On October 14, 2016 the University of Washington School of Law hosted a conference on Human Rights Abuses: Expose the Cover-ups. The morning panel of victims and activists heard from parent representatives of the forty-three students who were “disappeared” in September, 2014 and whose bodies have never been found. This human rights tragedy demands justice and an end to the cover-up.
A group of independent experts and jurists from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has presented a second and final report that seriously challenges the government’s findings in the case of the forty-three missing students from Ayotzinapa.
The dramatic saga began on the night of September 26, 2014, when forty-three student protesters disappeared in the southern state of Guerrero near Iguala after 100 students from a local teachers’ school had “borrowed” or commandeered a municipal bus to attend a demonstration in Mexico City. The Mexican government’s probe claimed the forty-three students were killed by a criminal/drug gang working in conspiracy with local police. The official report said the students’ bodies were burned in a nearby garbage dump. That version of events became known as the government’s “historic truth,” which the independent report and other forensics experts have challenged.
According to the report, there is no concrete evidence to support the claim that the students were burned in the garbage dump. The report hints the “confessions” that led to some of the government’s conclusions could have been manipulated, given that some of the key suspects who were arrested claim they were tortured by Mexican police during interrogation.
The Mexican government invited the group, known as GIEI, to conduct an independent investigation after media reports and other forensic experts found contradictions and loopholes in the Attorney General’s initial probe of the Ayotzinapa killings.
The final 608-page report of the GIEI, published online in April, 2016, specifically contradicts the government’s version of events about how the students’ bodies were disposed of. It also claims that Mexican officials potentially engaged in torture tactics to obtain confessions from suspects in custody.
In a testimony gathered by the GIEI investigators, suspect Patricio Reyes Landa, one of the men accused of participating in the attacks against the students, describes the torture he allegedly suffered at the hands of Mexican police:
“They went into the house and started kicking and beating me. They hauled me aboard a vehicle, they blindfolded me, tied my feet and hands, they began beating me again and gave me electric shocks, they put a rag over my nose and poured water on it. They gave me electric shocks on the inside of my mouth and my testicles. They put a bag on my face so I couldn’t breathe, several hours passed and later they would tell me that if someone ever asked if they had beaten me I should say I fell from a fence because if not they would go against my wife and daughters, they threatened they would turn me into pieces and throw me inside a bag…”
After the report came out, Deputy Attorney General for Human Rights Eber Betanzos confirmed that authorities are investigating complaints filed by thirty-one people who say they were tortured by Mexican officials in connection with the case.
The GIEI said the Mexican government tried to obstruct their investigation and did not give them enough time to keep digging. The government’s obstructionism suggests some Mexican officials were trying to cover-up certain aspects of the crime, the GIEI claims.
“The slowness on the answers requested by GIEI, the delay on many probe results, the denial to open other lines of investigation, cannot be read as simple improvised obstacles. These various situations show structural barriers to the investigation,” the experts claimed in the report.
“The investigation is even more fragmented than when it started,” one of the GIEI investigators said during the public presentation of the report on Sunday.
The timeline of these events is found on their official website and information on how to participate in the End Repression Caravan taking place in multiple cities across the United States throughout October and November can be accessed via the End the Repression flyer.
The fact remains that after more than a year of independent investigations into the disappearances of the forty-three students from Ayotzinapa, it’s still not clear what happened to them. What is clear is that the local and regional authorities, along with the Mexican government has continued to cover-up this human rights tragedy.