As we move into 2016, only four months remain for the Group of Experts investigating the enforced disappearance of 43 students in Mexico. Progress in the investigation continues; however, with time dwindling, it is crucial that the Mexican government fully accept that its original theory about what happened to the students was incorrect and move quickly to pursue the new lines of investigation proposed by the Experts.
In November 2014, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes, GIEI) was appointed by the Inter-American Commissionon Human Rights (IACHR) following a request from the Mexican government and the families of the disappeared students for technical assistance in the investigation of the case.
In September 2015, after six months of work, the Group of Experts published its initial findings of the investigation, which, among other conclusions, scientifically disproved the Mexican government’s original theory that the students’ bodies had been burned in a trash dump. The Experts called for new lines of investigation to be opened in order to establish the truth about the disappeared students, including investigating the possible connection to drug trafficking as a motive for the attacks. In October 2015, the Group of Experts signed a new agreement with the Mexican government to provide technical assistance in the case for a period of six additional months. Since the renewal of the mandate, here are the three key developments in the case:
- The investigation was transferred to the authority of the human rights prosecutor’s office (Subprocuraduría de Derechos Humanos) of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) and a new team of government investigators was assigned to work with Group of Experts. This move is essential given that the previous team of investigators—under the prosecutor for organized crime—was responsible for the government’s original, flawed, investigation.
- Satellite images from night of the students’ disappearance provided to the Experts do not show evidence of a fire in the trash dump where the Mexican government claims the disappeared students were killed and incinerated, nor anywhere near this area. Additionally, a meteorological study of the weather reveals moderate rainfall in the area on the night of the students’ disappearance. These documents provide further evidence supporting the Experts’ conclusion that the 43 disappeared students were not burned at the trash dump.
- The government is investigating reports of torture among the detained suspects in the case. The Group of Experts revealed that PGR medical reports show that that 70% of the detainees in the case had injuries indicative of torture or mistreatment. Confirmation of torture would further undermine the credibility of the government’s initial investigation. For example, four individuals, whose testimonies served as the basis for the government’s theory that the students had been burned at the trash dump, claim they were tortured, including Patricio Reyes Landa, whose case was highlighted in a recent The Wall Street Journal article.