Press Release

Six Years On, the IACHR Acknowledges Progress in the Investigation and the Search for 43 Missing Students from Ayotzinapa and Stresses Its Commitment to the Students’ Families

September 26, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) stresses its commitment to protecting the 43 students from Isidro Burgos Rural School in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, who remain missing six years after their disappearance, as well as their families. The IACHR values improvements in the search, in the investigation, and in efforts to ensure accountability.

The Commission has deployed all mechanisms available to it to ensure justice and reparation for victims and their families. After the students went missing on September 26–27, 2014, the Commission issued Precautionary Measure 409-14 and asked the State to search for them, to investigate the events that resulted in their disappearance, and to assist victims. The IACHR created the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI, by its Spanish acronym), and later the Special Follow-Up Mechanism for the Ayotzinapa Case (MESA, by its Spanish acronym). Over these years, the IACHR kept the MESA active, with a Technical Support Group on Mexican soil. The Commission also restored the GIEI on May 6, 2020, at the request of the parents of the missing students; the State agreed with the move and facilitated GIEI activities, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also provided support. The GIEI currently provides technical assistance to the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office for the Ayotzinapa Case in the investigation, among other activities, while the MESA monitors compliance with relevant IACHR recommendations.

The IACHR values progress made in this case in recent months, when victims and their families have been given a central role. The IACHR has supported coordination efforts led by the Commission for Truth and Access to Justice in the Ayotzinapa Case (COVAJ, by its Spanish acronym) in periodic sessions attended by parents of the missing students and their representatives. In these meetings, high officials of the various branches of the State agreed with the families on the different courses of action, to incorporate the families’ suggestions and ideas on approaches to this case.

Concerning the whereabouts of the missing students, the IACHR values the fact that search efforts have been relaunched and intensified over the past year and have delivered new evidence that has since been subjected to genetic and forensic examination. The IACHR further notes searches conducted in the presence of the families.

The State informed the parents of the missing students that some bone remains found at a site known as Barranca de la Carnicería had been genetically and forensically identified as belonging to Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre, one of the missing students. Based on this finding, the State stressed its goal of attaining historical truth and overcoming any hypotheses that link the case to the Cocula trash dump and the River San Juan. The IACHR is pleased that public prosecutors and COVAJ officials personally informed Christian Alfonso’s family of these findings before making them public, to safeguard their rights as victims and, in particular, their right to mourn.

Concerning the investigation, the IACHR observed the boost given to proceedings by the Special Unit for Investigation and Litigation in the Ayotzinapa Case (UEILCA, by its Spanish acronym) concerning the change of hypothesis, the establishment of criminal responsibilities, and the restoration of the body of evidence. According to its reports, the UEILCA has been conducting new investigations and has relaunched proceedings that had been left pending and were highlighted by the IACHR in the MESA report. These pending investigative proceedings include taking statements from individuals who were law enforcement officials when these students went missing, as well as an investigation of cell phone communications.

Concerning the establishment of criminal responsibility, the IACHR notes that many arrest warrants have been issued at the UEILCA’s request. In its efforts to monitor these requests, the IACHR initially observed that several had been preliminarily declined by court authorities on procedural grounds. Later, most of those arrest warrants were indeed issued by court authorities, once the initial controversies on who had competent territorial or material jurisdiction had been resolved. Both the IACHR and the GIEI have noted early judicial fragmentation issues in the Ayotzinapa case. The Commission therefore urges the State to assess jurisdictional approval strategies that reflect the current procedural status of this case and to adopt common criteria that increase predictability and case resolution.

The IACHR observes that several of these requests for arrests have targeted police officers who were allegedly on site on the night when the students went missing, as well as authorities of the former Office of the Attorney General (PGR, by its Spanish acronym) and of the Criminal Investigation Agency. The Commission has also been informed that the charges against these officials include obstruction of justice, torture, and forced disappearance. The IACHR stresses the recommendation it made to the State about the need to presume that this investigation involves a case of forced disappearance. The IACHR therefore deems it particularly relevant to ensure prosecution for forced disappearance and urges the State to make sure that earlier judicial proceedings are also redirected to investigate forced disappearance charges, ensuring that suspects are granted the necessary judicial guarantees.

The IACHR also observes—in line with the recommendations made by the GIEI and the MESA—that prosecution affects state and federal authorities who held leadership positions in the early stages of the investigation into the Ayotzinapa case and the development of the so-called historic truth that has now been rejected. The Commission therefore asks the State to keep enforcing arrest warrants issued by courts authorities, to encourage fugitives to turn themselves in (in accordance with the applicable human rights standards), and to pursue extraditions of fugitives who are abroad.

The IACHR has also been informed of prosecutions for alleged instances of torture during interrogations of alleged perpetrators in the early stages of the preliminary investigation. The IACHR stresses that the MESA recommended an investigation to establish the motive of these alleged acts of torture. In this context, the IACHR considers that pursuing a line of investigation linked to acts of torture is a good thing. The Commission urges the State to conduct the appropriate expert assessments to investigate those events, in compliance with the Istanbul Protocol and with Mexico’s human rights obligations.

The Commission has also been informed of the serious concern of the parents of the missing students about leaks of information on this investigation to the media. The IACHR reminds the State of its international obligations concerning safeguards for victims of serious violations in access to justice and urges the State to take concrete measures to prevent the revictimization of the parents of the missing students.

Concerning assistance to victims, the IACHR notes the development and application of protocols that establish healthcare pathways to provide medical assistance to victims. The Commission has been informed of the need to eliminate administrative hurdles that discourage victims’ enjoyment of their rights. While, according to the information received by the IACHR, many of these hurdles are allegedly structurally linked to the infrastructure of state healthcare services, the Commission encourages the State to set up mechanisms that promote coordination between state and federal institutions providing assistance to victims, to ensure faster healthcare provision.

Concerning the students who survived the attacks, the IACHR values the assistance given to Aldo Gutiérrez, which has seamlessly reflected the relevant agreements. In the case of Edgar Vargas, the Commission notes that the State has monitored the assistance provided to him and urges the State to prioritize the import of the prosthesis he needs, so he may launch his permanent rehabilitation scheme. The IACHR calls on the State to ensure timely access to the necessary treatment, even in the complex current healthcare scenario.

Finally, the IACHR notes that, six years after events in Ayotzinapa and despite significant efforts over the past year, these students remain missing. The Commission reminds their parents of its own commitment to ensuring a resolution in this case. The IACHR encourages the State to consolidate its efforts to solve the case and to punish wrongdoers, in compliance with its international human rights obligations.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 234/20