Experts decry ‘black holes’ in probe of missing Mexican students

A panel of experts in Mexico has denounced shortcomings in the investigation of 43 missing Ayotzinapa college students.

A girl holding a red balloon joins a march for the missing 43 students
Protesters in Mexico City march in remembrance of the 43 missing college students, December 2022 [File: Raquel Cunha/Reuters]

A new report has identified failures in an investigation into the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in Mexico, one of the most high-profile mass kidnappings in recent history.

The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), a panel of experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, released its findings on Friday, concluding that Mexican authorities failed to follow through with arrests related to the case.

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It also determined that key pieces of information had been withheld, particularly about military involvement in the kidnapping.

“There are black holes where the information disappears,” said Carlos Beristain, one of the members of the GIEI panel.

It is the latest damning report on an ongoing, scandal-ridden probe into the events of September 26, 2014, when 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College were forcibly disappeared.

The students had commandeered a set of buses in the city of Iguala, as part of an annual protest tradition to drive to Mexico City to mark the 1968 Tlatelolco student protest massacre.

But they were intercepted by police — and what happened next remains murky. Mexican authorities have speculated that the students were turned over to local cartels associated with the police and military, and subsequently murdered.

Some charred bone fragments have been recovered, matched through DNA to three of the missing students. The rest of the bodies, however, have never been found.

In Friday’s news conference, GIEI member Angela Buitrago called for arrests to continue in the case. Some of the outstanding arrest orders were more than six months old, according to the GIEI’s report.

“We have insisted on the need for verifying and carrying out these arrest orders,” Buitrago said, indicating that several public officials were among the suspects still at large.

Prosecutors in 2022 issued arrest orders for 83 officials, including members of the military, government and police, but 21 of those orders were withdrawn over the GIEI’s objections.

In her statement on Friday, Buitrago said the GIEI had recently sent evidence to prosecutors to bolster the withdrawn arrest orders.

“It is evident within the large body of documents that there is a possibility of reactivating many of them,” she said.

The GIEI has previously indicated that evidence points to the involvement of military personnel in the mass disappearance.

On Friday, the expert panel renewed its call for the administration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to push the military to release its files about the case, including phone records from the time of the alleged kidnapping.

López Obrador campaigned for office on the promise of establishing a truth commission into the disappearances, which had spurred government criticism under his predecessor, former President Enrique Peña Nieto.

That truth commission ruled last August that the kidnapping constituted a “state crime”, due to the “actions, omissions or participation” of government and military officials.

“There is no indication the students are alive. All the testimonies and evidence prove that they were cunningly killed and disappeared,” said Alejandro Encinas, the politician who led the commission. “It’s a sad reality.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies