, the Guerrero state authorities arrested 22 Iguala municipal police officers in connection with the attacks. Later, other officers and members of a drug cartel were detained. A number of them claimed that they were tortured to make them confess to involvement.
The government announced a few months later that the students had been killed by the local Guerreros Unidos criminal cartel and then burned in a garbage dump. An outside panel debunked this official account: At the dump site, there was no physical evidence of such a huge fire. The flames would have been seen for miles around and the earth scorched. Satellite images showed there was no fire on that night.
Besides the government investigations, several teams of independent, international experts have conducted inquiries. At least one panel has reported that they have been hampered in their attempts to get to the truth.
In April, a group from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said they could not solve the case because of an incessant campaign of harassment and stonewalling by the government.
"There seems to be no limit to the Mexican government's utter determination to sweep the Ayotzinapa tragedy under the carpet," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s Americas Director, referring to their accusations.
Mexico’s mass graves
While the security forces were digging up sites where the students might be buried, they discovered 60 mass graves scattered around Guerrero containing at least 129 bodies.
In fact, mass graves unrelated to this crime have been found all over the country. Just four months ago, 116 bodies were discovered in the central state of Morelos. A year ago, 31,000 bone fragments thought to belong to at least 31 bodies were unearthed from a pit in the northern state of Nuevo Leon.
The Ayotzinapa case highlighted the thousands of others--27,000 more or less--who have gone missing in Mexico since 2006. Many, like the students, were last seen in the custody of government agents, while others were kidnapped by gangs. There have been many complaints of military involvement in enforced disappearances.
In the last three years, Amnesty has published two detailed reports on disappearances in Mexico. Its most recent, ‘Treated with Indolence: the State’s Response to Disappearances in Mexico’, examines the Ayotzinapa case in detail.
The fight for truth
For now, the grief-stricken families of those missing students can only console themselves with the recent announcement that a special follow-up has been agreed upon between the government and the IACHR. One of the stipulations is that the experts will have complete access to the case and all other sources of information.
The case continues to provoke massive protests in Mexico and around the world. Demonstrations will take place in many countries including the UK, on 26 September to mark the second anniversary of the disappearances.
Amnesty UK has recently added this case to its portfolio. If your Amnesty group would like to work on it, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read updates on this and other cases in Mexico and Central America by following our team on Twitter: @AIUKCenAmerica.
by Tilly Lavenás, Amnesty UK Country Coordinator for Mexico
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.