Washington, DC—Three years after Mexican security forces launched a violent attack against students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college in Guerrero, Mexico, the Mexican government has yet to provide a conclusive account of what happened to 43 students who were forcibly disappeared the night of September 26, 2014. Nor has the government identified and convicted those responsible for the crime, and there has been no investigation into the officials who handled the case and who may have obstructed justice. According to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas, the unjustifiably slow progress in such a high-profile case casts significant doubt on the Mexican government’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law, and highlights the urgent need to continue supporting the students’ families in their search for truth and justice.
“The Mexican government’s failure to provide answers to the families about the whereabouts of their missing loved ones is unjustifiable,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA Senior Associate for Mexico. “The lack of progress in a case that the Mexican government has called ‘the most exhaustive investigation in the history of Mexico,’ along with mounting evidence that public officials obstructed justice and impeded the investigation, has come to symbolize the widespread impunity found within Mexico’s troubled criminal justice system and the government’s lack of political will to credibly investigate and sanction human rights violations.”
While the Mexican government’s main theory is that a criminal group killed and burned the 43 students at a trash dump, independent experts have found otherwise. This includes the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes, GIEI), which was established by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2014 to provide technical assistance to the Mexican government for the Ayotzinapa investigation. In its final report released in April 2016, the Group of Experts described the inconsistencies and negligence that marked the federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) probe. The report concluded that the government’s hypothesis about what happened to the students was scientifically impossible and based largely on testimony acquired through torture. Additionally, the report outlines several important lines of investigation that need to be clarified in the Ayotzinapa case, including the possibility that the students were targeted because they were unknowingly traveling in a bus containing heroin bound for the United States.
In their final report, the Group of Experts also issued specific recommendations for how the Mexican government can improve its approach to criminal investigations (including moving away from an over-reliance on witness testimony as evidence). They further emphasized the Mexican government’s need to adopt a more adequate legal framework for responding to widespread disappearances in the country. Last month, the IACHR expressed grave concern about the Mexican government’s lack of progress in enacting such a law, as well as its failure to fully and credibly explore the other lines of investigation in the Ayotzinapa case that were identified by the Group of Experts.
“More than 32,000 people have disappeared in Mexico in the last decade,” said Meyer. “If the Mexican government is dragging its feet in bringing justice to the Ayotzinapa students with the whole world watching, it is heartbreaking to think of how many more of the disappeared will face a similar fate. No family should have to face another year of not knowing what happened to their loved one. The Mexican government should not only fully investigate the case of the 43 students but also ensure justice for all disappeared victims and their families.”
Below is a select list of WOLA’s resources on the Ayotzinapa case: