10.15.2015
Amid serious investigation concerns, human rights experts urge Mexican President Pena Nieto to increase effort and commitment on case of 43 forcibly disappeared students from Ayotzinapa

(October 15, 2015|Washington, D.C.) In an open letter to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights joins leading human rights figures to call on the Mexican government to expend maximum effort and commitment to determine the whereabouts of 43 students of a teacher-training college in Ayotzinapa who were forcibly disappeared on September 26 and 27, 2014 in Guerrero, Mexico.

A recent report by an international panel of independent experts, appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights through an agreement between the Mexican government and the students’ families and representatives, exposed grave procedural errors in the government’s investigation, including mishandled evidence and omitted testimonies. The group’s findings did not substantiate the federal Attorney General’s Office’s conclusions about the motive or methods of the crimes; on the contrary, the independent experts concluded that crucial aspects of the official hypothesis were scientifically impossible.

Considering the report’s worrying findings, this letter urges President Peña Nieto to implement all of the expert’s recommendations for the case. The letter urges the Mexican government to determine the whereabouts of the students, open new lines of investigation, interview members of the Mexican army who may have played a part in the crimes, guarantee quality and sustained attention to the victims, and resolve the issue of enforced disappearances in Mexico more broadly.

The letter also supports the victims’ families’ call for the mandate of the independent experts’ group to be extended for as long as necessary, keeping in mind that the government’s obligation is to clarify what happened to the disappeared students and to discover where they are, a task for which the continued participation of this group is crucial.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the signatories will continue to monitor the case of the Ayotzinapa students.

A copy of the letter follows below.

President Enrique Peña Nieto

Office of the President

Official Los Pinos Residence

The Republic of Mexico

Your Excellency,

We write to express our deep concern regarding the continued enforced disappearance of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Normal Rural School of Ayotzinapa, and urge your government to expend maximum effort and commitment to determine their whereabouts and provide truth and justice for the victims, their families, and the Mexican people in this atrocious case.

We commend the recently released report of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in agreement with the students’ families and your government to look into the Ayotzinapa case. We also welcome your government’s consent to extend the group’s mandate. We support the families’ call for the mandate to be extended for as long as necessary, keeping in mind that the government’s obligation is to clarify what happened to the disappeared students and to discover where they are, a task for which the continued participation of the GIEI is crucial.

As you know from the report presented to your government, the GIEI uncovered troubling instances of multiple investigative errors, including mishandled evidence and omitted testimonies. The group’s findings did not substantiate the federal Attorney General’s Office’s conclusions about the motive or methods of the crimes; on the contrary, the GIEI concluded that crucial aspects of the official hypothesis were scientifically impossible. The GIEI found no compelling evidence to support the government’s main theory that the students were burned at the Cocula garbage dump. Additionally, the GIEI made it clear that there are further lines of investigation and other actors whose involvement needs to be fully clarified, including members of the Mexican army and other federal institutions. Furthermore, the report found that state and federal police as well as the Mexican army were aware of and present at various crimes scenes of the brutal, hours-long, and coordinated attack against the students, and yet did not intercede to protect the lives of their fellow citizens.

We understand that the Attorney General’s Office is analyzing the report to determine how to incorporate its findings into the government’s investigation. We strongly urge the Attorney General’s Office to include all aspects of the GIEI’s study, and to implement all of the experts’ recommendations. We especially urge the government to take the following actions:

  • Continue the search for the students. Based on the available evidence, the GIEI was not able to ascertain the whereabouts of the students. Until the students are found, the case should be considered an open investigation into enforced disappearances.
  • Re-orient the lines of investigation. To begin, a new investigative unit should be assigned to the case. A review of the motive for the crimes is essential, including examination of a possible connection with a fifth bus that may have been involved in the transportation of illicit drugs. Privately-owned and government-owned facilities where the students may have been brought should be investigated.
  • Allow the GIEI to interview all authorities. Testimony is needed immediately from all authorities who were present during the incidents – including the Mexican army and federal police. For example, the group must be permitted to interview in person members of the 27th Infantry Battalion of the Mexican army, who may have played a role in the events that night.
  • Guarantee quality attention to the victims. Implement the agreed-upon legal, social, psychological, and medical aid to the families. Consolidate communication mechanisms with the families. Strengthen witness-protection mechanisms.
  • Resolve the issue of enforced disappearances in Mexico. Create a unified national registry of disappeared persons, integrated with the registry of the National System for Attention to Victims and standardized information on unidentified remains. Implement effective, unified protocols for both immediate searches and criminal investigations in all cases of potential enforced disappearance. The new General Law on Disappearances should incorporate the input of civil society and victims’ groups.

Over one year after their disappearance, the whereabouts of the students is still unknown, despite the Attorney General’s Office’s premature declaration that the “historical truth” on the case had been resolved. Much to the despair of the students’ families, their loved ones are still not home.

Further, in the investigation and search for the students over the last year, almost 300 other cases of disappearances in the Iguala area have surfaced. What is more, the government’s national registry of missing and disappeared persons currently contains over 25,000 cases of individuals who disappeared between 2007 and July 2015.

While we welcome your meeting with the victims’ families on September 24, we urge you to increase your government’s efforts on the case. It is imperative that your government exercise the utmost level of effort, resources, responsibility, care, and commitment to not only find the 43 students from Ayotzinapa, but also to put an end to the crisis of enforced disappearances and impunity for these crimes in Mexico.

We will continue to monitor the case of the Ayotzinapa students and the reports of widespread enforced disappearances in Mexico.

We thank you in advance for your attention towards the resolution of this serious matter.

Sincerely,

Walter Albán

Lead Professor, Faculty of Law, Pontifical Catholic University of Peru

Juan Pablo Albán

Director of the Legal Clinic, Professor of International Law and Human Rights, School of Law, San Francisco University of Quito

Raquel Aldana

Associate Dean, Professor of Law, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law

Philip G. Alston

John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, New York University School of Law

Roxanna Altholz

Assistant Clinical Professor, Berkeley Law, University of California

Thomas Antkowiak

Associate Professor of Law; Director, International Human Rights Clinic; Director, Latin America Program, Seattle University School of Law

Arturo Arias   

Tomas Rivera Regents Professor in Latin American Literature, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Texas at Austin

David Baluarte

Assistant Clinical Professor of Law, Director, Immigrant Rights Clinic, Washington and Lee University School of Law

Daniel M. Brinks

Co-Director, Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, University of Texas at Austin

Tito Bracamonte

Executive Secretary, National Coordinator for Human Rights in Peru

Laurence Burgorgue-Larsen

Professor of Law, University of Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne

Santiago A. Canton

Executive Director, Partners for Human Rights, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Lauren Carasik, Esq.

Clinical Professor of Law, Director, International Human Rights Clinic, Western New England University School of Law

Jessica Carvalho Morris

Executive Director, Conectas

Carlos Castresana Fernández

Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Spain (on leave)

Gaston Chillier

Executive Director, Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS)

Ernesto de la Jara Basombrío

Founding Director, Institute of Legal Defense (IDL), Peru

Connie de la Vega

Professor of Law and Academic Director of International Programs, University of San Francisco School of Law

Todd Eisenstadt

Professor, Department of Government, American University

Dr. Mark Ellis

Executive Director, International Bar Association

Karen Engle

Co-Director, Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, University of Texas at Austin

Dra. Silvia Figueroa

Professor, Department of Law and International Relations, Monterrey Institute of Technology, Mexico

Martin Flaherty

Leitner Family Professor of International Human Rights Law Founding Co-Director, Leitner Center of International Law and Justice, Fordham Law School; Visiting Professor, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

Dr. Donald Frischmann

Professor of Spanish & Hispanic Studies Texas Christian University 2000 & 2012 Fulbright-García Robles Research Scholar

Alejandro M. Garro

Professor of Law, Columbia Law School, Columbia University

Alejandra Gonza

Director, International Human Rights Clinic, University of Washington School of Law

Dr. Eduardo González Velázquez

Professor-Researcher, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Monterrey Institute of Technology, Mexico

Lisa Haugaard

Executive Director, Latin America Working Group (LAWG)

John Heffernan

Executive Director, Speak Truth to Power, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Shin Imai

Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School; Director, Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, York University

Kerry Kennedy

President, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Viviana Krsticevic

Executive Director, Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)

Frank La Rue

Director, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights – Europe

Karim Lahidji

President, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Dr. Lucas Lixinski

Senior Lecturer, UNSW Law, University of New South Wales, Australia

David Lovatón Palacios

Lead Professor, Faculty of Law, Pontifical Catholic University of Peru

Helen Mack

President, Myrna Mack Foundation

Annette Martínez-Orabona

Executive Director, Instituto Caribeño de Derechos Humanos (ICADH)

Ruth W. Messinger

President, American Jewish World Service (AJWS)

Jennifer Moore

Member, the National Lawyer’s Committee on Human Rights, Peace Brigades International-USA

Lucia Nader

Fellow, Open Society Foundations (OSF)

Aryeh Neier

President Emeritus, Open Society Foundations (OSF)

Joy Olson

Executive Director, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

John Packer

Director, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

Amelia Parker

Executive Director, Peace Brigades International – USA

Francisco J. Rivera Juaristi

Director, International Human Rights Clinic, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law, Santa Clara University School of Law

César Rodríguez Garavito

Executive Director, Center of Studies on Law, Justice and Society (“DeJusticia”)

Naomi Roht-Arriaza

Distinguished Professor of Law, Hastings College of the Law, University of California

Eric Rosenthal

Executive Director, Disability Rights International (DRI)

Macarena Saez

Faculty Director, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, American University Washington College of Law

Katya Salazar

Executive Director, Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF)

Violeta Sandoval

Director of Training and Social Entrepreneurship, Monterrey Institute of Technology, Mexico

Miguel Sarre

Profesor, Mexican Autonomous Institute of Technology

James Silk

Clinical Professor of Law, Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic

Director, Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, Yale Law School

Gwynne Skinner

Director, International Human and Refugee Rights Clinic; Associate Professor of Law, Willamette University College of Law

Gerald Staberock

Secretary-General, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

David Tolbert

President, International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ)

Rodrigo Uprimny Yepes

Researcher and Founding Member, Center of Studies on Law, Justice and Society (“DeJusticia”); Law Professor, National University of Colombia

José Miguel Vivanco

Director of the Americas Division, Human Rights Watch (HRW)