Human Rights and Civil Society

Ayotzinapa Disappeared 43 Students Case Remains Unsolved

Family members of the 43 students display signs during the GIEI’s presentation of their findings on Sunday. Source: The New York Times.
Family members of the 43 disappeared students display signs during the GIEI’s presentation of their findings on Sunday.  Source: The New York Times.

05/2/16 (written by elefavour) –In 608 pages of discoveries, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes, “GIEI”) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reveals new details and evidence surrounding the case of the 43 students that went missing from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in September 2014. The most recent report, Informe Ayotzinapa II, released April 24th, provides extensive investigative analysis of the events of September 26-27, 2014.

Rewinding to 2014, the 43 students were from the Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero traveling through Iguala to Mexico City. Approximately one hundred students planned to “steal” buses from the station in Iguala,and in neighboring areas to attend a march commemorating a student massacre that occurred in 1968 in Mexico City. The students planned to return the buses following the conclusion of the event. The local bus companies typically tolerated this, as it was an annual tradition for the college. At 9:15pm September 26, 2014, five buses with students left for Ayotzinapa, three buses taking the northward route, and two buses taking the southward route. Based on the findings from the Informe Ayotzinapa II and the New York Times, the three buses heading north immediately came into contact with federal police firing warning shots at the buses, and then the police actively shot at the buses and at the students inside. Aldo Gutiérrez, a student, was shot in the head, and two additional students were shot requiring an emergency dispatch at approximately 9:48pm. Finally, at approximately 10:50pm, the remaining students heading northward were taken in six to seven patrol vehicles based on eyewitness accounts.

Meanwhile, at approximately 9:40pm, around the same time as the three buses on the northern route were intercepted, police also stopped one of the buses traveling on the southern route toward Ayotzinapa, breaking the bus’s windows and using tear gas to force the passengers out of the bus. It is evident the police were pre-stationed to intercept the students because authorities also stopped other students, not affiliated with the students from Ayotzinapa. About seven miles outside Iguala, a gunmen fired on a suspect bus carrying the Los Avispones soccer team from nearby Chilpancingo killing a soccer player and the driver, and wounding seven other passengers.

Immediately following the night of September 26, the families demanded answers from the government about the whereabouts of their children as well as the cause of the violence. After four excruciating months, the Attorney General at the time, Jesús Murillo Karam, stated to the press: “after an “exhaustive, serious” investigation, “the evidence allows us to determine that the students were kidnapped, killed, burned and thrown into the river.” He included preliminary evidence such as photographs of charred remains, snippets of videotaped confessions and images of the crime scene.

President Peña Nieto, who built his campaign platform on ending violence in Mexico, offered the following statement to the people of Mexico in January, 2015—four months after the abduction of the 43 students:

“In this sorrowful, tragic and painful moment in the history of Mexico, we can’t be trapped. We can’t be stuck there,” he said. “We have to give it attention. There has to be justice. There has to be punishment for those who were responsible for these regrettable acts, but we have to take the course of continuing to assure that Mexico has a better future.”

For all practical purposes in the Peña Nieto administration, the case was closed.

GIEI Ayotzinapa Findings

However, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) formed a panel of five lawyers and human rights specialists from Latin America and Spain to further investigate the incident and flush out the inconsistencies. The panel first convened in March 2015. The panel worked together for a second time on April 24th, 2016, releasing their findings live at press conference in Mexico City and also through their twitter account. The most important findings include the following:

“First, it is now clear, there was central government control and monitoring, if not active involvement, from all levels of security: ministerial, municipal, state, federal and military in the incident. This also included involvement from the Huitzco, and the Iguala local police forces. These police officers were aware, participated, and directly influenced the capture of the students meaning the case was not only an issue at “the local level.”

Second, using United Nations guidelines for the documentation of torture, the panel determined that 17 (of approximately 170) of the government’s suspects had been tortured while in the custody of the Mexican government. All “forced” testimonies from these individuals would be inadmissible in a Mexican court of law.

Third, “there still remains zero evidence that a fire happened in the Cocula landfill the night of September 26-27 that was big enough to burn 43 bodies.” Additionally, videos taken by journalists revealed that one of the suspects was hauled to the crime scene with the office of the Attorney General (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) potentially to “plant” the bone fragment remains, and the official reason why he was taken there was completely omitted from the PGR’s report.

Fourth, The PGR’s version of the report said that the students’ phones had been destroyed in Cocula, but telephones continued to be active days after September 26 and this development has not been investigated despite the fact the last location of the phones contradicts the PGR report.

Finally, Julio César Mondragón, a student that initially went missing, was found with “facial skin and muscles torn away from his head, his skull was fractured in several places, and his internal organs were ruptured.” Due to bureaucratic delays, Mondragón’s body had to go through two autopsies and a three-month delay for government approval, thus re-victimizing the family.

President Peña Nieto stated he would not authorize a third investigation. On April 25th, President Obama stated, “We trust the Mexican authorities will carefully consider the report’s recommendations, evaluate suggested actions to address the issue of forced disappearances.” Moving forward, it is uncertain whether or not the truth behind the disappearance of the 43 students will ever be solved. However, the international community remains committed to providing justice to the families of the victims. Alejandro Valencia, a Colombian lawyer and member of the GIEI panel succinctly explains their position: “the Ayotzinapa case has put the country at a crossroads, from which it has yet to emerge, and for that it needs a strengthening of the rule of law and of the defense, the guarantee and respect for human rights.”


“GIEI Ayotzinapa.” Twitter. April 28, 2016.

Gallagher, Erin. “Mexico: GIEI Final Report on the Ayotzinapa Case.” Revolution News. April 24, 2016.

Semple, Kirk. “Missing Mexican Students Suffered a Night of ‘Terror,’ Investigators Say.” The New York Times. April 24, 2016.

Informe Ayotzinapa II: Avances y nuevas conclusions sobre la investigación, búsqueda y atención a las víctimas. Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes. April 24, 2016.

Semple, Kirk and Elisabeth Malkin. “El gobierno mexicano no colaboró con nuestra investigación sobre lo que sucedió en Ayotzinapa: GIEI.” The New York Times. April 25, 2016.

Archibold, Randal C. “Mexico Officially Declares Missing Students Dead.” The New York Times. January 27, 2015.

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