Families are demanding justice after a report released Sunday by independent experts refuted the Mexican government's official explanation for why 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero state disappeared last September.
The government concluded in January that the students were detained by local police then handed over to a criminal organization, which executed them and burned their bodies in a dump in Cocula.
But the group of independent experts, appointed by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the Organization of American States, determined after a six-month investigation that this claim is based on coerced witness testimony, possibly obtained through torture, and contradicted by physical evidence.
What's more, the report concluded that federal police and soldiers were present at some of the crime scenes and failed to intervene to prevent attacks on the students, only one of whose body has been identified.
The Boston Herald summarized:
The government said the Sept. 26 attack was a case of mistaken identity. But the group of experts assembled by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded in its report that it was violent and coordinated reaction to the students, who were hijacking buses for transportation to a demonstration and may have unknowingly interfered with a drug shipment on one of the buses. Iguala, the city in southern Guerrero state where that attacks took place, is known as a transport hub for heroin going to the United States, particularly Chicago, some of it by bus, the report said.
The report stated there were "deficiencies in the investigation, and work that remains to be done to bring justice for the families." It urged the Mexican government to keep searching for the students' remains, revisit the entire case, and investigate links between the government and criminal organizations.
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"The brutal actions shows the extent of impunity in which the state security forces acted along with organized crime," declared Carlos Beristain, one of the five investigators.
Felipe de la Cruz, a spokesperson for the parents of the missing students, said on Sunday that the families are demanding a meeting with the Mexican president, noting: "His Cabinet lied."
President Enrique Peña Nieto, for his part, claimed following the release of the report that he is ordering investigators to consider the recommendations.
But rights campaigners raised serious concerns about the government's trustworthiness. The investigators had previously criticized the Mexican government for refusing to cooperate with the investigation--and complained that key evidence was disappeared or destroyed.
"This report provides an utterly damning indictment of Mexico’s handling of the worst human rights atrocity in recent memory," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Even with the world watching and with substantial resources at hand, the authorities proved unable or unwilling to conduct a serious investigation."
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, expressed agreement: “Mexico is going through one of the worst human rights crisis of the last decades. The catalogue of failures in the search and investigation over the disappearance of the 43 students that the experts have reported is a massive stain on the Mexican government’s reputation, which they can only begin to reverse if they find those responsible."
The disappearances of the students, who all hail from a teacher's college, touched off massive nationwide protests against corruption, violence, and poverty.