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Ayotzinapa One Year Later: Calling for Justice for the 43 Students

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Authors: Daniella Burgi-Palomino, Emma Buckhout

by Daniella Burgi-Palomino and Emma Buckhout, October 30, 2015

Over one year has passed since the horrific attacks on 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college in Guerrero, Mexico, and their whereabouts are still unknown. The Mexican government’s investigation of the case has been slow, inadequate, and has largely ignored the needs of the students’ families. Throughout the past year, the family members have had to do what no mother or father should ever have to do—search for the bodies of their missing children and demand justice.

Ayotzinapa Protest 
Protest outside of the State Department Building in Washington, DC on the six- month anniversary of the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa Students. Photograph by Angelika Albaladejo.

The Latin America Working Group has been working hard to ensure that the families’ search is not forgotten or ignored. Together with allies, we raised the Ayotzinapa case as evidence of the Mexican government’s lack of progress toward meeting the human rights conditions required by the U.S. Congress for security assistance to be released to the country under the Merida Initiative. This past July, thanks in huge part to your passionate calls and emails, 82 members of the House to signed a letter to Secretary Kerry expressing their concern regarding the human rights situation and urging for the defense of human rights to be a central part of the U.S. bilateral agenda with Mexico. LAWG and partners urged the Senate to do likewise, and on September 26, 2015, the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of the 43 students, twelve senators sent a letter to Secretary Kerry urging him to emphasize the importance of advancing the Ayotzinapa investigation with the Mexican government.
Your outreach and these letters have provided critical international support for the ongoing work of the Interdisciplinary Group of Experts: the team appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and mandated to monitor the investigation of the disappeared students. On September 6, 2015, the group published its six-month report with findings that discredited the official government version to date. Contrary to what the Mexican government had said for months, the report stated that there was no scientific proof that the students had been incinerated in a nearby waste dump. It also confirmed the presence of municipal police forces, members of the army and the federal police during various attacks against the students and their complete failure to protect the victims. The Group of Experts called for new investigations into the rea- sons why the students were attacked in the aggressive manner that they were, including the possible presence of drugs on the buses they were on. Finally, the report highlighted the grave situation of disappearances on a national level in Mexico and the lack of mechanisms to search for and identify the missing.

In the face of these serious inconsistencies between the official government version and what the Group of Experts found, LAWG expressed full support for the final report and called for the immediate implementation of the report’s recommendations. In October, LAWG and partners sent a letter to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed by various experts from the U.S. and abroad asking his administration to continue the search for the students, re-orient the lines of investigation, allow the Group of Experts to interview all of the authorities implicated in the attacks, guarantee quality of attention to all victims and resolve the issue of forced disappearances in Mexico by implementing mechanisms to address the situation.

Ayotzi Protest
Felipe Sandoval, a teacher at the Ayotzinapa school and father of a student present during the September 26, 2014 attack, protests in Washington, DC with local activists. Photograph by Angelika Albaladejo

The IACHR and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have also called for the full support and implementation of the Group of Experts’ recommendations in recent site visits to Mexico, reiterating that the situation in the country represents “a serious human rights crisis characterized by a situation of extreme insecurity and violence and disappearances of critical proportions.”

We also remembered the lives of each of the students and recognized their families’ bravery in searching for their loved ones throughout the past year. The father of Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre, one of the disappeared students, joined a group of other parents and traveled across the U.S. to raise awareness on the case, remembering his son’s pas- sion for folkloric dancing matched only by his dedication to becoming a teacher one day. Several of the 43 students wanted to teach in isolated and poor communities and were deeply passionate about social justice.

At LAWG we believe that constant and strong pressure from U.S. policymakers and from international experts is necessary to ensure the implementation of the Group of Experts’ recommendations and to bring justice and answers to the 43 disappeared students and their families once and for all. So far, only one of the student’s remains has been identified. Recently, authorities announced that they had identified the remains of a second student, but independent forensic ex- perts called those results into question. On the anniversary of the student’s disappearance, 530 LAWG supporters sent a message to Secretary Kerry to stand with the students’ families in their ongoing fight—we will continue to keep up the pressure!

Despite over 25,000 officially recorded disappearances in the country, senior Mexican officials continue to state that the Ayotzinapa case doesn’t represent the national reality and that the human rights violations highlighted by civil society are only isolated incidents. These statements reflect the continuing trend of denials by government officials of the gravity of the massive human rights violations taking place in Mexico.

We’ll need your help to ensure that the 43 disappeared students don’t become another statistic reflecting the lack of justice in Mexico. The families of the 43 students and the thousands of other families left without answers on the whereabouts of their loved ones deserve better. Their suffering and their fight for justice are trials that no parent should have to face.

This article originally appeared in The Advocate, LAWG’s biannual newsletter. Download the Fall 2015 issue of The Advocate here.