Washington, DC—September 26 marks the fifth anniversary since 43 students from Ayotzinapa, in Mexico’s southwest state of Guerrero, were attacked by Mexican security forces and forcibly disappeared. The Mexican government has yet to provide a conclusive account of what happened to the students: the whereabouts of the victims remain unknown and the government has failed to secure a single conviction for those responsible. In recent weeks troubling new developments have occured as dozens of individuals accused of participating in the students’ disappearance—including a main suspect—have been set free due to investigative irregularities committed by former officials in the case. Other suspects could soon be released for the same reason.
As WOLA lays out in a new commentary about the status of the case, these releases underscore the grave deficiencies and obstruction of justice committed by former officials in the Ayotzinapa investigation, as well as the challenges facing the López Obrador administration in bringing truth and justice to the victims’ families. The WOLA analysis also underscores the steps the Mexican government must take to address the country’s broader crisis of over 47,000 unresolved disappearance cases.
“Like the thousands of other families of the disappeared in Mexico, the 43 Ayotzinapa students’ families have waited far too long for answers about what happened to their loved ones,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights. “The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador must take urgent steps to address the grave irregularities committed by former public officials in the Ayotzinapa investigation. This is critical to preventing the release of additional key suspects and to finally uncovering the truth about the students’ whereabouts.”
The Mexican federal judge’s recent determination to release the suspects echoes the findings of various national and international human rights organizations and technical experts regarding human rights violations and other irregularities committed by public officials in the Ayotzinapa investigation during President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term. In total, 77 out of the 142 individuals detained in relation to the case have so far been released. Many of the remaining individuals currently detained in relation to the case have also reported irregularities in their detention, meaning more suspects who may have been involved in the students’ disappearance may soon be released.
Since taking office in December, President López Obrador has pledged to make resolving the Ayotzinapa case a priority for his administration. His government established a Presidential Commission for Truth and Justice to supervise the Ayotzinapa investigation. There is also now an investigative unit fully dedicated to the case within the new, independent National Prosecutor’s Office. As a sign of his commitment, López Obrador has held four meetings with the students’ families to discuss ways to bring progress in the investigation.
On September 18, López Obrador participated as a witness in a meeting between the students’ families, their legal representatives, National Prosecutor Alejandro Gertz Manero, and the lead prosecutor heading the Ayotzinapa investigation, Omar Gómez Trejo. Gómez Trejo promised to begin a new investigation, discarding elements obtained through illegal investigative actions and recovering evidence that could strengthen key lines of inquiry. In the meeting, Gomez Trejo also reported that his team is working to challenge any additional acquittals, affirming that he will present the courts with further evidence against the suspects.
“The Lopez Obrador administration has made an important commitment to right the wrongs of its predecessor and conduct an honest, credible investigation into those responsible for the 43 students’ disappearance as well as those who obstructed justice in the original probe,” said Meyer. “The new government has a critical opportunity to finally get to the bottom of this case and bring truth and justice to the victims and their families.”
Read WOLA’s new commentary on progress and setbacks in the Ayotzinapa case since President López Obrador took office, as well as challenges that remain in addressing Mexico’s broader disappearances crisis.