Another Painful Anniversary for the Families of the 43 Disappeared Ayotzinapa Students Reflects Government’s Lack of Action on Disappearances in Mexico

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Author: Daniella Burgi-Palomino

April 26, 2017 marks another painful anniversary of the egregious attacks on the students of the Ayotzinapa rural teacher’s school in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. It marks two years and seven months that the families of the 43 disappeared students have been searching for their loved ones and seeking justice in the case. It also represents one year since the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), which had been accompanying the government in the investigation of the case, presented their second and final report and left Mexico. And with five months to go before the three-year anniversary of the attacks on the students on September 26th and 27th 2014, there is still little to show in terms of progress on the case.

Incidents from the beginning of this year show that the Mexican government continues to cover up the truth around the case. In February 2017, the government rejected a previous report that had outlined the involvement of government officials in misconduct and in obstructing justice by purposely leaving evidence out of the case files. The author of the original report, the inspector general within the Attorney General’s office, César Alejandro Chávez Flores, resigned shortly after presenting the report internally. His report was never released to the public and instead, a new report was shared with the families and their representatives. The new report did not include any of the wrongdoings Chávez Flores had highlighted.

 Ayotzinapa protest IACHR
Several parents of the missing
Ayotzinapa students outside the IACHR,
March, 2017
Photo: Emma Buckhout

The Follow-up Mechanism backed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which has operated since November 2016 to support the Mexican government in the investigation of the case, made its second visit to Mexico on April 20and 21, 2017. The members of the Follow-up Mechanism held meetings with the families of the disappeared students at the Ayotzinapa rural teacher’s school. They also met with Mexico’s new Attorney General, Raúl Cervantes, and high-level officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, the Interior Ministry, the National Human Rights Commission, representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Luis Videgaray. Upon completion of their visit the Mechanism expressed grave concerns about the slow pace of progress being made in the case.

Overall, the members of the IACHR Follow-up Mechanism were concerned by the lack of progress in the search for the students and in the areas of investigation identified by the Independent Group of Experts in their final report. Though the Mexican government has arrested over 100 people for the case, not one person has been prosecuted for the crime of enforced disappearance, and no new charges have been filed since December 2015. The IACHR was also concerned with recent statements by the Mexican government from March 2017 reiterating that the hypothesis on the incineration of the 43 students at the trash dump of Cocula should still be considered even though the Group of Experts and scientific studies have proven this to be impossible.

The Mexican government did share with the Follow-up Mechanism some limited progress on contracting LIDAR technology (laser search technology) in the search for the students, investigating telephone communications, and providing medical care to two of the students injured on the night of the attacks. However, the Follow-up Mechanism concluded that much more progress is needed in the next six months in expanding the search area for the missing students, creating a database of graves to be searched across the country, investigating the role of all security forces and high level government officials involved and investigating the possibility of heroin trafficking to the United States. The next official visit of the Follow-up Mechanism to Mexico will be in July 2017. The Mechanism has a mandate to continue work until it completes its objectives.

The families of the students are currently leading a sit-in outside the Attorney General’s office following a dissatisfactory meeting between them and Mexican government officials on the case. They demand that the government demonstrate progress in investigating local and federal police, the military, the former local governor of Guerrero, and following up on other lines of investigation. Yet, rather than having their concerns and pain acknowledged, they encountered more hostility. Several of the family members protesting were attacked with tear gas.

One year after the GIEI left Mexico and five months before the third year anniversary of the disappearance of the students, the majority of the GIEI’s recommendations still have not been met. The case is an emblematic example of the Mexican government’s failure to address the issue of disappearances across the country. The Mexican government has yet to pass a General Law on Disappearances, and the latest draft versions of the law have backtracked from improvements suggested by collectives of family members, especially on the implementation of a National Search Commission.

On yet another sad anniversary without justice, the Latin America Working Group stands with the families of the 43 disappeared students and the thousands of disappeared family collectives across Mexico. We urge the Mexican government to take this case seriously once and for all and to demonstrate progress in the next six months in the areas outlined by the Follow-up Mechanism. We also call on the United States government to hold the Mexican government accountable to implementing mechanisms to address the widespread nature of enforced disappearances in the country, including searching for the disappeared, investigating, and sanctioning the crime.

     Ayotzinapa April-May 2017 Infographic

Click here to download our short infographic on the state of the Ayotzinapa case over two years later >> 






For all of our materials on the case from 2016 see our Resource Page.