Authors: Daniella Burgi-Palomino, Emma Buckhout
By Daniella Burgi-Palomino and Emma Buckhout, February 23, 2016
On February 21, 2016, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI by its Spanish acronym) presented an update on the progress and challenges they are facing in the second phase of their mandate to investigate the September 2014 enforced disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college in Mexico. The GIEI was appointed in November 2014 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in agreement with the Mexican government and the students’ families and given a six-month mandate to search for the students, thoroughly pursue all possible lines of investigation, accompany the victims and their families, and provide policy recommendations regarding forced disappearances in Mexico. Following the release of its report in September 2015, which signaled numerous lines of investigation to be continued, and at the request of the members of the GIEI, the victims they are accompanying, and Mexican and international civil society organizations, the Group’s mandate was extended for an additional six months in October 2015.
In their opening statements at their latest press conference, the five members of the GIEI recognized some important steps forward in the case: the transfer of the case from the Unit for Organized Crime (Subprocuradoría Especializada en Investigación de la Delincuencia Organizada or SEIDO by its Spanish acronym) to the new Human Rights Unit (Subprocuradría de Derechos Humanos) within the Federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la Republica, PGR by its Spanish acronym); the creation of the new team that will move forward the investigation with the incorporation of members of the GIEI and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF by its Spanish acronym); and the expansion of the search for the disappeared students in various locations near the city of Iguala.
However, the rest of the press conference emphasized the obstacles and challenges the GIEI has faced and continues to face throughout its investigation. Many of these obstacles are not new, LAWGEF and partners have repeatedly expressed concern over the Mexican government’s lack of compliance with several requests crucial to the GIEI’s investigation and reluctance to let go of disproved theories, as well as public defamation campaigns throughout the duration of the GIEI investigation.
The GIEI raised the issue of alleged leaks to the press surrounding new arrests made by the PGR with the intention to sustain the theory that the students were incinerated at the Cocula trash dump, even though the GIEI’s September 2015 report and the recent EAAF report both refuted it. The arrests brought forth another version of events from the night of September 26th which alleges that only 17 of the 43 students were incinerated at the trash dump—a version of events “not backed up by the testimonies from arrests or other factors,” Claudia Paz y Paz stated. This version of events had also never been included as one of the possible theories in the GIEI’s final report. LAWGEF is concerned by these efforts to try to revive the trash dump theory at any cost.
Further, the GIEI expressed concern around the alleged “fragmentation” of the Ayotzinapa investigation, referring to the ways in which at least 12 previous investigation files pertaining to the disappearance of the 43 students continue to be filed within SEIDO and as such do not form a part of the official Ayotzinapa investigation case file. These include the arrest of one of the presumed lead perpetrators, Gilberto López Astudillo “El Cabo Gil,” as well as the file on the identification of bone remains found in another location in Guerrero that were not processed according to protocols established with the families of the disappeared students. The GIEI has not received access to all of these disperse files and requested access, stating that “any relevant information that is not added to the official file of the 43 disappeared students is an obstacle to the investigation.” The GIEI also noted the temporary legal protection provided to twenty-two municipal police officers charged with the assassination of one of the students and attacks against the 43 as another major obstacle to pursuing justice in the case.
The GIEI signaled the negative effects of the duration of the autopsy and DNA testing of one of the students, Julio Cesar Mondragon, on his family members. Bureaucratic processes and a lack of sensitivity to the families during the DNA testing process that took over three months were highlighted as harmful practices, causing unnecessary suffering for the victims’ families. The GIEI announced that it is working on a report to document the overall psychological impacts of the investigation on the families.
The GIEI reiterated their continued demands to be present to interview the members of the 27th military battalion as well as to obtain access to videos and photos of the attacks against the students currently being held by the Secretary of the National Defense. Neither has yet been granted to date.
Finally, the GIEI members highlighted the attacks and defamation campaign that have targeted them in recent weeks, declaring that these efforts seek to “close the space for truth, generate confusion and insult members of the group” and demanding that they end immediately.
In closing, the GIEI reiterated its mandate, its demands to pursue an investigation around the theory of the fifth bus and the possible motive of drug trafficking behind the disappearance of the students. The five members urged the PGR to stop investigating and leaking arrests related to pursuing Cocula trash dump theory and to provide them with access to any and all information relating to the official investigation file.
For its part in its official press release, the PGR denied the majority of the obstacles that the GIEI’s presented, including the fragmentation of the official file and the leaks to the press surrounding additional arrests to back up the trash dump theory. The press release did not mention any details related to either interviewing members of the military battalion or the defamation campaign against the GIEI and as such the Mexican government continues to remain silent on key issues, calling into question its commitment to advancing the investigation.
LAWG continues to express concern about the manner in which the Ayotzinapa investigation is being handled by the Mexican government, around the obstacles being faced by the GIEI including attacks against its members, and urges the Mexican government and the new team investigating the case to address the irregularities presented this week by the GIEI and to move forward on their recommendations.
With only two months remaining of its mandate, timing is crucial to bring truth and justice to the families of the disappeared students. The Mexican government should not waste time and effort continuing to pursue the trash dump theory and any related, open investigations should be filed appropriately within the new Unit in the PGR’s office and made accessible to the members of the GIEI. LAWG stands behind the work of the GIEI and the EAAF in these efforts.
- See letter from LAWGEF and partners denouncing the defamation campaign against the GIEI here.
- For information on the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team’s report refuting the Mexican government’s Cocula trash dump theory, click here.
- For a summary and analysis of the GIEI’s September 2015 investigation report, click here.