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06.10.22
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Ayotzinapa: the search for truth and justice continues eight years on

Familiares de los 43 estudiantes desaparecidos durante una protesta pidiendo una adecuada investigación @Centro Prodh

It has been eight years since the tragic events of 26 September 2014, when 43 young people studying to become rural teachers at the Ayotzinapa school in the Mexican state of Guerrero were forcibly disappeared. Six more people were killed and several others injured. For almost 3,000 days, their families have been searching for them and demanding to know their whereabouts but have yet to receive truth or justice.

Since the students’ disappearance, their mothers and fathers, who come from some of the country's poorest regions, have been out in search of them. Their demands have come up against the passivity of State authorities but have also won the solidarity of various national and international actors. In the face of State negligence and together with the organisations supporting them, they took the unprecedented step of founding the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes, GIEI) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos) at the end of 2014.

The GIEI, composed of independent international experts, has brought to light the many omissions and irregularities in the investigation carried out by the Mexican Attorney General's Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) and has made some progress towards uncovering the truth. Indeed, on the night of their disappearance, the students were subjected to an excessively violent operation involving authorities at various levels–including federal–and the military, who, acting in concert with organised crime, sought to stop the trucks in which the students were travelling, which–unbeknownst to the students–were involved in drug trafficking operations conducted in the region with the complicity of the State.

New information has confirmed that the enforced disappearance of 43 students was a State crime

The victims’ families’ persistence meant that the investigation has remained open despite attempts to close the case (with a version of the facts obtained by torture and other irregularities) and their ongoing criminalisation under previous governments.

With the arrival of the new government in December 2018, a Commission for Access to Truth and Justice (Comisión para el Acceso a la Verdad y la Justicia, COVAJ) was formed, in which government authorities, the victims’ families, their legal representatives and experts from GIEI participated. A Special Investigation and Litigation Unit (Unidad Especial de Investigación y Litigación) for the Ayotzinapa case was also formed within the FGR, which is overseeing the criminal investigation. This institutional coordination model aimed to overcome the multiple obstacles the case has faced and to open the way for truth and justice on behalf of the victims.

Since then, significant progress has been made. On the one hand, just last month, COVAJ released information regarding the military’s responsibility for the acts of enforced disappearance, confirming that the enforced disappearance of 43 students was a State crime. On the other hand, the remains of two students were identified in a different place from the alleged crime scene described in the original investigation. This further confirmed the fallacy of the case theory initially presented to the public by the former Mexican Attorney General (Procurador General de la República), Jesús Murillo Karam.

There are more than 105,000 missing persons officially recorded in Mexico

Yet despite this progress, one major obstacle remains: the Mexican Armed Forces have been reluctant to hand over valuable information showing that the military constantly monitored the students from the time of their disappearance. Furthermore, the FGR has failed to reverse institutional inertia, pressed inadequate charges against high-level perpetrators and requested the cancellation of some arrest warrants, while the Attorney General has even unduly interfered in the work of the Special Investigation and Litigation Unit for the Ayotzinapa case. Worryingly, the head of this Special Unit, in whom the relatives of the victims and the case’s legal representatives have placed their trust based on his work over the last three years, resigned from his post on 27 September 2022.

Nonetheless, new information has recently come to light. Firstly, COVAJ submitted a report again detailing the multiple obstructions to justice in the previous administration but also revealing information on who participated and gave orders on the night of the disappearance. The GIEI is still checking the reliability of this information at the request of the victims’ families. Secondly, new high-level arrests have been made, including that of the former Attorney General, Jesús Murillo Karam, in August 2022, for his role in fabricating what turned out to be the false ‘historical truth’ of the case. These measures must, however, be bolstered and accompanied by solid evidence and due process; only then can they offer an opportunity for truth and justice.

The Ayotzinapa case highlighted the extent of the crisis concerning enforced disappearances in Mexico. Sadly, this crisis persists, with more than 105,000 missing persons now officially recorded. The case also demonstrated the degree of collusion between State institutions and organised crime which operates in much of the country, as well as the huge obstacles that victims’ families face in accessing truth and justice. That is why supporting the legitimate demand to reveal the whereabouts of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa is a commitment to addressing one of Mexico's deepest, most agonising pains.

This blog post was authored by staff members at the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Centre of Human Rights (Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez) or Centro Prodh in Mexico, who represents the families of the missing students. Centro Prodh is a member of OMCT's SOS-Torture Network.

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