An independent investigatory panel says security forces obstructed their efforts to investigate human the rights scandal.
An independent panel investigating the 2014 disappearance of 43 Mexican college students has issued a final report, implicating the country’s security forces but offering few definitive answers about the students’ fate.
In a presentation on Tuesday, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) said authorities from the country’s army, navy, intelligence services and police agencies knew the location of the abducted students, refuting their previous denials.
“They all collaborated to make them [the students] disappear,” GIEI panel member Carlos Beristain told a press conference before the presentation of the group’s sixth and final fact-finding report.
The kidnapping case — known as the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa 43 — has become the largest human rights scandal in modern Mexican history. But nearly a decade on, accountability and a clear understanding of what happened remain elusive.
— GIEI Ayotzinapa (@GIEIAYOTZINAPA) July 25, 2023
The panel — appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — said it faced consistent opposition and deception from Mexico’s security agencies, which have long faced scrutiny over alleged rights abuses and collaboration with criminal groups.
“They’ve lied to us, they’ve responded with falsehoods. We have no more information,” said Beristain. “We can’t investigate like this.”
The panel was critical of the government’s initial account of the event, which alleged that local police had acted in collaboration with local drug groups to kill the students, all of whom hailed from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College.
GIEI instead accused security forces of withholding key information, obstructing investigative efforts and using torture to extract false testimonies.
The students had been travelling on buses through the city of Iguala, en route to Mexico City for an annual protest, when they disappeared. They are all presumed dead.
The GIEI said it will depart the country next week, ending hopes that the administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would bring closure to the families of the victims.
“I’m devastated,” Cristina Bautista, the mother of one of the students, told the Washington Post. “How are we supposed to get to the truth if the experts leave?”
Of the 43 who were disappeared, the remains of only three have been recovered and formally identified.
Upon taking office in 2018, Lopez Obrador — who had been critical of the previous administration’s handling of the affair — created a “truth commission” and renewed the mandate of GIEI.
But critics say security forces have continued to act with impunity under Lopez Obrador, whose six-year term ends in September 2024.
The truth commission has also struggled to deliver results. In an interview last year with the New York Times, Alejandro Encinas — the head of the commission — admitted that “a very important percentage” of the evidence it collected had been “invalidated” due to flaws in its investigation.
The case has become emblematic of the opaque circumstances that often accompany disappearances in Mexico, where state forces sometimes collaborate with networks of illicit activities.
Last month, the former head of Mexico’s federal anti-kidnapping unit was arrested in connection with the Ayotzinapa case after being accused of torture and forced disappearances. Nevertheless, the government has yet to achieve a single conviction in the Ayotzinapa case.
Human rights advocates calling for justice in the Ayotzinapa case have also had their phones targeted by Pegasus spyware, a type of surveillance software which is supposed to be only available to government forces.