A scathing report issued Sunday accuses the Mexican government of stonewalling an international probe into the disappearance of 43 students in September 2014, and Mexican police of torturing suspects in the case.
The 608-page report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—the fruit of an oft-obstructed, year-long investigation—was unveiled "at an emotional press conference on Sunday attended by some of the relatives of the missing students," according to VICE.
No high-ranking government officials showed up.
"There seems to be no limit to the Mexican government's utter determination to sweep the Ayotzinapa tragedy under the carpet," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, in response to the report.
Forty-three student-teachers, studying at a college in rural Ayotzinapa, went missing on Setember 26, 2014. The official government narrative is that that the students were abducted by a drug cartel and incinerated at a nearby trash dump under orders from the local mayor.
But the outside experts' report is skeptical of that storyline:
The report criticized the forensic investigations of human remains and evidence of fire at the garbage dump in the town of Cocula, Guerrero, saying that prosecutors had provided little evidence there ever could have been a fire a big enough at the site. It said the government had stuck by its version the students were killed and incinerated at the dump, despite evidence to the contrary, like 17 tree trunks found at the scene that showed little or no evidence of fire.
The report also found that the cell phone of one student had been used to send a message to his parents hours after he had supposedly been killed and his phone destroyed.
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There is also evidence that at least some of the students were loaded aboard pickup trucks by corrupt cops and taken in the opposite direction of the trash dump.
"It is clear that there was a latent rejection of any version other than the burning of the students at the Cocula dump, and they turned back to that scenario time after time, without investigating other police forces or state actors," the group said in its final report.
Such stonewalling by prosecutors "cannot be seen as partial or improvised obstacles," said the report. "These different situations aren't casual barriers, they are structural barriers to the investigation."
Indeed, said Guevara-Rosas said on Sunday: "By refusing to follow up all possible lines of investigation, manipulating evidence, failing to protect and support the student's relatives...and even failing to attend today's presentation, the Mexican authorities are sending the dangerous message that anyone can disappear in Mexico and nothing will be done about it."
The "enforced disappearance" of the Ayotzinapa 43 was just one of a "relentless wave of disappearances" taking place across the country, Amnesty charged earlier this year. According to official figures, the whereabouts of more than 27,000 people remain unknown in Mexico.
"The official response to the enforced disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students and the extrajudicial execution of three people is the tragic illustration of Enrique Peña Nieto's approach to human rights: hide or ignore the facts and hope for accusations to go away," she declared. "This is not only illegal but immoral and a slap on the face of the relatives who are still awaiting answers nearly two years on."
According to Latin America News Dispatch:
In earlier reports, the group of experts also found that federal police likely played a greater role in the attacks and denounced police and army personnel for failing to come to the aid of those who were injured that night; more detail was provided of police involvement, including evidence that federal officers diverted traffic from the site of the initial bus attack. The report further accuses prosecutors and officials working on the case of obstructing justice by not providing independent investigators with evidence in a timely fashion and refusing them access to a site where key evidence had been found, concluding that "there are sectors that aren’t interested in the truth."
Meanwhile, the Associated Press explains that the allegations of torture—17 of the approximately 110 suspects arrested in the case showed signs of beatings, according to the experts—"could endanger any chance of convictions in one of the highest-profile human rights cases in Mexican history, especially because the government's version of events...hangs in large part on the testimony of some drug gunmen who now say they were tortured into confessing."