One year on from disappearance of Mexican students, reckless investigation shows government cover-up
The Mexican authorities’ reckless handling of an investigation into the enforced disappearance of 43 trainee teachers a year ago this week, exposes a scandalous cover-up orchestrated by the highest levels of government, said Amnesty International today
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, said:
“The Ayotzinapa tragedy is one of the worst human rights tragedies in Mexico’s recent history. It has exposed how anyone can be forcibly disappeared into thin air in the country with those in power focused on covering up the traces. Unless President Peña Nieto takes real action now he will continue to be seen around the world as an enabler of horrors.
“The Mexican government’s unshakable determination to convince the world that the students were killed by a drug gang and their remains burned in a rubbish container is distracting from any other valuable lines of investigation. In particular, they should look into the military and law enforcement agencies’ role in the tragedy after they failed to take action despite being aware of the abuses against the students as they were taking place.”
The 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teacher Training College (widely known simply as "Escuela Rural de Ayotzinapa”) were forcibly disappeared after being arrested by municipal police on their way to a demonstration in Mexico City on the night of 26 September last year.
Since then, the remains of one of the students, 19-year-old Alexander Mora Venancio, have been identified. They were allegedly found in a rubbish bag in a local river. The authorities have recently claimed that a bone that belongs to another Ayotzinapa student, 20-year-old Jhosivani Guerrero de la Cruz, was found in the same bag. However, experts from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team investigating the disappearances said that the very specific DNA test run on the remains was inconclusive.
An Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also refuted the Mexican government’s official account of events. In a report made public on 6 September, they said it was scientifically impossible for that number of bodies to have been burned in a rubbish container in the conditions claimed by the authorities.
Other deep failures in the official investigation into the students’ enforced disappearance include the reckless handling of key forensic evidence, some of which was never processed at all.
Officials who first arrived in Iguala the night the students were arrested did not take pictures, or collect blood, hair, clothes or fingerprints. Whole areas of the crime scene were not processed at all.
Mexican authorities have also barred the independent experts from interviewing soldiers of the 27th infantry battalion, based in the town where the students were arrested. Declassified intelligence documents have since revealed that military officers in Iguala knew about the illegal detentions and the abuses against the students.
Since the students were detained and forcibly disappeared, more than 100 people were arrested in relation to the disappearances (roughly 50% police officers and 50% alleged members of criminal gangs). Some of them have claimed they were tortured into confessing to abducting the students.
Erika Guevara-Rosas said:
“If the government is convinced the military do not have any relevant information to provide, what are they so worried about? Concealing local soldiers from the investigations raises alarming questions.
“The lack of transparency and the way the students’ relatives are being treated is astonishing, even by the standards of a country that seems utterly incapable of tackling human rights abuses.
“Mexican authorities must stop playing games with the relatives of the Ayotzinapa students. They must urgently redirect investigations and, amongst other measures, allow independent experts access to all crematoriums in and near Iguala.”
Human rights crisis
Since the enforced disappearance of the students, at least 70 mass graves containing the remains of dozens of people have been uncovered. Most of those bodies have not been identified yet.
The disappearance of the students happened in the context of a national human rights crisis with more than 26,500 people disappeared or missing in Mexico in the last few years, almost half of them during the current administration of President Peña Nieto.